Vrije Universiteit Brussel establishes Caroline Pauwels Academy of Critical Thinking

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During the academic opening session on 27 September 2022, VUB rector Jan Danckaert announced the creation of PACT, the Caroline Pauwels Academy of Critical Thinking. The academy is a tribute to all that Caroline Pauwels stood for during her life and rectorship, with its central theme of free thinking in an atmosphere of connection, dialogue, self-reflection and radical humanism.

VUB rector Caroline Pauwels worked tirelessly during her mandate (2016-2022) to take dialogue, interaction and connection with society to the next level. That’s why the new VUB academy bears her name: the Caroline Pauwels Academy of Critical Thinking, or PACT for short. You’ll find an invitation to reflect on the Manifesto by Caroline Pauwels here.

With PACT, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel wants to make it clear to as wide an audience as possible that doubt, uncertainty and continuing insight are not weaknesses, but are in fact the engine of real scientific and social progress. In creating this academy, VUB aims to respond to the increasing challenges that loom over society and the world.

"We absolutely need the Caroline Pauwels Academy of Critical Thinking," said rector Jan Danckaert in his opening address. "Science is under attack. So we have to take responsibility."


As part of PACT, VUB will organise lectures for people who "want to understand", who want to listen to others because they might be right, and who want to become free thinkers through dialogue, self-reflection and self-examination. The PACT lectures aim to offer a better understanding of the major problems in society and the world, and above all to provide ideas on how to address them. They are therefore explicitly an alternative to fatalistic doomsday scenarios and disheartening visions of the future.

PACT aims to give a platform to the widest possible range of voices, with scientists and thinkers from all continents and a determinedly international perspective.Besides an interesting lecture programme, PACT will organise a variety of other activities that support its intentions. A steering committee will be installed and curator Alicja Gescinska will manage the first programme. During a video message, she expressed the ambition to get scientists off their "islands" through lectures, debate and discussion.

"Knowledge comes about through dialogue. Our dear Caroline Pauwels was well aware of that," she said. "From Caroline, we also learnt that we should embrace doubt and uncertainty. They too are a part of progress and continuing insight."


PACT was the last major project Caroline Pauwels was working on before she passed away on 5 August this year. Her big idea behind the initiative - originally to be called the Poincaré Academy of Critical Thinking - was to implement the principles of the Enlightenment: critical thinking, free research and radical humanism.VUB, with its sister university ULB, honours the principle of free research, as formulated at the time by French mathematician and philosopher of science Henri Poincaré: "Thinking must never submit itself, either to dogma, or to party, or to passion, or to interest, or to prejudice, or to anything, but exclusively to the facts themselves, for to submit means the end of all thought."

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