“Yes, but I can finish my dream first?” That was the disarming response my seven-year-old son Wout gave me a while ago when I urged him to get out of bed. That is what I want to do as well: finish my dream for KU Leuven. Now you know where “Do. Dream. 2025” comes from. I will clarify the exact link between ‘actions’, ‘dreams’, and ‘2025’ in my vision statement.

My experience

When I was elected in May 2017, I was fully aware of which arduous task I was taking on. I knew what to expect as a Rector after nine years of experience as Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Business and four years of being responsible for the integration of the campuses outside Leuven. I was also very familiar with the world of politics and policy-making after many years of working for several Flemish and Federal Ministers of Employment and due to my contributions to the High Council for Employment and the National Labour Council. 

This policy experience, systematically built over the years, has made all the difference. It has enabled me to lead our university with ambition as well as calm determination. 

This experience is necessary. After all, the ‘KU Leuven community’ is multi-faceted and complex. It includes 16 faculties, 28 departments, many central services, units and divisions, 13 campuses in 11 cities, 62,000 students, 23,000 staff members, a top-level university hospital, a leading psychiatric hospital, and an Association with five university colleges that serve 43 per cent of the students in Flemish higher education. 

Partly thanks to our Tech Transfer Office LRD, we are known as Europe’s most innovative university. This also makes us the pivot of the European Capital of Innovation that Leuven is today. We are embedded in four strategic research centres and play an important role in nine renowned international networks. We are a major world player, but we also have to prove and earn our place day after day. It takes the world to make a university grow.

My approach

All of the above is quite something. How do I go about it, you ask? I pride myself on always being up to speed. I seize opportunities to learn. I have such opportunities in my contacts with the LERU Rectors and in my role as a member of the University Council of the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität, the Board of Korea University Business School, or the AI Technology for Humankind initiative of the National University of Singapore. 

I also make choices. One less speech, reception, or interview every now and then: it creates time to really make a difference. Of course, I cannot do this on my own. I am very grateful for the people around me. The Executive Board of KU Leuven is a close-knit group. We have a team guided by friendship among colleagues and a supported Strategic Plan. 

This may sound as if I always have everything under control. That is not the case. The past years have been turbulent – probably the most turbulent ones since the university was split into two in 1968. The Reuzegom tragedy that took us back to the core of our mission and has left its mark upon me as a human being. The pandemic that forced KU Leuven to reinvent itself. Yes, such moments almost made me feel like a wartime leader sometimes. And no, this was not in the script, and it has dragged me out of my comfort zone as well. But these experiences have made me wiser as a leader and have made me grow as a human being. They are also reflected in the choices for the next four years.

My word

In 2017, my biosketch was the most-read page on my website. Apparently, many were curious about the man behind the candidate. However, I do not often write about myself. A little while ago, the Flemish daily Het Laatste Nieuws asked me 16 questions compiled by colleague Dirk De Wachter. Perhaps the answers lift a tip of the veil and offer you a glimpse of what I am like, who I am, and what I stand for. 

I am not a glory-seeker. I do not crave the spotlight. In 2017, I argued that the KU Leuven should take the lead in the media a lot more, and its Rector a little less. I acted accordingly. In the newspapers, the number of references to me as a person is about one third lower than was the case for the previous Rector, while the number of references to KU Leuven almost doubled in the last four years (80% increase).

But, above all, this is a side discussion that grossly misses the point. For believe me, if you really want to have an impact on policy as a Rector, you do not show your cards in the media. The image of back-room politics is not correct either. You make a difference with your expertise, clever negotiation tactics, and convincing arguments in a conversation rather than in the television studio. Content and someone’s network are more important than visibility. The Rector of a university like KU Leuven must also look beyond the Dyle river. Our ambitions require presence in many locations.

Those who work with me can tell you what I am really like. People often tell me that I am candid and share a lot. They also tell me that my solution-focused approach and my knowledge of the issues at stake help many to move forward. I dare say I am a man of my word. That is clear if you look at what has been realised from my 2017 programme and the Strategic Plan that was approved in 2018. I am approachable, and I like a personal and informal approach. I prefer ‘Luc’ to ‘Mr Rector’. I am demanding, though. The bar is always high, also and especially for myself.

Did you know that Luc …

  • seriously considered studying architecture, but eventually chose sociology?
  • his morning mood disappears immediately after the first cup of coffee (and that is why there is always coffee in the house)?
  • runs the 10 km at the University Trail?
  • likes intense and profound contacts but has a holy fear of contact lenses?
  • likes a good glass of red wine?
  • comes from a family (father, sister, brother-in-law and daughter) full of sociologists?
  • starts each week with the announcement that it will be the busiest week of the year?
  • likes to run a university, but gets stressed out by having more than one pot or pan on the stove, and therefore prefers to cook wok or casserole dishes?
  • sang in the Aarschot youth choir (the predecessor of Scala), from the age of 8 to 14?
  • often makes ironic jokes (about himself) during meetings?

Doen dromen, crescendo naar 2025

Meer muziek van Luc? Ontdek hier de afspeellijsten die hij maakte voor de blok.

My passions

I am a sports fanatic. I run about 40 to 50 kilometres a week. It helps me to get through the working day and limit the physical impact of very short nights. I used to play basketball, and I still love the game. Even today, I can still enjoy it when, say, eight out of ten attempts go through the basket. Yes, I make time for those fifteen minutes of NBA every day. Ask me what the results of the day are, and I will be able to tell you. I can also keep watching biathlon, although the people around me are not quite sure why. I think it is an impressive sport: giving your all on those skis and then suddenly finding the inner calm for five successful rifle shots. It fascinates me. And I see some parallels.

I am as systematic at work as I am voracious as a reader. I currently have nine books on my nightstand, with Koen De Vos’s De Geniale Stad at the top of the stack. But I read all these books at once, and always from cover to cover. In music, too, I am an ‘omnivore’. On my Spotify account, you will find a collection of all that beauty. It ranges from the ferocious guitars of Sonic Youth and Mogwai over the house and techno of Disclosure and Apparat and the indie of the XX and Caspian to post-classical music with Pärt, Kosemura, Satie, and Bartók, Bach’s oeuvre, and Pergolesi’s too-short repertoire. Fifty full days of Spotify, according to my 2020 bill. Architecture and black-and-white photography bring me peace as well.

As a family, we have experienced both joyful and difficult moments in the past four years. My life partner Sophie is a professor on our Antwerp campus. She can cope with my long working days and understands the complexity of what I do. She allows me to vent and relax. We have set aside time for each other. Our family time on Friday evenings is non-negotiable: we start with appetisers, and then,  at my youngest sons’ request, we eat fries.  

My children have experienced the past couple of years in their own way. My eldest daughter graduated as a mathematical engineer and is now working for a start-up. My youngest daughter started her studies in medicine, but an unfortunate accident that has left its mark on our family forced her to change her plans. She is now studying sociology, although she does not want it said that she is following in my footsteps. My eldest son is an eternal student, and he is now trying his luck at one of our Association university colleges. The two youngest children liven things up. They are now ten and seven. A while ago, we caught them playing Rector and Vice Rector. Their policy team consisted only of men, so, naturally, we intervened.

My gratitude

Being your Rector is a challenge but also a great privilege. I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to everyone within and outside KU Leuven who has contributed to the development of our university. 

The pictures below give you an idea of the past four years. Life as it is: being Rector of KU Leuven. Our university.

© KU Leuven