Rik Torfs, possibly the most recognisable university professor in the country, is to retire from his post as lecturer in canon law at the University of Leuven.
Torfs – full name Henri Maria Dymphna André Laurent Torfs – has often appeared in the press, but public recognition came when he appeared on the quiz show De Slimste Mens from 2007 to 2009, where he offered humorous and often waspish comments on the questions, the answers and those who gave them.
Now, after having seen the back of the age of 65, and after 40 years in academia at Leuven, he is obliged by the university’s rules to retire, after publishing more than 500 scholarly papers, and sitting in the university rector’s chair for four years from 2013 to 2017.
“My role is over,” he told the Gazet van Antwerpen. “I am proud of my faculty, it has never been bigger. When I started, there were four students. Last year there were 137."
On his retirement, he also also used the moment to speak out against the current problems faced in academia. "I don't feel quite at home in the university as it is now. In the long run it has become a large company, in which the financing of scientific research has become the main driving force. And in which narrow professional competence takes precedence over the formation of students into broad-minded people.”
However he denied being disillusioned.
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“I am a realist, I know that history moves in waves. Until fifty years ago we had holistic universities, in which scientific subfields debated widely with each other. Today we mainly have to listen to experts, each in his own small field. I miss that broad debate. But that will change again. So no, I don't feel disillusioned. On the contrary, I am a cheerful and happy person.”
And plans for the future include, of course, more teaching.
“I am writing a book about our zeitgeist, and I hope that many lectures will follow. I will continue to teach a few courses in Leuven and Strasbourg. And I'm working on an initiative to teach people to think broader and deeper. A kind of school of thought. The discussions are underway. In summary: I used to be an employee, now I am an independent trader in nonsense.”