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ALLEA alarmed at govʼt interference in academia

ALLEA, the European Federation of Academies of Sciences and Humanities, has issued a statement expressing alarm at what it describes as the Hungarian government’s "recent, recurring and unfounded intervention in the curricula of private and public universities."

As reported widely earlier this month, including in an article in the U.K.ʼs The Telegraph, the Hungarian government announced that it aims to ban the teaching of gender studies at universities in the country, prompting criticism of a "dangerous precedent" for state interference.

Gender studies programs are currently offered by two institutions in Hungary: the private Central European University (CEU) - the liberal institution long targeted by the present government together with its founder, Hungarian-born investor George Soros - as well as public research university Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE).

In its statement sent to the Budapest Business Journal, ALLEA accuses the government of "severely compromising academic freedom and autonomy that are key features of modern science and higher education."

"As on previous occasions, through the ban of certain research subjects from academic curricula, the Hungarian government once again infringes on internationally applied and accepted principles of academic freedom, scientific excellence and the self-governance of scientific institutions," the statement adds. "Disregarding such fundamental principles undermines the traditionally excellent and internationally renowned Hungarian science base, and threatens its leading and pioneering role in the region."

"By its very actions, the Hungarian government politicizes scientific research and jeopardizes Hungary’s strong European and international partnerships in science," ALLEA observes.

ALLEA stresses that scientific institutions must remain independent of undue political, religious, ideological, commercial or other interests, particularly with respect to their ability to decide which research and teaching they consider essential.

ALLEA calls on the Hungarian government to uphold and guarantee the autonomy of academic organizations and institutions "in order for the scientific community of Hungary to fulfil its tasks and mandates, and to contribute to the country’s social and economic well–being, and development."

The organization especially stresses the need for thorough and timely consultation with relevant stakeholders, arguing that legislation in the field of research and education policy requires a close dialogue between political authorities and representatives of the scientific community.

"We regret the fact that seemingly this consultation is not considered valuable by the Hungarian authorities as far as its research policies are concerned," the statement concludes.

Founded in 1994, ALLEA (ALL European Academies) currently embraces almost 60 academies in more than 40 countries from the Council of Europe region. Member academies operate as learned societies, think tanks and research organizations, and are self-governing communities of leaders of scholarly enquiry across all fields of the natural sciences, the social sciences and the humanities, explains the statement.

Criticism from pro-government side

Opposition to the governmentʼs plan to ban gender studies is not restricted to liberal sources, however. In a report by online news portal atv.hu on August 10, Gábor Bencsik, editor in chief of monthly magazine Magyar Krónika, which the report describes as pro-government, strongly criticized the move, in particular with regard to the paltry 24 hours the institutions were given to respond.

"This is simply insulting, or whatʼs even worse, arrogance on the part of those in power," Bencsik said. "People who work in universities are worthy of respect [...] and deserve time to put forward their positions."

Bencsik also observed that the governmentʼs move displays a fundamental ignorance about the very nature of gender studies.

"Gender science is not what superficial journalists write about it," he said. "It is not pushy feminism, not about breaking up families, not about encouraging small children to change their gender, not about engineering biological sexes according to taste. Instead it examines how biological gender is manifested in society. This has thousands of aspects, and if we do not recognize these, then how do we want to succeed, for example, in having society regain its capacity to reproduce?"