Albert-László Barabási: Academia under fire in Hungary

On 10 April, Hungarian President János Áder signed into law an amendment to the National Higher Education Law that would outlaw the Central European University (CEU). Although portrayed by the government as a purely administrative step, the “Lex-CEU” law is a strident attempt to curtail academic freedom and limit the independence of academic institutions.

Accredited in both the United States and Hungary, and operating in Budapest since 1991, CEU offers English-language master’s and doctoral programs in fields from public policy to network science. CEU ranks around 300 in the World University Rankings, with several programs in the top 100 (no other Hungarian university reached the top 500, likely due in part to severe underfunding of higher education). CEU has become the school of choice for the region’s brightest students, many of whom populate governments and nonprofit sectors of Eastern Europe.

CEU’s academic independence, modeled on its U.S. peers, has angered the government, which portrays it as a hotbed of liberal thinking. It is hard to point to any event or action by the university that triggered this crisis. The official reason offered by the government remains puzzling. It argued that U.S.-based degrees offered by CEU are a comparative advantage, unmatched by local institutions. In its view, the new law creates an even playing field. This reasoning fooled no one. The law is widely seen as an attempt to gain electoral advantage by picking a fight with the university’s founder, the Hungarian-born U.S. philanthropist George Soros, whose long-standing advocacy for open societies and migrants is at odds with the isolationist stand pursued by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. The law’s political nature is made manifest in the impossible, and potentially unconstitutional, conditions it imposes. It requires CEU to open a campus in New York State, where it is accredited, by October 2017, which is a practical impossibility. It also requires the university to be regulated by an agreement between Hungary and the U.S. federal government—ignoring the fact that education in the United States is under the jurisdiction of individual states. Unable to meet these requirements, CEU will lose its ability to admit new students next spring.

Lex-CEU follows the playbook of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who used similar legislative tactics against the European University in St. Petersburg, and mirrors attacks by members of the U.S. Congress against funding of political science. The masterminds of these attacks do not realize that academia is not a set of isolated interest groups but a tightly interconnected network committed to advancing knowledge. An attack on one of academia’s nodes—an institution, a field, or a researcher—threatens the advancement of knowledge as a whole.
The heartwarming response to Lex-CEU reaffirms the power of this interconnectedness. Most academic leaders in Hungary, at great professional and personal risk, have spoken up in support of CEU, and the law prompted large street demonstrations in Budapest.

Despite the law’s apparent finality, the battle is just beginning. The university’s president has vowed that research and scholarship will continue. The European Parliament has opened an investigation into the law’s legality and harmony with European Union laws. Within Hungary, the Supreme Court has been asked to rule on the law’s constitutionality, although independence of the courts has been questionable. None of these efforts are likely to conclude by the fatal October deadline, which means that only coordinated and meaningful U.S. and European political pressure, at the highest level, can restore CEU’s ability to enroll its next cohort of students.

CEU offers a test of Hungary’s ability to guarantee academic institutions’ long-term viability and commitment to educational excellence. It is a battle whose outcome will reverberate around the world. A loss will embolden those who aim to limit education and restrict free speech; a win will reaffirm academic freedom.

Albert-László Barabási, Hungarian poet Sándor Kányádi and George Soros.

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Albert-László Barabási

Albert-László Barabási is the Robert Gray Dodge Professor of Network Science and a Distinguished University Professor at Northeastern University, where he directs the Center for Complex Network Research, and holds appointments in the Departments of Physics and College of Computer and Information Science, as well as in the Department of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women Hospital in the Channing Division of Network Science, and is a member of the Center for Cancer Systems Biology at Dana Farber Cancer Institute. A Hungarian born native of Transylvania, Romania, he received his M.S. in Theoretical Physics at the Eötvös University in Budapest, Hungary and was awarded a Ph.D. three years later at Boston University. Barabási latest book is Network Science (Cambridge University Press, 2016). He has also authored “Linked: The New Science of Networks” (Perseus, 2002), “Bursts: The Hidden Pattern behind Everything We Do” (Dutton, 2010) and is the co-editor of “The Structure and Dynamics of Networks” (Princeton, 2005). His work lead to the discovery of scale-free networks in 1999, and proposed the Barabási-Albert model to explain their widespread emergence in natural, technological and social systems, from the cellular telephone to the WWW or online communities.

5 Comments

  1. Bendeguz79 says:

    No doubt the government’s intent is to limit Soros’ influence not just in Hungary but to spread his ideology by his money worldwide.

    The law extended it’s operation to next year, in case they are in compliance.
    Mr Adam informed us that lawsuit has already has been filed in response. So, just have to see the outcome of that before any other step can be taken.
    But the real question is why they do not sit down and work this out like intelligent school boys do ?!

    Perhaps, in case Mr.Soros admits local students also in larger numbers, and start introducing some subject courses that might benefit the very country as well, not just Mr. Soros’ sworn ideological goal, all might benefit from it.
    And just why not?
    Any answer to that ?
    Everything else is just political BS at this point.

  2. Curious George says:

    Soros is not an educated, cultured man. Therefore, no loss if this school of Jew hating philosophy, American bashing goes the way of the dinosaur….

  3. My take on this issue is that Mr. Soros just pushed his agenda to far and somewhere someone had to stop his anti-European, anti-cultural, anti-Christian, anti-Jewish, anti-white anti-order and generally speaking anti everything that the current generation of working people cherish.

    By now everybody knows (including the liberals who still want to enjoy his money) that he is a menace of the civilized society, he is an anti-Midas and everything he touches becomes bloodied. Hi is a ruthless predator always looking for chaos and feeds on it. He has destroyed the life of tens of millions of people and he is proud of it.

    It is unfortunate that he was able to split the intellectual community and he can pay enough to his cronies to incite mass-demonstrations, violate protests and riots (as we keep seeing in the USA).

    I believe that the CEU issue has more with an attempt to establish balanced education than with “a strident attempt to curtail academic freedom and limit the independence of academic institutions”. CEU is not an independent institution rather a propaganda machine 100% dependent on Soros’s money and being under his total.

  4. Bendeguz79 says:

    AN OPEN LETTER TO Mr. SOROS;

    Dear Mr. Soros;
    I know you have a big heart, even bigger than your pocketbook.
    Have been wondering why you do not let your hearts desire dictate of how you spend your fortunes.
    Instead of squndering much of it on politically motivated activities, just why do not make your name for future generation to remember your good name and actions, instead of your wealth?

    In case you establish scolarship for every capable young Hungarian student, and make sufficient donations to Hungarian Universities so they can improve to be the best. I strongly feel that will make your name to be remembered for generations to come.
    After all, ‘ a good name worth more than nay fortunes’.
    They will always place flowers or pebbles on your graves for generations to come.
    Do not you think that would be more noble than the memory of this present political struggle of CEU?
    Just a notion to remind you the inavitables of life, that no one can escape, not even bilionairs.

    Hope you will consider it .
    Sincerely.
    ‘Bendeguz79’

  5. @Bendeguz79,

    You are a nice dreamer. Look up on Youtube “The Devil On Earth” and you will know what your humbleness can earn for future generations of Hungarians.

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