The Vrije Universiteit Brussel is the offshoot of the French-speaking Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) that was founded in 1834 by a Brussels lawyer with Flemish origins, Pierre-Théodore Verhaegen. He wanted to establish a university that would be independent from the state and the church and where academic freedom would reign. Although some courses at the ULB's Faculty of Law were already being taught in Dutch in 1935, it was not until 1963 that almost all the faculties offered courses in Dutch. The Dutch-speaking university was finally split off from its French-speaking counterpart on 1 October 1969. With the act of 28 May 1970, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the Université Libre de Bruxelles officially became two separate legal, administrative and scientific entities.
The Vrije Universiteit Brussel is the only Flemish university that has incorporated the principle of 'free inquiry' in its statutes. This principle is based on a text by the French mathematician and natural philosopher Henri Poincaré (1854-1912), in which he says that:
Thinking must never submit itself, neither to a dogma, nor to a party, nor to a passion, nor to an interest, nor to a preconceived idea, nor to anything whatsoever, except to the facts themselves, because for it to submit to anything else would be the end of its existence. It is no surprise that the seal of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel bears the legend 'scientia vincere tenebras' (science will triumph over darkness). The beggar's wallet and the joined hands on the orange-white-blue escutcheon in the emblem (the colours of the Prince of Orange) refer to the struggle of the Protestant Gueux and the Prince of Orange against the Spanish rule and the Inquisition in the 16th Century. The combination of the legend, wallet and joined hands symbolises the free and unfettered spirit of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Another basic principle, also incorporated in the university statutes of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, is that the institution must be managed according to the model of democracy. In concrete terms, this means that all echelons, from professors and assistants over researchers, students, administrative staff and technical personnel, are represented on all its governing bodies. Thus the university guarantees that every echelon has a voice in its decision-making processes and participates in its management.