VUB rector Caroline Pauwels steps down due to illness

VUB rector Caroline Pauwels steps down due to illness

VUB rector Caroline Pauwels yesterday informed the Board of Governors of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel that she is resigning from her position.

“A serious illness and the wonderful but demanding role as rector can no longer be combined at this stage of my illness,” she says.  

Professor of communication sciences Caroline Pauwels started her first mandate as rector in 2016, succeeding Paul De Knop and becoming the second female rector of VUB. Her second mandate started in 2020. She emphasises the beauty of the position:

“To serve a university by striving for high-quality education and distinctive scientific research is a privilege, because it is a task that invariably focuses on new generations of students and thus on the future of society. Of course, the Covid period has been particularly difficult and isolating for our students and their parents, as well as for all our colleagues, but it only served to underline the great importance of both those core tasks, teaching and research.”  

Caroline Pauwels will focus on her family and friends in the coming period. She would like to stress her gratitude towards the VUB community and all those who work hard for the university every day.

“It has been an honour for me to be rector of Vrije Universiteit Brussel and, attached to VUB, the university hospital UZ Brussel. Both institutions are inspired by humanism and work very closely together. They are indisputably and increasingly a great added value for Brussels and its surrounding area.”

She also expresses great appreciation to all those who have crossed her path professionally: fellow rectors, policymakers, the partners of the EUTOPIA network, and of course the colleagues of sister university ULB and the association partner Erasmushogeschool Brussel.

Special words of thanks go to the medical and nursing staff of the UZ Brussel, where she is a patient:

“What they do, ever dedicated, is of a magnitude that few can match.”

Commitment and conviction

The VUB community is deeply touched by the departure of Caroline Pauwels as rector and wishes her much strength in the presence of her children, family and friends. She can count on the sincere support of the entire VUB community.

Despite her serious illness (stomach and oesophageal cancer), Caroline Pauwels has remained unconditionally committed to VUB and the values the university stands for. She is the engine of the “urban engaged university”: radically humanistic, digital, democratic, diverse and sustainable. A university that focuses on research and education as well as social engagement, international relations and a strong connection with the capital.

“Anchoring the university in a complex but unusually fascinating city like Brussels poses many challenges, but at the same time offers so much potential,” she says.

During the past eventful weeks for the university, its community and in particular for the victims of inappropriate transgressive behaviour, Caroline Pauwels has resolutely taken the lead. She was and still is very much involved in the rollout of decisive measures and initiatives to ensure that the university is, more than ever, a safe environment for all students and employees.

“Building a strong, and indeed more inclusive, VUB, where everyone is equal, remains a task for my successors and for the next generations,” she says. She is convinced that all those involved in the VUB policy will continue to do so with great conviction and drive.

The Board of Governors will appoint an interim rector on 1 March. A new rector will be elected by the university community ahead of the next academic year. In the name of the VUB community, the Board of Governors thanks and honours Caroline Pauwels for her courage and dedication as rector and notes her decision with deep regret and great respect.

Expressions of support can be sent to or to Rectorate VUB, FAO Caroline Pauwels, Pleinlaan 2, 1050 Brussels.

Note for press – not for publication:

In the coming period, VUB will focus on its internal operations in these exceptional circumstances. We urge you to respect this emotionally difficult transition period and not to contact rector Caroline Pauwels directly.

Please direct any contact to VUB spokesperson Sicco Wittermans - – 0473 96 41 37.

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Sicco Wittermans
Sicco Wittermans Spokesperson Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Sicco Wittermans
Sicco Wittermans Spokesperson Vrije Universiteit Brussel
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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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