VUB rector Caroline Pauwels opens academic year

VUB rector Caroline Pauwels opens academic year

“Above all, let us remember how much we need each other”

RETHINK! REUSE! REJOICE! That was the theme of the Academic Opening of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel at the Gare Maritime on the grounds of Tour & Taxis. After a long period of contact bubbles, social distancing and forced confinement, it was time for a new start on Tuesday, 28 September. Rector Caroline Pauwels called on people to seize the momentum. “Daring to name and identify problems is a necessary first step even for a positivist and possibilist.”

She called on all of us, now, to address the many problems facing society – climate, privacy, inequality, racism, fake news, cancel culture, attacks on science… “For them, our children and grandchildren, we bear a crushing responsibility now, today. As a society, as a university, as scientists.”

She continued: “We humans, as it turns out, are more social and resilient than we think.” The same is true of science. The decoding of the Sars-Covid-2 virus genome and the lightning-fast development of vaccines came from people working together.

“What scientist dares to claim in all honesty that they achieve scientific breakthroughs, or generate important insights, solely on their own merit? How much are we indebted to our predecessors, our peers, our subjects? Research is the result of centuries of sustained teamwork.” The future promises to be even better. Through open science and open data, scientists will achieve more and even better results.

She called for an interdisciplinary approach. “Complex problems are multidimensional by nature and require expertise from different disciplines. The political structures are not ready for that, the university structures are not ready for that. We have a university that functions on the basis of models from the 19th century. There are too many vertical silos with more and more hyper-specialities. Not that we don’t need them. You will never hear me argue that. But do we still see the bigger picture, the universalist, the holistic? We are too strictly divided into faculties and disciplines, when what is needed is more interdisciplinarity. And yet we’re not taking that leap. Not yet.”

VUB is an urban engaged university. It belongs to young people. “I have seen it confirmed in recent months that inclusive and equal leadership works. The experience of the two temporary governing bodies we created during the Covid period was special. With the student representatives, we governed the university. The input of those students, of voices from a younger generation, who brought in a different perspective, a fresh perspective, was so enriching. For myself and for the vice-rectors, there was also the particularly wonderful experience of the input of the university service providers: young faculty members who spent a year with the rector’s team. I can recommend it to everyone. A new group will start soon.”

The academic opening started at 15.00 in the Gare Maritime. Chair of the board Karsten De Clerck gave an introductory speech and a number of students addressed the numerous but Covid-safe audience. Music was provided by the singer Ana Diaz.

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Sicco Wittermans
Sicco Wittermans Woordvoerder en persrelaties Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Sicco Wittermans
Sicco Wittermans Woordvoerder en persrelaties Vrije Universiteit Brussel
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Vrije Universiteit Brussel is an internationally oriented university in Brussels, the heart of Europe. By providing excellent research and education on a human scale, VUB wants to make an active and committed contribution to a better society.

The World Needs You

The Vrije Universiteit Brussel assumes its scientific and social responsibility with love and decisiveness. That’s why VUB launched the platform De Wereld Heeft Je Nodig – The World Needs You, which brings together ideas, actions and projects based on six Ps. The first P stands for People, because that’s what it’s all about: giving people equal opportunities, prosperity, welfare, respect. Peace is about fighting injustice, big and small, in the world. Prosperity combats poverty and inequality. Planet stands for actions on biodiversity, climate, air quality, animal rights... With Partnership, VUB is looking for joint actions to make the world a better place. The sixth and last P is for Poincaré, the French philosopher Henri Poincaré, from whom VUB derives its motto that thinking should submit to nothing except the facts themselves. VUB is an ‘urban engaged university’, strongly anchored in Brussels and Europe and working according to the principles of free research.


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