As reasonably headstrong university community, Vrije Universiteit Brussel is united in upholding certain values, which are translated into her core activities of education, research and societal service.

Honorary doctorates 2017: Break down the walls

Under the title Break down the walls Vrije Universiteit Brussel this year awarded honorary doctorates to committed scientists who transcend the boundaries of their own disciplines and to personalities that have been at the frontiers of societal change. On Tuesday, May 23rd, the VUB honorary doctorates went to the Dutch author Jan Terlouw and the international elite scientists Paul Ginsparg, Willem van Mechelen, Deirdre N. McCloskey and Gary T. Marx. In the fall the Italian politician and activist Emma Bonino and the inhabitants of the isle of Lampedusa received their honorary doctorate.

Deirdre N. McCloskey

The American economist Deirdre N. McCloskey (1942) is currently a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). She has enriched and broadened the economic research with new insights. Over the last years her focus is on the role that values and ideas play in the historic development of markets.

“Most of my colleagues are wasting their time”, she boldly stated a few years ago in an interview with newspaper De Tijd. “To them the market is only about supply and demand and utility. But I am of the opinion that there is ethics in capitalism and that capitalism in its turn creates moral values.”

Proximus to Deirdre McCloskey is professor Luc Hens of the Faculty of Economic and Social Sciences & Solvay Business School. Professor Hens points out the importance of her tripartite magnum opus ‘The Bourgeois Era’ (2006-2016). “In it she emphasises the significant role of bourgeois values or civil values in economics.”

Deirdre McCloskey was born as Donald. “My gender change definitely gave me an added impulse to release myself from the extremely masculine world of economics, and to consequently look at it from a distance. I believe my current work is a synthesis of my entire intellectual, personal and spiritual life”, she added in De Tijd.


Paul Ginsparg

American Paul Ginsparg (1955) is a physicist in theoretical high energy physics (Cornell University). But he is best known as the father of arXiv, an absolute pioneer in open access information distribution. Paul Ginsparg started the arXiv e-print archive in 1991. “It signified a true revolution in the transfer of scientific results within the world of theoretical physics”, states professor of physics Alexander Sevrin, who nominated Ginsparg and will act as proximus.


In the field of Sevrin all papers are made available on the arXiv repository before being published in conventional scientific publications. Over the past 25 years arXiv has known explosive growth and became a dominant archive for physics, astronomy, computer science and more and more other domains. In 2015 alone more than 105.000 new pre-prints were archived and more than 139 million downloads were registered. “I believe that few people have had such a significant impact on the distribution of scientific results as Paul Ginsparg”, says professor Sevrin of the Faculty of Sciences and Bio-Engeneering.      


Willem Van Mechelen

Dutchman Willem van Mechelen (1952) is professor Social Medicine, with a focus on occupational and sports medicine at VU Amsterdam. He has had a fruitful career sporting an impressive list of more than 550 scientific publications. He is co-author of an article that was published in the medical scientific journal The Lancet a few months ago titled ‘The economic burden of physical inactivity’. The article was widely cited in the international media. The research of Willem Van Mechelen centers around health prevention, sport injuries (prevention and treatment) and the socio-economical aspects of exercise. “Willem van Mechelen is someone who - free of prejudices - has a clear opinion and dares to act”, posits professor of exercise physiology Romain Meeusen, who acts as proximus on behalf of the Faculty of Physical Education and Physiotherapy.

Gary T. Marx

The American sociologer Gary T. Marx (1938) is professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He was a pioneer with groundbreaking insights in the research on surveillance. He gained fame with his book ‘Undercover: Police Surveillance in America’ (1988). Proximus professor Serge Gutwirth of the Faculty of Law and Criminology emphasises that “Gary Marx was absolutely the first one to profoundly research the undercover topic in a scientific manner. From there he expanded his focus into privacy and surveillance.” Last year his magnum opus ‘Windows Into the Soul: Surveillance and Society in an Age of High technology’ was published. To Gary Marx surveillance and social control are inherently neither good nor bad, it all depends on the context and the behaviour. Marx looks at all possible shapes and forms of surveillance: by governments, by corporations and organisations, but also between individuals. Marx’ approach in that sense is also groundbreaking in that it is inductive and “modestly analytical”, and as such, takes the used techniques very seriously.

Jan Terlouw

Jan Terlouw (1931) is probably most known for his work as a (youth) author of among other the classics Koning van Katoren and Oorlogswinter. Jan Terlouw grew up as a child during World War II and that left a profound effect on him.

After his studies as a mathematician and physicist he commenced a successful academic career. This scientific predisposition stayed with him throughout his life, even as a politician, where he was one of the leading figures of the D66 party. Terlouw always considered himself a scientist first, on his own account because that was his profession as a young man and because his academic approach influenced his writing and work in politics, but never the other way around.

In recent years Terlouw strives very explicitly for more sustainability and a long term vision on climate change. His most recent work “Het Hebzuchtgas” focuses completely around that topic. Last December Terlouw made a passionate plea in the popular Dutch talkshow De Wereld Draait Door to that effect. A plea against the destruction of our planet and for the restoration of trust between people.

Rector Caroline Pauwels is proxima of Jan Terlouw. “He fits perfectly in the theme of our honorary doctorates: Break down the walls. Terlouw is scientist, author and (former) politician all at the same time. That is not an obvious combination but Terlouw manages to be a little bit politician, writer and academic in everything he does.”


Emma Bonino and the inhabitants of Lampedusa

After the summer VUB awarded an additional two honorary doctorates, one to the committed Italian politician Emma Bonino and one to the citizens of the island of Lampedusa.

Below is an overview of all the VUB Doctores Honoris Causa. Since 2003 honorary doctorates are awarded upon nomination by the concertation structures that group the different faculties: Humanities, Exact Sciences and Medical Sciences. The honorary doctors who received their titles before 2003 are ordered by the faculty that held their laudatio.

Nominated by the university

  • Mrs. Chris VAN DEN WYNGAERT (magistrate Yugoslavia-tribunal)
  • Mr. Johan Olav KOSS (founder, chairman and CEO, Right to Play)
  • Mr. Jacques MOERAERT (ZAK) (cartoonist)
  • Mr. Herman VAN VEEN (artist, composer, writer and activist)
  • Mrs. Simone VEIL (former chairman of the European Parliament, member of the French Conseil Constitutionnel)
  • Mrs. Nawal EL SAADAWI (Egyptian writer and women’s rights advocate)
  • Mrs. Frie LEYSEN (director Young Arab Theatre fund, former director of 'De Singel' and 'KunstenFESTIVALdesarts')
  • Prof. Dr. C. REEDIJK (head librarian ’s Gravenhage)
  • Mr H. STORCK (cinematographer)
  • Prof. Ir. A. JAUMOTTE (Université Libre de Bruxelles)
  • Mr H. PEREZ DE CUELLAR (secretary-general of the United Nations)
  • Mr M. DE WILDE (journalist – BRT)
  • Mr G. WALSCHAP (author – Brussels)
  • Mr P. BOULEZ (composer-conductor, Paris)
  • Mr V. LEGLEY (musician)
  • Cdt. J.Y. COUSTEAU (oceanographer – Paris)
  • Mr Chico MENDEZE FILHO (Brazilian union leader)
  • Mr Alexci YABLOKOV (representative, chairman committee for ecology, USSR)
  • Mr Willy BRANDT (former chancellor of the German Bundesrepublik)
  • Mr Vaclav HAVEL (former president of Czechoslovakia)
  • Mr F.W. DE KLERK (former State President and Vice-president of South Africa)
  • Mr N.R. MANDELA (former president of South Africa)
  • Mrs Anne Theresa DE KEERSMAEKER (choreographer, artistic director Rosas)
  • Prof. Dr. Peter PIOT (director HIV/AIDS prevention program of the United Nations)
  • Prof. Dr. Ilya PRIGOGINE (nobel prize winner for chemistry 1977)
  • Sir Peter USTINOV (ambassador Unicef)
  • Mrs Shulamit ALONI (Israelian lawyer and politician, activist for civil rights and former minister of education and culture 1992-1993)
  • Prof. Dr. Hanan ASHRAWI (former spokesperson of the PLO and former minister of higher education in the Palestinean cabinet)
  • Lord Yehudi MENUHIN (violinist and combative humanist)
  • Prof. Dr. Sadako OGATA (high commissioner for refugees of the United Nations)
  • Mrs Lydia CHAGOLL (ballet dancer, choreographer, dans pedagogist, author, cinematographer)
  • Mr Toots THIELEMANS (musician)
  • Mr Dario FO (Nobel prize winner for literature 1997)
  • Dr. Hans BLIX (head of the UN weapons inspectors in Iraq)
  • Mr Daniël BARENBOIM (pianist and conductor)
  • Prof. Dr. Richard DAWKINS (Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science, University of Oxford )
  • Mr Nathan RAMET (president Joods Museum voor Deportatie en Verzet)
  • Mrs Sonia GANDHI, (chairwoman Indian Congress Party)
  • Prof. Dr. Marleen TEMMERMAN (UGent)
  • Mr Eddy MERCKX (cyclist)
  • Mrs Fatou BENSOUDA
  • Prof. Dr. Londa SCHIEBINGER (Stanford University)
  • Mrs Francisca ANYANGO
  • Prof. Dr. Marie LEVENS
  • Dr. Willy PEERS

Nominated by the faculty of Arts and Philosophy

  • Prof. Dr. ALER (Amsterdam)
  • Prof. Dr. B. SLICHER VAN BATH (Amsterdam)
  • Prof. Dr. J. KAMERBEEK (Amsterdam)
  • Prof. Dr. R. POMEAU (Sorbonne)
  • Prof. Dr. J. FISHMAN (New York)
  • Prof. Dr. J. BIALOSTOCKI (Warschau)
  • Prof. Dr. V. KARAGEORGHIS (Cyprus)
  • Prof. Dr. Chr. WOLF (Berlijn)
  • Prof. Dr. G. PARKER (Illinois)
  • Mrs AUNG SAN SUU KYI (Myanmar), Nobel peace prize winner 1991
  • Prof. Dr. Richard Rorty (Stanford)

Nominated by the concertation structure Humanities

  • Prof. Dr. Noam CHOMSKY
  • Prof. dr. Wolfgang MACKIEWICZ (Freie Universität Berlin)
  • Prof. dr. Peter BURKE (Cambridge University)

Nominated by the faculty of Law and Criminology

  • Prof. Dr. J. CARBONNIER (Paris)
  • Prof. Dr. H. MAAS (Leiden)
  • Prof. Dr. E. STEIN (Michigan)
  • Prof. Dr. G. BAUMGARTEL (Cologne)
  • Prof. Dr. E. LUYTEN (Nijmegen)
  • Prof. Dr. H. ANHUM (Amsterdam)
  • Prof. Dr. L. SOHN (Georgia)
  • Prof. Dr. P. CRAMER (Giessen)
  • Prof. Dr. Th. BUERGENTHAL (George Washington University)
  • Prof. Dr. August Cornelis 't HART (Rijksuniversiteit Leiden)

Nominated by the faculty of Economic, Social and Political Sciences

  • Prof. Dr. J. PEN (Groningen)
  • Prof. Dr. H. THEIL (Chicago)
  • Prof. Dr. B. ROY (Paris)
  • Prof. Dr. H. MILLER (Georgia)
  • Prof. Dr. J. ZIMMERMAN (Aachen)
  • Prof. Dr. J. COLEMAN (Chicago)
  • Prof. Dr. S.M. LIPSET (Stanford)
  • Prof. Dr. P. NIJKAMP (Amsterdam)
  • Prof. Dr. R. PALMER (Pennsylvania)
  • Prof. Dr. N.B. RYDER (Princeton)
  • Prof. Dr. J. STENGERS (Brussels)
  • Prof. Dr. A.H.G. RINNOOY KAN (Erasmusuniversiteit Rotterdam)
  • Prof. Dr. B.S. FREY (University of Zurich)

Nominated by the concertation structure Humanities

  • Prof. Dr. D. L. HOROWITZ (Duke University)

Nominated by the faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences

  • Prof. Dr. J. BRUNER (Oxford)
  • Prof. Dr. K. GOTTSCHALDT (Göttingen)
  • Prof. Dr. P. ARGYLE (Oxford)
  • Prof. Dr. R. HARRE (Oxford)
  • Prof. Dr. H. MATURANA (Chili)
  • Prof. Dr. A.F. SANDERS (Amsterdam)
  • Prof. Dr. J. RISPENS (Leiden)
  • Prof. Dr. J.N. BUTCHER (Minneapolis)
  • Prof. Dr. H. DYSERINCK (Aachen)
  • Prof. Dr. Th. MILLON (University of Miami)
  • Prof. Dr. S. HEGARTY (National Foundation for Educational Research, U.K.)

Nominated by the concertation structure Humanities

  • Prof. Dr. David Garland, New York University, School of Law
  • Prof. Dr. Bruno S. Frey, Universität Zürich, Institut für Empirische Wirtschafsforschung
  • Prof. Dr. Michael POSNER, professor Psychology, Department of Psychology, University of Oregon.
  • Prof. Dr. Carol GILLIGAN (New York University)

Nominated by the faculty of Sciences

  • Prof. Dr. H. FREUDENTHAL (Utrecht)
  • Prof. Dr. R. PORTER (Oxford)
  • Prof. Dr. R. DUBELCCO (San Diego)
  • Prof. Dr. A. PELCKZYNSKI (Warschau)
  • Prof. Dr. D. MINSKY (Massachussetts)
  • Prof. Dr. P. DELIGNE (Princeton)
  • Prof. Dr. V.J. HRUBY (Arizona)
  • Prof. Dr. R. JEENER (Université Libre de Bruxelles)
  • Prof. Dr. A. RAMESH (Madras)
  • Prof. Dr. G.M. ROSENBLATT (Lawrence Berkely Laboratory)
  • Prof. Dr. G. CHARPAK (CERN Genève), Nobelprijs voor fysica 1992
  • Prof. Dr. Alan Roy FERSHT (Cambridge University, U.K.)
  • Prof. Dr. Pattie MAES (MIT Media Laboratory)

Nominated by the concertation structure Exact Sciences

  • Mr Ad Bax, National Institute of Health, Bethesda
  • Mr Richard STALLMAN (advocate of the GNU Public License)
  • Prof. dr. Robert BROUT and prof. dr. François ENGLERT (Université Libre de Bruxelles)
  • Prof. Dr. Costas SOUKOULIS (Iowa State University, University of Crete)
  • Prof. Dr. Cecilia JARLSKOG (Lund University)

Nominated by the faculty of Medicine and Pharmaceutical Sciences

  • Prof. Dr. P. GAILLARD (Leiden)
  • Prof. Dr. C. HEDINGER (Zürich)
  • Prof. Dr. D. DONIACH (London)
  • Prof. Dr. J. ROBERTSON (Glasgow)
  • Prof. Dr. R. EDWARDS (Cambridge)
  • Prof. Dr. E. GARFIELD (Pennsylvania)
  • Prof. Dr. Med. Em. B. FOLKOW (University of Göteborg)
  • Prof. Dr. Med. Em. M.E. MULLER (Universität Berlin)
  • Prof. Dr. Med. M.G. ROSSMANN (Purdue University - West Lafayette)
  • Prof. Dr. Med. H.N. WAGNER (Johns Hopkins University - Baltimore)
  • Prof. Dr. D. COLLEN (KU Leuven)
  • Prof. Dr. Ralph L. STEINMAN (Rockefeller University, U.S.A.)

Nominated by the concertation structure Medical Sciences

  • Prof. Dr. Daniel R. Gould (Michigan State University, College of Education, Institute for the Study of Youth)
  • Prof. Dr. Alan TROUNSON (Monash University)
  • Prof. Dr. Martin RAFF (professor of Biology, Biology Department, University College Londen)
  • Prof. Dr. Ronald LEVY (Stanford University)
  • Prof. Dr. Lindsay CARTER (San Diego State University)
  • Mrs Kim Clijsters (tennis player)
  • Prof. Dr. Luigi Naldini (San Raffaele Scientific Institute)

Nominated by the faculty of Engineering Sciences

  • Prof. Dr. J. BESSELING (TU Delft)
  • Prof. Dr. K. MISLOW (Princeton)
  • Prof. Dr. P. ROWE (London)
  • Prof. Dr. O. ZIENKIEWICS (Swansea)
  • Prof. Dr. H. BRINSON (Virginia)
  • Prof. Dr. J. BAILEY (California Institute of Technology)
  • Prof. Dr. W. LEONHARD (Braunschwieg)
  • Prof. Dr. P. EYKHOFF (Technische Universiteit Eindhoven)
  • Prof. Em. Dr. Ir. J. KESTENS (Université Libre de Bruxelles)
  • Prof. Dr. B. VAN LEER (University of Michigan)
  • Prof. dr. Michel GEVERS (Université Catholique de Louvain)
  • Prof. Dr. Z. HASHIN (Universiteit van Tel-Aviv)
  • Prof. Dr. D. MILLER (Stanford University)  

Nominated by the concertation structure Exact Sciences

  • Mr Burt RUTAN (member of the National Academy of Engineering, founder of Scaled Composites Incorporated, California)
  • Sir Patrick Stewart (actor)

Nominated by the faculty of Physical Education and Fysiotherapy

  • Prof. Dr. W. HOLLMAN (Keulen)
  • Prof. Dr. Med. I. CAPLAN (Universidade de Buenos Aires)
  • Prof. Dr. Em. J. DUMAZEDIER (Université René Descartes - Sorbonne, Paris)
  • Prof. Dr. J. POORTMANS (Université Libre de Bruxelles)
  • Prof. Dr. St. BLAIR (Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas - Texas)
  • Prof. Dr. M. SOLOMONOV (Louisiana State University, New Orleans)  
  • Prof. Dr. Thomas REILLY (John Moores University , Liverpool)

Nominated by Vesalius College

  • Prof. Dr. A. GIDDENS (University of Cambridge)

Nominated by Université Libre de Bruxelles

  • Sir John B. Gurdon, University of Cambridge, Gurdon Institute