How I see Radboud - the story of Ad Ragas

Portrait picture of Ad Ragas
With the courage to speak up
Ad Ragas
Current role
Professor of Human and Ecological Risk Assessment

Staff and students breath new life into our university's values. This is the story of Ad Ragas,  Professor of Human and Ecological Risk Assessment. 

Back in the 1980s, as a member of the University Council, I also took part in discussions around our Catholic identity. Jan Peters, who was a member of the Executive Board at the time, really opened my eyes. He said that identity was not about what makes you exclusive, but about what connects you, the values you share. When I think of Radboud University, I think of values such as respect for others and forgiveness. By respect we usually mean respect for others. And rightly so, of course, but when it comes to the University’s identity I'd like to also see included respect for nature, for our living environment. In addition to the focus on diversity and inclusion, several participants in my session agreed with me that attention to sustainability should be part of our identity.

In recent years, the University has already committed itself to this route, with campaigns such as 'You have a part to play' and Radboud Impact Day, as well as by hiring a sustainability manager. A brave choice, which, as a natural scientist, I can only applaud. The University is finally daring to speak up. Thanks to the decision to include sustainability in all Radboud University curricula, we can train students to critically reflect on the effects our behaviour can have on our environment, so that they can also reflect on this later on in their lives, instead of blindly following the wave of big money.

There’s always a period of scientific and general uncertainty between the moment you undertake a social activity, such as burning fossil fuel, and the moment when it becomes apparent that this activity also has harmful effects. How do we deal with this uncertainty? As far as I’m concerned, we should let ourselves be guided by respect for nature, and not by our sometimes misplaced trust that we can eliminate all risks with science.

In the context of our research, this means more emphasis on potential scenarios rather than on what we already know. This will allow us to understand what the risks are, and to stay ahead of any damage. Take medicines. Medicine residues seep into the environment via sewage water, with adverse effects on birds and fish, among others. If entrepreneurs were mindful of these consequences right from the start of the production process, they could take this into account, for instance by looking for medicines that break down more easily. This is already happening, but it could be much more systematic.

With our expertise in so many disciplines, and the contribution of so many young people, Radboud University could become a pioneer in creating a more sustainable society. Especially when it comes to complex problems like climate change and biodiversity loss, we desperately need all our disciplines – from economics and law, to ethics and communication science. 

- Ad Ragas