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Non-doctorate for René Magritte at Academic opening

Surrealism at Academic opening VUB (26 September 2017)


‘Pas si sûr ce réalisme’, was the theme of the academic opening 2017-2018 of Vrije Universiteit Brussel. The official start to the academic year once again took place at BOZAR (Centre for Fine Arts) in the heart of the capital. Why was surrealism the starting point for the elocution of rector Caroline Pauwels? “To founding fathers like André Breton and René Magritte it deals with a way of observing and thinking that questions, that rebels against and that undermines what appears obvious.” Furthermore she announced a pop-up project that will turn the whole of Brussels into an auditorium.


During its academic opening ceremony at BOZAR, Vrije Universiteit Brussel awarded a ‘non-doctorate’ to René Magritte. André Garitte of the Magritte Museum in Jette and Sven Gatz, Flemish minister of Culture, Media, Youth and Brussels, received it in name of the surrealistic painter who died 50 years ago.


At the end of her speech rector Caroline Pauwels had already honoured René Magritte. “We must dare to dream of a different world and of different science. As Vrije Universiteit Brussel, as heirs of Pierre-Théodore Verhaegen and in the spirit of René Magritte, it is our moral obligation. As long as we also keep questioning ourselves, there is nothing wrong with that. Because a Vrije Universiteit Brussel that becomes a university like all others, has a priori lost its very raison d’être”


During her speech at the academic opening Caroline Pauwels was also critical of the scientific world: “Even universities have in the past decades, been in situations in terms of education, research and financing, of which Magritte would say: ceci n’est pas une université. We are fully aware of it and yet we go along with it. In fact, we call it surrealism, not to question the absurd situations, rather to accept them, to not intervene and to become complacent. As an academic and rector I find this position untenable and even completely self-destructive.”


According to Caroline Pauwels the emphasis in the academic world lies too much on publications. “Unreal, strange and absurd. Research e.g. that does not let itself be led by curiosity or by whether is it worth exploring, rather than by what can be published quickly.”


And she wondered whether researchers today are adequately worried about what is going on in society? “And what about social relevance?” She denounced the bureaucracy involved. “We find seemingly surreal abuses in the regulation and in the assessment and evaluation of research projects. We contrive of systems that must promote excellent science, but that force researchers to play it safe… Because the systems we created promote the mainstream, while true scientific breakthroughs always happen outside that mainstream.”

She also protested against the ever smaller niches within which academics have to operate. “The surrealism of the unhealthy hyper-specialisation and of the sky-high walls between faculties and disciplines. While we all realise that we need just the opposite. Only interdisciplinary education and research can offer answers to the complex social challenges we all face together.”


But Caroline Pauwels immediately led the way and took up the gauntlet by announcing, a project very dear to her. “But we also dream radically urban. With our project we turn our entire city into a giant living lab where students from all our faculties will follow classes on location - such as here in BOZAR - and perform research all over Brussels. Our Mindblowers event yesterday at KVS set the tone for more to come.”


After the academic opening there was a drinks reception with ‘The Lost Magrittes’, a unique exhibition with copies and destroyed painting of Magritte (in cooperation with the René Magritte Museum – Jette).


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