Honorary doctors


Meaning and history


The use of the honorary doctorate in Leuven dates back to 1874.

For a long time it was conferred by the faculties. In 1951, King Baudouin became the university’s first honorary doctor.

The first meaning attached to the distinction referred to scientific merit: discoveries, significant teaching, foundation of a new discipline...A fine example is Alexander Fleming, who became an honorary doctor of the Faculty of Medicine in 1945.

Queen Elizabeth had also become an honorary doctor of medicine in 1927. It was conferred in memory of the Ocean Hospital in De Panne, close to the Yser front, to celebrate the resistance of Belgian sovereigns during the First World War. Albert I was honoured the same day by the Faculty of Exact Sciences.

After the war, honorary doctorates were conferred to celebrate leaders of the allied victory (Clemenceau, Field Marshal Foch) and to thank those who supported the reconstruction of the severely damaged university. United States President Woodrow Wilson received his honorary doctorate in 1919 in the very evocative setting of the ruins of the Halles universitaires. The months following the end of the Second World War were, in turn, marked by honorary doctorates for Charles De Gaulle, Winston Churchill, President Roosevelt, General Eisenhower and Field Marshal Montgomery.

Robert Schumann and Konrad Adenauer became UCL honorary doctors in 1958.

Since the mid-1980s, the university’s honorary doctorate ceremony has been combined with the celebration of 2 February (Patron Saint’s Day). A new direction was born: to associate the university with men and women from here and all continents, committed to working through science and culture to better humanity.

Françoise Hiraux, UCL Archives Department

Découvrez les docteurs honoris causa de l'UCL depuis 1951 !