CEU ‘condemns’ education law, eyes legal steps

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The Central European University (CEU) has condemned Parliament’s passage of amendments to the law on higher education today, claiming the legislation threatens academic freedom and vowing to contest its legality, according to a press statement sent to the Budapest Business Journal. The U.S. Embassy expressed disappointment with respect to the passing of the law.

Hungary’s Parliament today passed legislation modifying the law on higher education in an expedited procedure. The legislation threatens to put an end to the operations of the Central European University in Hungary, according to online news portal index.hu.

“The new law puts at risk the academic freedom not only of CEU but of other Hungarian research and academic institutions,” the press statement emphasized once again. The strict deadlines added to the final form of the legislation are seen by CEU as “even more punitive than earlier versions.”

Additionally, according to CEU, the current legislation lacks understanding of the U.S. Constitution.

“The requirement that foreign institutions like CEU receive authorization from U.S., federal authorities appears not to understand the U.S. Constitution. U.S. law clearly gives authority for higher education to the states. We have operated since 2004 on just such an agreement between the Governor of the State of New York and the then Prime Minister of Hungary,” CEU noted, commenting on the Hungarian legislation’s specification of the need for an intergovernmental agreement as a prerequisite for operations.

Questioning the legality of the law in light of the Hungarian Fundamental Law (constitution), CEU promised to challenge the measure.

“We will contest the constitutionality of this legislation,” said CEU President and Rector Michael Ignatieff. “In the meantime, we call on the government to enter into dialogue to see whether an agreement can be reached to resolve the issue. Such an international binding agreement must allow CEU to continue its operations in Budapest and safeguard its academic freedom.”

Reacting to the new law, Ignatieff said: “This legislation has been rammed through Parliament in a single week following a tide of defamatory attacks on the university and its degrees. These attacks have not succeeded. We are deeply grateful for the support we have received from Hungarian faculty, students and institutions of learning.”

CEU also called the government’s attention to the wave of support for CEU and for academic freedom received from noted academics in Hungary, Nobel laureates, university presidents, the U.S. Department of State, academic organizations, student groups, and ordinary citizens in Hungary and around the world. 

CEU said in the press statement that it is committed to continue to maintain the integrity and continuity of its academic programs throughout this period and assures all current and prospective students that CEU will remain in continuous operation whatever the circumstances.

U.S. Embassy disappointed by decision

“The United States is disappointed by the accelerated passage of legislation targeting the Central European University, despite the serious concerns raised by the United States, by hundreds of local and international organizations and institutions, and by thousands of Hungarians who value academic freedom and the many important contributions by the Central European University to Hungary,” U.S. Embassy Chargé dʼAffaires David Kostelancik said in a statement sent to the BBJ.

“The Central European University is a successful and prestigious American-Hungarian institution and has been an important component of the U.S.-Hungarian relationship for 26 years. The United States will continue to advocate for its independence and unhindered operation in Hungary,” the statement added.

Growing support for CEU

Expressions of support for CEU and condemnation of the legislation include: 17 Nobel Prize winners and more than 500 European and American academics; over 1,000 cognitive scientists including two Nobel Laureates; Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber; the United States Department of State; László Lovász, mathematician and President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences; the Hungarian National Conference of Student Unions; Eötvös Loránd University; the University of Szeged; the University of Pécs, Faculty of Business and Economics; Andrássy University Budapest; Academia Europaea; 18 Hungarian Colleges of Excellence; the British Academy for the Humanities and Social Sciences; the Regius Professors of Oxford and Cambridge Universities; Oxford University Vice-Chancellor Louise Richardson, recently elected to CEU’s Board of Trustees; the Cambridge University European Society; the Canadian Association of University Teachers; the European University Association; the Indian Academy of Sciences; and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, among many others.

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