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.