Krebs: Defend the Enlightenment values

Remember and adhere to the values of the Enlightenment while striving to better the world around you, said John Krebs, former Principal of Jesus College at the University of Oxford.

“You are the people who will shape our future in a rapidly changing world; your education has equipped you to change the world,” he continued.

Krebs spoke to graduates from Brescia University College, Huron University College, the Faculty of Arts & Humanities, the Don Wright Faculty of Music, as well as the faculties of Engineering, Health Sciences and Science, at the Thursday, Oct. 22, afternoon session of Western’s 306th Convocation.

Western conferred an honorary Doctor of Science (DSc) upon Krebs in recognition of his distinguished and influential academic career in biology.

John Krebs, Baron Krebs of Wytham, is an ornithologist, behavioural ecologist, food security advocate and champion of the use of scientific evidence in political decision-making.

He is recognized for his ground-breaking work on optimal foraging theory, the function of song repertoires in birds, the conservation of bird populations, and for a widely successful textbook, An Introduction to Behavioural Ecology, now in its fourth edition, which has influenced generations of students, including today’s faculty sitting and biology undergraduates, who are today receiving their degrees.

Krebs received a DPhil degree from Oxford, where he returned after holding faculty appointments at the University of British Columbia and the University of North Wales. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society, and the recently retired Principal of Jesus College, Oxford.

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Graduates have learned the values of the Enlightenment during their academic career, said Krebs. Regardless of the degree they hold, they have been taught to value autonomous thinking and freedom. They’ve been taught to reject bigotry and oppression.

“Defend the Enlightenment values,” Krebs urged graduates, noting there are still people in the world who oppose liberty and uphold bigotry. “Without these values, your generation won’t succeed in the challenges that lie ahead.”

Krebs’ research has left a mark in the fields of territoriality, resource defence, and foraging, linking behaviour to ecology and evolutionary fitness and he has also studied mechanisms that underlie behaviour, linking brain structure to differences between species in ecology and behaviour.

As the first chair of the British Food Standards Agency, Krebs led numerous other national- and international-level committees focused on environmental science, agriculture, and sustainability and has been an advocate for evidence-based decision-making. He is considered an authority on the conflicts between food production and conservation.

In recognition as both a scientist and public servant, Krebs was knighted in 1999 and appointed a Life Peer in 2007.

In his citation, Social Science professor David Sherry praised Krebs’ accomplishments and presented him as a great example for today’s graduates.

“Lord Krebs’ career and his involvement in the public sphere serve as examples for Western graduates of the broader role scientists can play in society and as an inspiration for the positive impact that their training and education can have on society in Canada and internationally. Professor John Krebs is, for these reasons, an outstanding candidate for an honorary degree from Western,” Sherry said.

Krebs closed by asking graduates to tackle life’s challenges, especially collective challenges, by thinking outside the box.

“I’m sure each of you will surprise and enlighten your parents and teachers in your future careers,” he said.

Western conferred an honorary Doctor of Science (DSc) upon John Krebs, former Principal of Jesus College at the University of Oxford.

Paul Mayne // Western NewsWestern conferred an honorary Doctor of Science (DSc) upon John Krebs, former Principal of Jesus College at the University of Oxford.