Parity Group demand to ETH Zurich leadership to respond to NZZ attacks, unequivocally support targeted staff and ensure a safe and open academic environment.

Author: Parity Group

Zurich, June 3, 2024


To the Executive Board of ETH 


We are the Parity Group. You may remember us from last year when we were awarded the Prix Meret Oppenheim by the Federal Office of Culture. Back then, ETH put us on the front page of its website. We also featured in ETH’s annual report of 2023 (1). But now we have been facing, alongside some of our ETH colleagues, a number of defamatory public attacks, and you have not backed us up. Your consecutive public reactions to this have been to silence and scapegoat us rather than to condemn these attacks and show support. Neither did you reach out to us internally, to enquire about our views or our wellbeing, nor did you offer legal or mental help. Meanwhile, you have policed and sued your own students for protesting a genocide unfolding in front of our eyes, a plausibility that is acknowledged by the International Court of Justice in The Hague (2), silencing them under the premise of your inconsistent claim to political neutrality (3). With a recent death threat issued to one of our colleagues as the sad tipping point, we now reach out to you today to demand that ETH Zurich does what it should have been doing for a long time: to stand up for its own community and take immediate concrete steps to support targeted staff, to publicly condemn false and defamatory allegations, and finally to foster an environment of uncompromised inclusivity, safety and academic dialogue in which we are all equally allowed to speak up.



Respond adequately to NZZ attacks and offer support for victims


Consecutive false NZZ attacks have significantly impacted the professional and personal lives of us and our colleagues. ETH’s lack of public support, exacerbated by an interview with NZZ given on April 13, 2024 (4), has indirectly reinforced these false allegations. In this interview, the alleged problems in the Department of Architecture were not contradicted but relegated to “a few loud voices.” This scapegoating not only made us feel deeply unsupported but also opened the door to more attacks and even threats compromising personal safety. Until today, support remained internal to the Department of Architecture, while the newspaper attacks were public. ETH Zurich has yet to issue a single official statement unequivocally supporting its members and protecting them from these attacks. 

  • We ask the ETH Executive Board to issue a public statement addressing the defamatory nature and impact of the NZZ articles, to put a firm end to the cycle of attacks and threats this has generated (5)
  • We ask the ETH Executive Board to publish the support of gta on all its websites.
  • We ask the ETH Executive Board to take its responsibility to ensure a safe working environment at ETH for all, by establishing protocols for handling public attacks and threats, and if needed, ensuring legal action is taken in coordination with the victims.



Be transparent and include affected ETH-members and experts from the ETH community in communication and strategic decision-making. 


Until now, ETH has neither included nor communicated with, entirely or at least partially, the targeted ETH members on how to address these issues. Instead, ETH acted on their behalf, speaking ‘for’ them and not ‘with’ them, and with this, often neglected their perspectives as well as their well-being. Neither did ETH make optimal use of the broad knowledge, expertise and insights of its own ‘world-class’ academic community, often gathering only partial information, and staying within small leadership circles. As a result, ETH press releases and communication have demonstrated a lack of profound knowledge on the matter, damaging ETH’s reputation and the concerned communities (6). ETH also has a precedent of overruling the expertise of its own experts in the case of a censored lecture: this is a dangerous precedent far beyond this particular crisis (7). This lack of transparency and exchange also at times installed an atmosphere of rumours, assumptions and framings, whereas adequate communication could actually avoid and resolve this (8).

  • We ask ETH leadership to consult the targeted groups and individuals in all strategic decision-making and communication processes and to ensure their well-being. We also ask ETH leadership to seek out and listen to its own experts. It is essential to engage with the expertise and knowledge within our institution to handle these matters appropriately. 
  • If safety and respect are core values, we ask ETH leadership to act on verified facts and real cases, not on rumours or unsubstantiated claims.



Protect academic freedom and the right to speak up at ETH.


In the context of urgent and complex events, universities are vital and much-needed spaces to deepen, contextualise and historicise our understandings of the matters at hand, and to discuss this as an academic community. Whereas such a process should always remain respectful, it might at times be uncomfortable and confronting. However, feeling discomfort is not the same as being unsafe: universities should be not only safe spaces, but also spaces to be brave. In unsettling times like today, universities are responsible for countering populist and polarising opinions in mainstream media, and secure multifaceted, in-depth analysis of complex crises. A certain level of discomfort is simply unavoidable here, especially when tackling coloniality and our own implications in it.  

In light of this, we are deeply concerned with recent actions and statements of the ETH leadership that have compromised precisely this. Calling for police evictions and pressing charges on peacefully protesting students is unacceptable, as Amnesty International has also stated (9). Activism here is not “refusing other opinions and positions”, as our rector Professor Günther Dissertori wrongfully defined it in an interview with NZZ (10), but stepping up for the very opposite, namely for unheard voices to be included in the conversation, precisely what ETH has failed to do. The rector’s incorrect and highly problematic definition of activism, previous ETH statements and actions, including ETH’s policing of student protest, in fact demonstrate the inconsistency of ETH’s claims for safety and neutrality. They show the contrary: namely that ETH actively blocks attempts to open up for other opinions, only pursues safety for some, and with this, exposes itself as all but neutral. 

  • We ask ETH leadership to not police peaceful student protests.
  • We ask ETH leadership to ensure academic freedom to host public lectures concerning the ongoing genocide in Palestine. 
  • We ask ETH leadership to not misuse and discredit activism but recognize it as an important and pivotal force to realise ETH’s own ambition to “establish an open university culture.” (11) We invite the rector to engage with different activist groups in ETH and from there, gain a better understanding of it.  


We would like to end this letter with one final comment. 

We do not and will never tolerate anti-semitism, and will always stand up against all forms of discrimination. As Parity Group, our agenda is first and foremost anti-discriminatory. However, we currently witness how certain framings of anti-semitism are used to actively silence scholars, preventing ‘inconvenient’ scientific facts and figures from being put in circulation, keeping them behind closed doors, outside the public realm of the university and beyond. We believe that there is a clear political agenda to this: to prevent criticism of the state of Israel and its policies, and cut the conversation on zionism, colonialism and its consequences short, is to avoid that its history and reality is fully told. As academics, we can simply not accept this. 

Paraphrasing Edward Said: we do not question anyone’s right to exist, but call to acknowledge everyone’s right to exist (12). In light of what is happening today, as Parity Group, we have no other option but to stand up for that.


Parity Group (13)


(3) ETH has ‘condemned the acts of war’ in Ukraine and herewith took up a clear position. ETH also ‘strongly condemned’ the Hamas attacks (ETH statement 27/10/23) but has not spoken up explicitly against the war crimes in Gaza and the occupied Palestinian territories. In fact, ETH has not once mentioned Palestine in its official statements. This is not neutrality, but taking up a clear position.
(5) This also includes more implicit and informal aggressive exchanges via mail or in the ETH hallways.
(6) The ETH statement of 27/10/23 relegates ‘Palestine’ to the problematic colonial trope of ‘the Middle East’ which experts on decolonial studies could have pointed out to you.
(7) The cancellation of the lecture by Léopold Lambert was decided by people who do not know his work, and against the advice of the better informed experts of the Architecture Department.
(8) Multiple framings and rumours circulating within our workplace are incorrect. In our case, we were subjected to the downright false rumours that the Parity Group actively blocked Jewish voices from the Parity Talks in March 2024. The Parity Group was never consulted on the matter. There are other rumours circulating for example on the student sit-in, or on the counter-lecture of a censored guest speaker. If there are inappropriate or discriminatory situations, we expect ETH to investigate and if needed, to act, rather than leave rumours hanging or even recirculate them, directly or indirectly.
(12) From Exiles: Edward Said on Palestine, BBC2 Documentary (1988). Edward Wadie Said was a Palestinian-American philosopher, literary critic, and political activist. As a professor of literature at Columbia University, he was among the founders of post-colonial studies.
(13) The Parity group is a fluid group of students, assistants and professors from the department of architecture at ETH Zürich who meet to discuss issues around gender and diversity, organising the yearly Parity Talks in March.