The decision to bring a legislation to make it impossible for Central European University (CEU) to function in Budapest, Hungary is unfortunate. It is sad not only for the students, staff and teachers at the university but for all the other academicians who care for academic freedom, for all those citizens of Hungary who care for their freedom of expression and values of liberty and democracy and for all those alumni of CEU coming from more than 130 countries in the world.
There are four amendments to the legislation clearly discriminating against and target Central European University. One amendment makes it mandatory for CEU to open an additional campus in the state of New York where it is registered. This provision puts the university in a financially unviable situation without absolutely no benefits. Another provision prevents Hungarian universities (in this case, CEU) from delivering programs or issuing degrees from non-European universities on behalf of CEU.
Another amendment forces the American entity CEU to stop its operations under the current name “Central European University” unless “Közép-európai Egyetem” (KEE), the Hungarian entity, changes its name. This amendment requires CEU to change its name unnecessarily which has become a name for valued education the world over. Another amendment proposes for the elimination of a good-faith waiver that was allowing academic staff from non-EU countries to work at the university without requiring a work permit.
Central European University was established by the Hungarian-born American billionaire financier George Soros who is a controversial personality. But indeed it is a futile business to claim that the founder meddles in the internal functioning of the university or he wants to create foreign agents to meddle in the functioning of the government.
CEU is renowned in the world as a private and independent institution. Many degree programs rank in the world’s top 200, 100 and in some in top 50. CEU faculty because of their high scholarship and independent standards of research have been successful in acquiring research and project grants from the European Union and elsewhere in the world.
CEU recruits students from all over the world. In CEU, there are presently about 1400 students and 370 faculties from more than 130 countries. It makes the CEU truly international in nature. CEU provides partial and full scholarships to nearly 80% of its students helping them to get the quality education. Many of these students are the first generation learners in their families.
It was very clearly anticipated that there will be some active steps by the Hungarian Prime Minister after Trump became the President of the USA. It is in 2014, the Prime Minister of Hungary talked about building an illiberal democracy in Hungary on the lines of Russian Federation. It was very evident that he despises civil society organizations and any institute that promotes the values of freedom, democracy and open society.
So when Trump who supports anti-immigration agenda and is not a promoter of liberal values came to power in the US, the Hungarian PM gained strength and confidence. He talked about sweeping out the Soros promoted -Open Society Foundations (OSF) and the NGOs supported by it. Before that he muzzled the freedom of the press by shutting down country’s largest opposition newspaper.
The next step was obviously the university-CEU, the bastion of liberal thoughts, democratic values and the promoter of the open society in the heart of Europe founded by Soros.
He took this bold step, obviously because his side is so strong now. He is friends with Russia and he supports illiberal policies of the Russian President. Trump is there in power in the USA, Turkey’s President Erdogan is following the similar policies and taking steps to shut down universities. It is unfortunate that he himself is a recipient of scholarship by Soros.
The Hungarian prime minister obviously has two agendas to fulfil. By attacking the Central European University, the prime minister wants to highlight his belief on the ideology of illiberal democracy and his intention to build one in Hungary. He also wants to make it clear to the world that he wants to be in alliance with the world leaders promoting illiberal agenda especially with Trump of the USA-the big brother!’
But fortunately and against normal expectation, it appears that the US too is not pleased with the Prime Minister’s attack on this university. After the passage of the legislation, the US embassy in Hungary released a strongly worded statement expressing its disappointment with the passage of the higher education legislation in Hungary. And as rightly pointed out, these statements cannot be released without permission of the State Department.
The attack on this university is not an attack on only on the university but it is much more than that. It attacks academic freedom, liberal values, democracy, independent and rational thinking and tradition of scientific inquiry. It is an attack on the opportunity of thousands of students and their bright future. Support for CEU has come from all corners of the world – by Nobel winners, its alumni, University presidents and deans of the schools, academics etc. and other neighboring countries too have offered that CEU can come to establish the campus.
Hungary is a European Union member state. The fundamental values of the European Union are respected for human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law. As mentioned clearly, the goal of the European Union is to defend these values in Europe. These values must be realized in all the legislations so it can be protected.
CEU essentially is promoting the values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law through its courses, research studies and other events that it conducts regularly. If the government in Hungary forces CEU to shut down its operations by enacting a legislations, it is going against the core values of the European Union. The repercussions of this step will go beyond Hungary and it will send a harmful signal to the other EU member states and to the world for sure. It is the responsibility of the EU member states to put pressure on Hungarian government.
Modern educational institutions built on the ideals of scientific inquiry and freedom of thought cannot cause harm to any individual or any state. We are indeed living in difficult times. We have come to a crossroads where we are surrounded by a multitude of issues – issues arising out of political and ethnic conflict, mass migration, intolerance and growing inequality. These institutes are there to train minds to solve the complex problems in the world that we are facing today. Therefore we must protect these institutions and their freedom.
By scuffling their freedom, we will not gain anything but we will lose a great deal!