We mourn the passing of Jerzy ŁUKASZEWSKI, Rector of the College of Europe (1972-1990)

It is with great sadness that we learned about the passing of Jerzy ŁUKASZEWSKI on 3 June 2020. Professor Jerzy ŁUKASZEWSKI devoted 30 years of his life to the College of Europe in Bruges and served as Rector for 18 years between 1972-1990. After the end of his rectorship he was awarded with the title of Honorary Rector of the College of Europe.

Jerzy ŁUKASZEWSKI was born in Poland in 1924. He studied economics and political science at Poznań University. He pursued an academic career as a lecturer at the Catholic University in Lublin from 1951 to 1957. He then completed his studies at Harvard University between 1957 and 1959. However, he was unable to return to Poland and was forced into exile. He came to the College of Europe in Bruges in 1961 as a Research Fellow. Two years later, in 1963, he became Professor of Political Studies at the College. In parallel, he was Professor at the Law Faculty of Namur (1963-1985).

In 1972, the Administrative Council appointed Jerzy ŁUKASZEWSKI as Rector of the College of Europe in Bruges. ŁUKASZEWSKI, a Pole, was now at the head of the continent’s leading educational institution in European studies. At that time his motherland – Poland – was still locked behind the Iron Curtain.

During his 30 years of service to the College of Europe, of which 18 as the Rector, Jerzy ŁUKASZEWSKI brought a substantial contribution to the development, image, academic standing, financial stability, and overall reputation of the College. From the first year of his rectorship, Jerzy ŁUKASZEWSKI introduced groundbreaking reforms that still define the College of Europe today.

Rector ŁUKASZEWSKI took great care of the academic personnel and students of the College. He insisted on safeguarding and further increasing the number as well as the diversity of the professorial body, with the aim of offering instruction from different educational cultures and methods. In 1973, he introduced and implemented the concept of study visits for students of the College. He strongly supported the organization of National Days and Weeks by the College’s students.

Rector ŁUKASZEWSKI also firmly established the practice of inviting high-ranking guest speakers to open the academic year, thus transforming the start of the academic year from an internal event to a tribune for statesmen, high-ranking officials, or public figures. Upon his invitation, Margaret THATCHER, then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, delivered her historic Bruges Speech in 1988.

More fundamentally, as he had set out to do in 1972, he built the critical mass necessary for a qualitative leap for the institution, starting with increasing the number of students. While the 1971/1972 promotion welcomed 58 students, the 1989/1990 promotion had 200 students. What is more, along with the progressive rise in student numbers, there had been also a continuous rise in student applications, reaching 3,000 during the last year of Professor ŁUKASZEWSKI’s rectorship. For the academic year 1990/1991, one in twelve applicants was admitted to the College.

In parallel, starting from 1972, Rector ŁUKASZEWSKI undertook the task of ensuring stable financing for the College’s future. He secured an increase in the College’s funding from the Belgian government. At the same time, he negotiated the introduction of a specific line of funding into the budget of the European Commission. Consequently, the size of the visiting faculty could be enlarged, the number of scholarships offered to students increased, and the College’s infrastructure multiplied. Acquiring the financial means for ensuring a stable future of the College is all the more laudable because it was accomplished in the context of the political and economic crises of the 1970s.

Furthermore, in 1972 the very existence of the College of Europe had been thrown into doubt with the creation of the European University Institute in Florence, which was seen by some as superseding the small pioneer of European education that the College had remained. Rector ŁUKASZEWSKI took up the challenge this posed with determination and passion – and he succeeded.

After the 18 years of his rectorship in Bruges concluded in 1990, the College of Europe became an institution of such strength and power that it could undertake new challenges emerging from the historical changes in  Europe that started in 1989. That is why Jerzy ŁUKASZEWSKI is also rightfully seen as one of the founding fathers behind the establishment of the sister campus of the College of Europe in Poland at Natolin.

He writes in his last book entitled To Go As the Compass Guides ("Iść, jak prowadzi busola", 2018): "I have witnessed the miracle – as much as I dislike big words, this one seems to be fitting here – of Europe’s nations uniting and replacing the tradition of conflict, war and extermination with the culture of cooperation and solidarity. As with all human endeavour, the integration goes through crises and setbacks. It is my heartfelt wish for it to continue and advance. For the welfare of nations, families and individuals."

As a result of his vision, determination and the inner desire for betterment and reform, the College of Europe was transformed under his rectorship into the renowned and inspiring Grande école européenne that we know today.

After the fall of the communist systems in Central and Eastern Europe, Professor ŁUKASZEWSKI served as the first ambassador of new Poland to France (1991-1996). He has authored a number of publications on historical and political subjects with a particular focus on European integration, written mostly in French, English and Polish.

We bid farewell to our former Rector Professor Jerzy ŁUKASZEWSKI, a mentor and a lodestar to those who never stop in the pursuit of freedom and dignity for all of Europe. A man who genuinely believed in an ambitious ideal of Europe and was able to give it tangible shape in the many walks of his life.

We join his family in their mourning and convey our heartfelt condolences.

Photo courtesy: Wojtek KORSAK