Former VUB Chancellor Caroline Pauwels dies

Former VUB Chancellor Caroline Pauwels dies
Former VUB rector Caroline Pauwels. Credit: Belga

Former chancellor of Vrije Universiteit Brussels (VUB), Caroline Pauwels, passed away on Friday. She had suffered from stomach and esophageal cancer for several years and resigned from her post due to bad health in February.

Professor of communication sciences, Caroline Pauwels also served as chancellor of the VUB from 2016 to 2022, and she leaves behind a big impact on the university and Brussels. She was the mother of two children.


Although Pauwels resigned from her second mandate as chancellor for health reasons, she made a great impact on the university and on Brussels.

"Caroline has succeeded in giving the VUB a face," said Patrick Stouthuysen, academic policy advisor at the VUB, in an interview with De Standaard .

"The VUB had an inferiority complex for a long time. We were always the little brother. Underserved. She brought pride and self-esteem here."

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Under Pauwels' leadership, the university became an 'urban engaged university'. Connections within Brussels and research about Brussels was actively sought.

"Pauwels is the first to see Brussels not as a burden, but as an opportunity," said Vice Chancellor Jan Danckaert, interim chancellor until the start of the 2022-2023 academic year.

Pauwel's goals were for the VUB to not only collaborate with other institutions, but also to excel. "You need stars to scatter stardust," she once told BRUZZ .

The link between art and science were ongoing themes during her leadership, and she oversaw that the VUB awarded honorary doctorates to cartoonist GAL and photographers Stephan Vanfleteren and Dirk Braeckman.

Closer to students

While she was chancellor, the gap between the chancellor, staff and students narrowed. Pauwel was close to the people around her and her disarming attitude increased support for the VUB. When it was announced that she was forced to stop as VUB director, expressions of support poured in.

Second female chancellor

Caroline Pauwels was born and grew up in Sint-Niklaas, but later lived in Watermael-Boitsfort. She studied Philosophy at the University of Antwerp and Communication Sciences at the Vrije Universiteit in Brussels, where she obtained her doctorate in 1995 for a study that focused on the audiovisual policy of the European Union (EU).

From 2000 to 2016, Pauwels was director of the SMIT research centre. In September 2016 she became chancellor of the VUB which  made her the second female chancellor of the university after Els Witte (1994-2000).

In 2020 she was the only candidate to succeed herself, which showed that her ambitions for the university were widely supported.

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