Bipartisan Resolution Promotes Academic Freedom as Hungary Attempts to Shutter University

Washington, D.C.Human Rights First praised the introduction of House Resolution 394 Supporting International Academic Freedom and American Universities Abroad. The resolution comes as the Hungarian government attempts to shutter Central European University (CEU), a graduate school located in Budapest, Hungary, and accredited in New York State. The resolution sends a clear signal to the Hungarian government that members of the House of Representatives reject an overtly political attack on an institution of higher learning and expect negotiations to go forward in good faith. Negotiations between Hungarian authorities and the State of New York are expected this month.

The bipartisan legislation was introduced by Representatives Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) and Paul Cook (R-CA). Human Rights First has previously urged the Trump Administration and Congress to oppose the Hungarian government’s attempts to stifle civil society and protect academic freedom.

“This legislation is a clear signal from the Congress that a political and unjustified attack on an American educational institution will not be taken lightly,” said Human Rights First’s Rob Berschinski. “Having already eroded checks and balances, undermined independent media, scapegoated refugees, and targeted NGOs, Prime Minister Orban’s government turned its sights on a university dedicated to an idea it can’t tolerate—critical thinking.”

CEU was endowed by Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros in 1991, as Hungary emerged from communist rule. It is considered one of the top international universities in the world, and among the most prestigious universities in central Europe. Each year it educates over 1,500 students from over 100 countries.

On April 4, 2017, with no consultation and only a week’s notice, the Hungarian parliament passed amendments to Hungary’s higher education law that would have the effect, if implemented, of forcing CEU out of the country. The legislation sets new, onerous, and legally unnecessary requirements on universities registered in foreign countries, several of which apply only to CEU. These include a requirement to establish a national-level agreement on the university between the United States and Hungary, and the need for the university to operate a campus in the United States in addition to its existing campus in Budapest. If these conditions are not met, CEU may lose its operating license as early as October 2017.

Since the legislation assailing CEU was introduced, the university has received an outpouring of support from Hungarian citizens, academics, government officials, and human rights activists around the world. Tens of thousands of Hungarians of all ages and political affiliations have repeatedly taken to Budapest’s streets to protest their government’s assault on a center of learning. Twenty-seven Nobel laureates, the International Association of Universities, and the presidents of Yale, Harvard, Princeton, New York University, Duke, and Oxford, as well as thousands of scholars and researchers, have called for CEU to be allowed to remain in Hungary.

On May 23, the Department of State urged the Hungarian government to suspend its attack on CEU, noting that the recent amendments place “discriminatory, onerous requirements on U.S.-accredited institutions in Hungary and threaten academic freedom and independence.” The State Department further made clear that it would not negotiate with the Hungarian government over CEU.

Republican and Democratic members of the Congress in both the House and Senate have called on the Hungarian government to cease its attack on CEU and academic freedom, noting that compromising the university’s operations would negatively impact bilateral relations with the United States.

The European Commission initiated infringement proceedings against the Hungarian government regarding CEU in late April and on May 17 the European Parliament passed a resolution explicitly calling on Hungary to repeal the recent amendments.

To learn more about how the United States can counter Hungary’s erosion of democratic institutions and its attacks on civil society, read Human Rights First’s new fact sheet, Hungary: Eroding Democratic Institutions, Closing Space for Civil Society. Human Rights First’s recent report on the Hungarian government’s attack on civil society and overtures to Russia can be found here.


Published on June 22, 2017


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