Calling out Michael Ignatieff
Michael Ignatieff is hijacking academic freedom i n Hungary.
As minister of state for education in Hungary, I am calling out Mr. Ignatieff for misrepresenting his position as dean of the Central European University. I believe he bolsters mistruths about our country’s new education legislation, which in reality is designed to benefit national and foreign students at CEU. Yet Mr. Ignatieff appears hellbent on placing CEU in the middle of a political battle, but for what gain?
I am responsible for Hungary’s educational values and integrity; therefore, it is incumbent on me to dispel Mr. Ignatieff ’s myths and set the record straight once and for all.
During a recent review of 28 foreign institutions of higher education operating in Hungary, the state’s Education Office found irregularities and unlawful operations at 27 of them — including the CEU. The irregularities and unlawful practices showed that the laws as they then stood were not enough to protect Hungary’s highereducation market against universities not properly qualified.
Some background now on CEU’s connection to the U.S.
The CEU is a New Yorkbased entity founded by New Yorker George Soros, a Hungarian- American. The CEU is registered at the headquarters of the Open Society Foundations in Midtown Manhattan and gives out American diplomas to students of the Budapest-based Közép-európai Egyetem.
Közép-európai Egyetem, or KEE, is a literal translation to Hungarian of “Central European University,” but the KEE and the CEU are legally separate entities. CEU in New York, KEE’s offshore partner, is accredited in the state of New York, but it does not offer any degree programs in the United States.
Hungary’s new law creates certain requirements for foreign institutions of higher education, like the CEU, that award diplomas in Hungary. First, institutions must have teaching experience and presence in their country of origin; that is, in the coun- try recognizing the diplomas that they award, in CEU’s case that means the United States.
Second, there must be a bilateral agreement between an institution’s country of origin and Hungary that allows the institute to operate and award diplomas in Hungary.
The amendment to the education law does nothing more than set up legal guarantees so that universities are not able to exploit the current loopholes. In other words, it aims to ensure that foreign universities seeking to offer programs in Hungary are serious institutions of higher education.
None of these conditions are impossible to meet, and none of these conditions mean shutting down any institutions. In any event, nothing prevents KEE, which is registered in Hungary and is where the real work and education is done, from continuing its operations. As Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán put it, this is of interest “in the goodwill” of both the U. S. and the Hungarian administrations. After all, higher education and the maintenance of quality in these institutions are common goals.
Our government has been explicit that it is not our intention to close CEU or any other universities. We have appointed a chief negotiator to handle discussions with the home countries of all institutions of higher education affected by the new rules. If we are met with goodwill on the side of the CEU, there’s no reason that the additional requirements cannot be met.
As CEU’s rector, Mr. Ignatieff has chosen to inflate what is essentially an administrative question into a pitched political battle. He began by announcing that he would refuse to negotiate and instead escalated this into some kind of media war. That has prompted more than a few of us to wonder in Hungary about the rector’s real ambitions.
For the record, the Hungarian government is committed to keeping the issues of higher education separate from politics, and sincerely hope that the CEU leadership will put politics aside and work with us in good faith for the future of our students.