Central European University Under Threat From Hungarian Government


Central European University (CEU) is a private graduate-level university located in Budapest, and accredited both in the United States and in Hungary. Founded in 1991 by George Soros and currently headed by Michael Ignatieff, CEU has a variety of academic departments and research programs, including a sizable philosophy faculty. Now the university is finding its existence in Hungary imperiled by a proposed amendment to higher education legislation there apparently designed to target the school.

According to The Guardian,

The government says that stricter legislation is needed after a review of higher education institutions discovered that 28 foreign-linked universities “are operating in Hungary unlawfully”, including CEU, Oxford Brookes, Edinburgh Napier, CECOS London College, Anglia Ruskin University, and the universities of Middlesex, Buckingham, Hertfordshire, and Newport in Wales. Institutions from the US, Germany and France are also listed…

[CEU] argued that the draft legislation would force it to open a campus in the US that would be entirely extraneous for a an institution focused on central and eastern Europe. The university said it would in effect be barred from issuing CEU degrees in Hungary, and forced to change its name.

The Washington Post reports:

The proposed amendment would also eliminate a waiver allowing academic staff from non-EU countries to be employed at the university without a work permit.

The proposed legislation is consistent with increased nationalist attitudes in Hungary. Several reports suggest that there is particular animosity directed at the school because of Soros’ involvement. Reports The Guardian:

The move is seen as part of a broader crackdown on organisations linked to billionaire Hungarian-American financier George Soros, who founded CEU and sponsors a range of civil society activities through his Open Society Foundations. The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, once studied at Oxford on a Soros scholarship, but has become a bitter opponent of the magnate, accusing him of encouraging Europe’s refugee crisis and acting as a shadowy influence on Hungarian and global politics. Orbán has talked of promoting “illiberal democracy” and portrayed himself as a leader protecting Europe from migration.

CEU issued a response to the legislation, and a petition to save the university has been launched.

The following are excerpts from CEU’s statement:

CEU expresses its opposition to proposed amendments to Act CCIV of 2011 on National Higher Education, tabled in Hungarian Parliament today. After careful legal study, CEU has concluded that these amendments would make it impossible for the University to continue its operations as an institution of higher education in Budapest, CEU’s home for 25 years. CEU is in full conformity with Hungarian law. The proposed legislation targets CEU directly and is therefore discriminatory and unacceptable. CEU calls on the government to scrap the legislation and enter into dialogue to find a solution that allows CEU to continue in Budapest as a free and independent international graduate university.

The statement goes on to explain the dual accreditation of the university and its relationships with international faculty and institutions, all of which is threatened by the proposed legislation.

The petition, among other things says:

We, scholars, students and supporters of free and unbiased scientific research and education call on the Hungarian National Assembly to drop the proposed legislation and to enter negotiations with the leadership of CEU that will ultimately allow this prestigious university to remain a proud contributor to scientific discourse in Hungary.

According to faculty at CEU, statements of support from institutions and organizations, not only individuals, would be especially helpful. If you know of institutions or organizations that have publicly declared their support for CEU and their opposition to the proposed legislation, please mention it in the comments.

UPDATE 1 (March 30th, 2017): CEU Philosophy Chair Hanoch Ben-Yami sent along a newsletter, Hungary Around The Clockwhich has a story about the situation (starting on page 2). According to it:

The US embassy issued a statement in support of the CEU on Wednesday, saying the US is “very concerned” about the legislation submitted on Tuesday. Charge d’ Affaires David Kostelancik said in the statement that the CEU is accredited in the US and Hungary “with an excellent reputation in Hungary and around the world, and it stands as an important center of academic freedom in the region”. Stating that the university “enjoys strong bipartisan support in the US government,” he said the US “opposes any effort to compromise the operations or independence of the university”.

Additionally:

Reports that the government may force the CEU to close attracted attention at home and abroad, as prominent supporters expressed concerns. Academy of Sciences president László Lovász said it is important that the CEU stays, in a statement on the Academy’s website. “It is good that the CEU, a very significant scientific centre, an international education institution, operates in Budapest,” he wrote. 

UPDATE 2 (March 30, 2017): Inside Higher Ed has a new article this topic.

UPDATE 3 (March 30, 2017): This is to draw attention to the comment below by CEU philosophy professor Kati Farkas. She writes: 

CEU is asking for support. Here is a page where there is a sample letter that can be sent to the relevant authorities.

https://www.ceu.edu/istandwithCEU/letter

If you can send it on behalf of a department, school, or institution, it is even better. I propose that you put in the subject heading that “XY (department, etc) supports CEU” – I expect the ministry will get hundreds of letters and it will be easier to identify the senders. And though the support so far has been great, every single person or institution counts. Please consider helping.

Thanks so much to everyone who has already expressed concern and sent a supporting message. We will fight this and will continue as a university.

 

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