Swiss theatre producer Milo Rau to become an honorary doctor at Ghent University

(16-02-2020) On Dies Natalis, on 20 March this year, Ghent University will award an institutional honorary doctorate to Milo Rau. Furthermore, five honorary titles will be awarded in recognition of scientific achievements.

Milo Rau

Having completed his studies in sociology, German and Romance linguistics and literature, Milo Rau  (°1977, Switzerland) turned his hand to tasks such as director, journalist and essayist.
After assignments in locations such as Berlin, Paris, the Brussels Bourse Theatre and Munich, he joined NTGent as artistic director in 2018/19.

Since his artistic debut in 2002, Milo Rau has produced over 50 plays, films, books and activities. His productions have been prominent at all major international festivals and have toured over 30 countries worldwide.

Although his work is frequently considered controversial, Milo Rau actually aims for more than pure controversy: time and time again, he encourages his audience to leave the well-trodden path and let go of stubborn habits, he tries to ignite a social debate on all kinds of often very universal topics, and create the opportunity for change. He has already received a whole host of artistic awards. By awarding an institutional honorary doctorate, Ghent University also highlights his social impact in particular.
Milo Rau will attend the academic session on the occasion of Dies Natalis on 20 March via a video message.

The rector is promoting this honorary doctorate and explains his selection of Milo Rau in a discussion with the theatre producer:

The need and liberty to think and ask questions

Ghent University rector Rik Van de Walle still remembers so well just how impressed he was by La Reprise, the last theatre performance by Milo Rau before his official appointment as artistic director of NTGent in September 2018. "From that very moment I was certain that we should give Milo a honorary doctorate some day. Everyone I spoke to on the subject was keen on the idea, so things progressed far quicker than I had imagined."

The university commends the versatility of Milo Rau's work in geographical terms, form and content. He creates theatre, writes columns and essays, produces films and documentaries, and does so on so many subjects, often with a socio-political dimension. "As a world-class culture maker, Milo is enormously open-minded," says Rik Van de Walle, "and it is this very open-mindedness that fits so perfectly with our university's pluralistic foundations, namely that all opinions are a priori equal and therefore worth investigating and questioning."Milo Rau en Rik Van de Walle

Questioning everything
"Academics should never be satisfied with what's already there: they are there to question everything and challenge the status quo", the rector continues. "A scientist who accepts today's reality is heading for unemployment. This incessantly critical attitude is typical of Milo Rau. He too questions everything in a domain that is of much concern to us as a university: that of culture. University education and research are also always linked to culture."

Milo Rau: "At the same time, I'm no stranger to theory. I not only try to produce art, but also always aim to consider and communicate the choices involved in art production. Why and how is something being told? I want to demonstrate this context. As soon as I joined NTGent, I immediately asked myself how accessible a city theatre could and should be. What is its relationship with the public and the city? How can we collaborate to create new classics? In fact, a theatre producer has no clear role, except the one of facilitating the framework in which others can do their work."

Rik Van de Walle: "In that regard, our respective biotopes and responsibilities are similar. As rector, I must create the context in which scientists can do their work. Beyond that I have nothing to do with their focus on content or course of research. After all, I am also very keen on academic liberty."

Beyond useful philosophy
"In my opinion", the rector says, "academics essentially have no specific obligations, not even to society. In turn, society needs people who create knowledge, because otherwise it withers away. The same applies to culture. Society needs cultural innovators and I really believe that society should support such innovators. Cultural and academic research can both be 'useful' to a certain extent, but their importance goes much further."

Milo Rau: "Indeed, for example, we do not know exactly how trees communicate, because science has never focused sufficiently on the subject, due to a sense of useful philosophy. Artists and scientists both have the dynamics to change our perspective."

Rik Van de Walle: "Artists and scientists are fuelled by curiosity, but you can and must always ask yourself who or what is behind such curiosity. After all, you quickly end up in a comfortable modus operandi, whereby you risk losing the will or ability to think beyond that framework. This means, as well as being challengers, artists and scientists must also be challenged."

Milo Rau en Rik Van de WalleOut of the box
"Therefore, I not only see my task as creating the right context, but also encouraging people to think something different to what they thought before and do something different to what they did before", the rector continues. I am convinced that we must break away from the boundaries of the university more often. Leave the institute, find other places and look at sectors with a similar creative process, and learn from them. Look at how Milo does things, for example. And vice versa."

Milo Rau: "At the same time, a certain framework is quite important. It creates a sense of 'comfort' or 'safety' to explore other areas. Deadlines are also handy in that respect."

Rik Van de Walle: "Yet, even if you achieve a deadline, something can and should never be considered complete. Knowledge never stops evolving. In a certain sense, the pressure from the public and appraisers of a particular finished product weakens the creative process behind knowledge or art generation. Such pressure must therefore be restrained, and if necessary simply ignored."

Faculty honorary doctorates

On Dies Natalis, Ghent University will also award honorary doctorates to recognise scientific achievements. Five faculties were invited to present an honorary doctor this year:

  • Faculty of Arts and Philosophy: professor Mary Dame Beard (University of Cambridge, UK). Promoters: prof. Lieve Van Hoof and prof. Koen Verboven
    Prof. Beard enjoys global recognition for her efforts in making classical culture accessible to a wide audience.
  • Faculty of Law and Criminology: professor John H. Knox (Wake Forest University, US). Promoter: prof. Luc Lavrysen
    Prof. Knox was among the first to recognise the link between environmental law and human rights. His publications on the subject are pioneering on a world scale.
  • Faculty of Veterinary Medicine: professor Katrin Hinrichs (College of Veterinary Medicine Texas A&M University, US). Promoter: prof. Ann Van Soom
    Prof. Hinrichs’ work related to assisted reproduction techniques in horses is pioneering and, among other things, she was involved in the birth of the first foal from an embryo produced in-vitro in North America.
  • Faculty of Bioscience engineering: professor Dave Goulson (University of Sussex, UK). Promoter: prof. Guy Smagghe
    Prof. Goulson specialises in ecology and the preservation of insects (bees in particular). He is strongly committed to science and society, making research more mainstream and promoting social involvement.
  • Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences: Dr. Ajit baron Shetty (former CEO Janssen Pharmaceuticals and president of the Board of VIB). Promoter: prof. Dieter Deforce
    Dr. Shetty may not be an academic, but he is a great facilitator of scientific research in pharmaceutical science. Moreover, he has supported the development of research institutions in many different ways.