By amending the Higher Education Act (through bill No. T/14686), the Hungarian government attacks the “Central European University“ on three points at least:
– CEU is not substantiated by an international treaty, as required by the new law, since the basis of its foundation was not a special agreement made with the Hungarian government, but simply the possibility arising from the freedom of enterprise and education–making use of which a legal entity, duly registered in the State of New York, has been able to start its activity of higher education in Hungary, in favour of Hungary, and obtaining international reputation;
– CEU does not have a parent institution that would effectively operate in the place of incorporation that would be required by the new law, although such a requirement does not exist under the law of the State of New York;
– Due to the amendment, the academics of CEU that reside outside the European Union would simply not receive work permits in Hungary after 31 December. This has not been legally required to date for those who have undertaken a job at a registered institution of higher education.
Unfortunately, making reference to international treaty provisions improperly has been an established instrument of the government’s educational policy. For example, when it comes to church universities, the government provides special treatment to them by referring to the fact that these universities operate under an international treaty, which is not difficult. (For example, for Catholics if agreements with the Vatican City State are considered international treaties. Hungary has its sovereign right to impose conditions for the commencement of academic activities, indeed.) The legislation cannot, however, be discriminatory. The current bill is addressed to a single operator, that is, to CEU. Notably, the Andrássy University will presumably not be affected, the operation of which is supported by an international treaty, under which the parties may derogate from the application of the conditions laid down by national law. The Hungarian law is a new case of regulatory capture, the subject of which is this time an internationally renowned university.
The attack against CEU is a challenge to all Hungarian universities, which is among other things unfortunate because, during decades of its operation, CEU has been deeply integrated into the academic life of Hungary. Its removal by violence would be a serious loss for the Hungarian academic sector what we cannot tolerate. Indeed, the CEU portfolio is not complete (e.g., it does not provide undergraduate programmes), but wherever it launches academic programmes, it has clearly increased over other Hungarian universities (being generously provided by financial means). We all have benefited from the success of CEU, and the loss of CEU would be a loss for all of us. For example, where we are going now to get access to books or studies that have been available in the CEU Library? In the needy libraries of public universities, it is certainly not the case to do so.
The Hungarian government is sovereign in deciding whom to admit entry into the territory of Hungarian higher education from outside the European Union, and under what conditions. It can set a barrier for those who do not come from the European Higher Education Area. It is still not a good message to the academia and to academic freedom if the government continues to fight against the ideals of freedom. Furthermore, this action of the Hungarian government is an unfriendly message, addressed to the State under whose laws CEU has legally come up. By amending the law, the government leaves a message to all of us who are present in Hungarian universities: the government should have the right from one day to another to arbitrarily change the operating conditions of higher educational institutions, disregarding institutional autonomy.
Is it perhaps not just the idea of an open society that is wrong with the Hungarian government? Or is it a problem with CEU that provides graduated students from the former Soviet Union’s successor states in large numbers? Is standing up for the values of knowledge, democracy and the rule of law deemed to be subversion?
Is it really what Hungarian voters wish to see? I strongly hope that it is not. I must protest on behalf of academic freedom and university autonomy that are widely recognised in the civilised world. Why do I say? This is because today it takes place to CEU, tomorrow it may turn to Corvinus, and the day after tomorrow the life of all of us can be compromised and destroyed. It is your responsibility for all troubles, dear fellow citizens, who leave deterioration. If we go back without a word before another truncation, what is next for? Do not you realise that political despotism will take away our children’s future?
Students, faculty, support staff, supporters, sponsors and friends! Dear deans and rectors! Take possession of the university, which is ours! Let us free up our universities! Let us go out on the street if necessary! Let us ask support from the domestic and international public opinion! We have to move, we shall organise ourselves. Let the university be an island of freedom in the universe! Those who agree with the above pious desires, please contact me. Let us sit down, talk, argue, and let us take then steps to preserve all what is valuable for us.
Professor Dániel Deák
Corvinus University of Budapest