Call­ing out Michael Ig­nati­eff

National Post (Latest Edition) - - ISSUES & IDEAS - Laszlo Palkovics Laszlo Palkovics is Hun­gary’s Min­is­ter of State for Ed­u­ca­tion

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.


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