The Central European University (CEU) formally began its 27th Academic Year on Friday, at an opening ceremony welcoming students, faculty, staff and guests, addressed by President and Rector Michael Ignatieff.
Ignatieff welcomed more than 700 new students from more than 90 countries to the CEU community, which now includes 1,500 students from 116 countries and hundreds of staff and faculty, as well as 14,000 alumni worldwide.
In his opening speech, the rector was quick to cite the thorny issue of CEU’s ongoing battle with the Hungarian government over amendments to the education law that have threatened its very existence. The new law, which affects foreign-funded institutions of higher education but has been widely perceived as targeted specifically at CEU, triggered a series of mass street demonstrations in the spring, widespread public outcry among the international academic community, and the launch by the European Commission of an infringement procedure against Hungary.
“We are a community, brought together as never before by our defense of academic freedom,” Ignatieff said. “Let me thank the entire CEU community for standing together, during what I like to call, with British understatement, ‘our little local difficulty’.”
Ignatieff noted that negotiations are still ongoing between New York State, where CEU is accredited, and the government of Hungary, seeking an agreement that would enable the institution to stay in Budapest.
“We remain hopeful that an agreement can be reached and ratified by the Hungarian Parliament,” the rector said. “This experience […] has changed us all. We have rediscovered why free institutions matter and why our open society mission is so important.”
Ignatieff described CEU as “a free, self-governing institution, independent of government, independent of those who finance us, a community of scholars and students whose task is to search for truth and to add to the worldʼs precious stock of knowledge.”
A number of faculty members were recognized for their excellence in research and teaching at the opening ceremony.