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WHU Foundation New Year’s Dinner

“Deciding by casting lots, past and present:” Gottfried-Wilhelm-Leibniz Award winner Professor Dr. Dr. h. c. Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger speaks at the 2019 New Year’s Dinner of the WHU Foundation

It is a solid tradition for the WHU Foundation to start off the New Year with a dinner among benefactors, friends, faculty members and alumni. The New Year’s Dinner 2019 was held in this spirit at the “Klostergut Besselich” in Urbar. On January 22, more than 60 guests from academia, politics and the business community were on hand for the event, which took place in the festively decorated hall of the former Franciscan convent founded in 1496.

In welcoming remarks by Professor Dr. Jürgen Weigand and Dr. Peter Kreutter, Professor Dr. h. c. mult. Klaus Brockhoff, former Dean and long-time member of the Executive Board of the WHU Foundation, was honored for his commitment. Professor Dr. Markus Rudolf, Dean of WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management, then offered an overview of the Business School’s development over the past 12 months, together with the main goals and projects for 2019 and beyond.

The evening’s guest of honor and keynote speaker was Professor Dr. h. c. Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger. She is Rector of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin and one of the best-known historians for the history of the early modern era. For her outstanding research, she has been awarded the Gottfried-Wilhelm-Leibniz Award of the DFG – German Research Foundation; the doctorate honoris causa of the École normal supérieure Lettres et sciences humaines in Lyon, France; and the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

In his laudatio of the guest of honor, Dr. Toni Calabretti, Chairman of the WHU Foundation, emphasized that Professor Stollberg-Rilinger, “through creative curiosity, a willingness to crack open existing perspectives and to stray from established paths in scientific work, has enabled her discipline to take a new look at world history.” This “lived innovation,” according to Calabretti, is a virtue that is greatly appreciated at WHU and imparted to students as well.

Stollberg-Rilinger opened her dinner speech by observing that one characteristic of the modern era or of modern societies is precisely the goal of making legitimate decisions on a rational basis. The main question for her subsequent remarks was a consideration of the extent to which it may nevertheless be reasonable to dispense with this rational weighing and to decide matters by casting lots. Drawing on the role of decision-making by lot through history, she impressively argued how – under certain circumstances and conditions – the casting of lots can create benefits. Specifically, she identified cases of practical application including, among other things, the resolution of stalemates, preventing influence due to informal factors, or decision-making that would otherwise involve a loss of face for one or more parties. New to many listeners was the fact that awards of funding by scientific and charitable foundations are also sometimes decided by lot. The motivation here is to leave the beaten path and grant an opportunity to even riskier projects not squarely in the mainstream of research funding.

The stimulating subsequent conversations at the tables during dinner were proof that Professor Stollberg-Rilinger’s in-depth, multi-faceted lecture had succeeded in encouraging attendees to reflect on their own decision-making behavior.