In memoriam Anneliese Schnell

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. (Oscar Wilde)

On 14 July 2015, Anneliese Schnell, Chair of the Equal Opportunities Working Party at the University of Vienna for many years, passed unexpectedly. Anneliese Schnell was a dedicated and passionate astronomer and continued her academic work even after her retirement in 2006. Every day, even on weekends, one could find her at the University of Vienna Observatory.

Her obituary as well as an overview of her academic achievements are available here (in German).

Anneliese Schnell had been a member of the Equal Opportunities Working Party since 1995 and from 2001 to 2006 she served as Chair. Anneliese Schnell was Chair of the Equal Opportunities Working Party during a difficult period, coined among other things by the 2002 Universities Act entering into force, which granted the Equal Opportunities Working Party less rights than the 1993 University Organisation Act. During this period, it was important to fight for retaining the rights of the Equal Opportunities Working Party and to make sure that the competences essential for the daily equality efforts, which were now no longer explicitly stipulated by the law, also made their way into the Statutes of the University of Vienna. Major achievements of Anneliese Schnell include the patient negotiation of and her persistent commitment to the (at the time) new Affirmative Action Plan for the Advancement of Women, which compensated the legal shortcomings by being integrated into the Statutes and upheld most equality standards previously in place. In an interview published in the magazine [sic!] Forum für feministische Gangarten in 2007, Anneliese Schnell looked back at her time with the Equal Opportunities Working Party.

Honorary award ceremonies highlighted astronomer Anneliese Schnell's patience and persistence, with which she defyingly kept on making her astronomical observations night after night and under unfavourable circumstances. However, the same patience and persistence also characterised her as Chair of the Equal Opportunities Working Party when it came to voicing the same concerns to the same people time and time again, without losing courage in face of the fact that not all academic officials had arrived at a basic understanding of modern policies promoting equal opportunities. On occasion, she would do without restraint, but never without irony and cordiality. And so it could happen - in the course of a fierce debate - that she called a stubborn dean "a sly dog" (original quote in German: ein krummer Hund).

More than on bold actions and strident complaints, she persistently and uncompromisingly focused on her beliefs, such as repeatedly voicing the demand to also recruit women from places further down the lists. Nevertheless, her motto in doing so always was that the Equal Opportunities Working Party should not simply stand up for women as women but for women as competent academics whose qualifications and academic achievements had not received the deserved recognition in professorial appointments and other recruitment procedures.

Those reading between the lines of Anneliese Schnell's academic obituary will inevitably come to the conclusion that her engagement in the Equal Opportunities Working Party was influenced by her own experiences and that her fight for equal opportunities for present-day female academics stems from her own career, in which she was denied opportunities that were open to her male colleagues. For this reason, she also took an interest in the biographies of the first female astronomers at the University of Vienna.

Former colleagues in the Equal Opportunities Working Party especially appreciated Anneliese Schnell's commitment to others (for example, as representative of mid-level faculty members as well as in the Equal Opportunities Working Party), her calmness, her strategic approach and the anger that the unequal treatment of women could provoke in her. Anneliese Schnell was a fighter and a calming influence, uncompromising and humorous at the same time.

Even though she had less time for her passion for astronomy during her time as Chair of the Equal Opportunities Working Party, Anneliese Schnell still found her place among the stars: Since 1991, an asteroid goes by the name "2572 Annschnell" in her honour.