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VUB rector Caroline Pauwels steps down due to illness
Caroline Pauwels, the widely-respected rector of Vrije Universiteit Brussels (VUB), has resigned for health reasons.
Her decision was announced by the university on Wednesday, which said that she will focus on her family and friends in the coming period.
“A serious illness and the wonderful but demanding role as rector can no longer be combined at this stage of my illness,” said Pauwels, who was diagnosed with stomach and oesophageal cancer in 2019.
She had been VUB’s rector since 2016, the second woman to be elected to the post at the Dutch-speaking university, and was re-elected in 2020.
Pauwels said in her statement: “It has been an honour for me to be rector of Vrije Universiteit Brussel and, attached to VUB, the university hospital UZ Brussel. Both institutions are inspired by humanism and work very closely together.”
She gave special thanks to the medical and nursing staff of the UZ Brussel, where she is a patient: “What they do, ever dedicated, is of a magnitude that few can match.”
The university’s board of governors will appoint an interim rector on 1 March and a new rector will be elected by the university community ahead of the next academic year.
Tributes to Pauwel's leadership and vision
In paying tribute to Pauwel’s commitment to the university and her role during recent sexual assault allegations, VUB said: “During the past eventful weeks for the university, its community and in particular for the victims of inappropriate transgressive behaviour, Caroline Pauwels has resolutely taken the lead. She was and still is very much involved in the rollout of decisive measures and initiatives to ensure that the university is, more than ever, a safe environment for all students and employees.”
Pauwels responded: “Building a strong, and indeed more inclusive, VUB, where everyone is equal, remains a task for my successors and for the next generations.”
Credited with creating a closer relationship between the university and the city, Pauwels, who was elected Brusselaar of the year in 2017, said: “Anchoring the university in a complex but unusually fascinating city like Brussels poses many challenges, but at the same time offers so much potential.”