The Central European University fully complies with Hungarian law, it has taken all steps to fulfill the requirements stated in the draft agreement between Hungary and New York State, the university announced at a press conference. It urges the Hungarian government to sign the agreement. For them it is discrimination that the government has already signed an agreement about another university, just not about CEU. The university says: it is unacceptable to keep them in an uncertain legal situation for another year. Rector Michael Ignatieff confirmed it is still their aim to stay in Budapest.
The Hungarian Parliament approved amendments to the new bill about higher education. These amendments contain a one-year extension (until Jan. 1, 2019) of the deadline for foreign universities to comply with the new rules.
The Rector of Central European University, Michael Ignatieff said at a press conference: it is unacceptable that the government doesn’t tell whether they would sign the agreement with New York State until the end of next year. Hungarian Minister of Human Capacities Zoltán Balog said that signing the agreement would now be pointless. Zsolt Enyedi, Pro-Rector for Hungarian Affairs said they would like an explanation why he thought so.
As the university understands, this agreement has been ready to sign since September. David Kostelancik, Chargé d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Hungary also confirmed this at another conference.
This agreement guarantees CEU’s existence in Budapest.
In line with the agreement, CEU signed a memorandum of understanding with Bard College, which was presented at the press conference. According to the memorandum, CEU has its own facilities on Bard’s campus, the two universities initiate joint programs taught by professors of both universities and bilateral student and faculty exchanges.
So, as Michael Ignatieff stated:
CEU took all steps to fully comply with the law.
He asks the Hungarian government why they cannot take this as an answer. He thinks, it is discrimination that while the government has already signed an agreement with the State of Maryland regarding McDaniel College, it is not willing to do it with the State of New York regarding CEU, and Minister Balog says it would be pointless.
“We’ve been kept in a legal limbo for six months. Extending the deadline means that this can go on for another year”,
he said. So they call the Hungarian government to sign the agreement with New York as soon as possible.
The legal uncertainty has consequences, they are worried that it can cause problems with recruitment. As he said: “the longer this goes on, the more the university suffers, and
a university cannot be free, if someone is slowly strangling it.”
Michael Ignatieff emphasized: “we are here to find a solution, a compromise, which is on the table in New York”, it just needs to be signed.
He also talked about a plan B, but stated that they don’t want to go with it, because
“there is no way CEU will cease its operation. Budapest is our home, we love it here.”
However, the university cannot operate without legal stability. Éva Fodor, Pro-Rector for Social Sciences and Humanities said that legal stability is very important for the students to know that they will get their degree, and for the professors to know that they will have a job.
Michael Ignatieff also stated that the university is an independent organization, responsible not to George Soros but to the Board of Trustees. (The Hungarian government portrays George Soros, the Hungarian-American billionaire, as a bogeyman, and launches attacks against him regularly.) He reminded that it is not possible for a university to have an accreditation in the United States, if its full independence is not assured.
Liviu Matei Provost and Pro-Rector said that the New York State Commissioner of Education sent an official letter to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán about the memorandum between Bard and CEU. This letter was presented at the press conference. Commissioner MaryEllen Elia writes: “the activities provided for in the MOU are consistent with each institution’s charter”.
The university doesn’t understand the sudden decision of the Hungarian government to extend the deadline now, when they fully comply with the new law. In Michael Ignatieff’s words,
“no university in Europe has been put through what we’ve been put through, that’s unacceptable.”
They don’t understand the double messaging that has been going on from the Hungarian government for a month: in Hungary they say that it is pointless to sign the agreement, but they have not left the negotiation table in New York. “What do you think the governor of New York is thinking right now”, asked Michael Ignatieff.
He stated that
the university doesn’t ask for special privileges, it’s precisely the reverse, they would like to be treated the same way as other universities are.
He called the situation unacceptable and unnecessary, because the solution is there. As he said: the agreement is two simple pages, very similar to the one that the government already signed with Maryland. He emphasized:
“We want to stay here, we respect Hungarian law.”
The government says that new Hungarian law about higher education is not targeting CEU (in their words: “the Soros-university”), but all universities must comply with Hungarian law. The European Union and the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe previously challenged the law for not complying with EU regulation. The EU even launched legal action.