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Yesterday, March 23rd 2017, the award ceremony of the VUB honorary doctorates took place, as per tradition in auditorium Q. In the audience, aside from the usual mix of academics, students, staff of VUB and members of the press, we also found speaker of the federal parliament, Siegfried Bracke, and Sven Gatz, Flemish minister of Culture. The latter would take the stage, after the address by VUB rector Caroline Pauwels. But the ceremony, which was centered around the theme breaking down the walls, commenced with a moment of silence for the victims of the attacks in Manchester - further underlining the importance of openness and mutual trust, so central to this event.

 

The names of the five honorary doctors were already known: economist Deirdre McCloskey, physicist Paul Ginsparg, doctor and expert social medicine Willem Van Mechelen, sociologist Gary Marx and writer and former politician Jan Terlouw. The best known name in Flanders, Jan Terlouw, addressed the audience in name of all the newly crowned honorary doctors at the end of the ceremony. The scientist, who also was a successful youth author and politician in his long life, confessed to feeling most at home at a university. “It’s rarely that institutions cross borders,” he stated, “but there are exceptions and these are universities.”

 

Van Mechelen (r): "Physical inactivity is
the fourth cause of premature death."

Terlouw : "I still remember the deep joy when the rule of law was restored."

McCloskey (r): "The financial crisis did not happen because people
were bad, but because they were foolish."

Ginsparg: "In the future, there will be quality control of some sort,
but not like the practive of peer reviews of today."

Marx (r): "We need protection from the government
but also by the government."

The courage to break down walls

That Jan Terlouw surpassed numerous borders, is beyond doubt. But that also holds for the other honorary doctors and their work. Caroline Pauwels pointed that out in her speech. Talking about breaking down walls in one thing, actually doing so is something else, and she went on to sum up the accomplishments of the honorary doctors in that regard: “The courage to transform economics into a much broader value narrative (about Deirdre McCloskey), the audacity to totally break open the closed world of academic publications (about Paul Ginsparg), the resolution to improve the health of an entire society through insights from sports medicine (about Willem Van Mechelen), and the helicopter approach to study various forms of surveillance and thus come to innovative, new insights (about Gary T. Marx).

 

The musical guest also was someone who breaks down walls: Jef Neve, the jazz pianist who gladly takes excursions into classical music in his work and doesn’t shy away from the lighter pop genre. He had the honour of closing the ceremony, but not before hostess Anabelle Van Nieuwenhuyse reminded the audience that VUB will award further honorary doctorates to the Italian politician and activist Emma Bonino and the inhabitants of Lampedusa later this year in November.

 

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