The famous progressive Central European University (CEU) in Budapest, founded by billionaire George Soros, said Monday it had been forced out of Hungary in “an arbitrary eviction” that violated academic freedom, and it confirmed plans to open a new campus in Austria.
CEU’s statement is the culmination of a years-long struggle between Hungarian-born but U.S.-based Soros, who promotes liberal causes through his charities, and the nationalist, anti-immigrant government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban who accused Soros of encouraging mass immigration into Europe.
“The government has never even tried to pretend that there were academic grounds for their actions. The US Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the New York State Education Department and the Hungarian Accreditation Committee have all certified the excellence of CEU’s academic programs,” the university said in a statement.
The university said it would leave Budapest if it had not secured guarantees of academic freedom by Dec. 1.
“CEU has been forced out,” said CEU president and rector Michael Ignatieff in a statement. “This is unprecedented. A U.S. institution has been driven out of a country that is a NATO ally. A European institution has been ousted from a member state of the EU.”
“Arbitrary eviction of a reputable university is a flagrant violation of academic freedom. It is a dark day for Europe and a dark day for Hungary,” CEU’s statement added.
Meanwhile, students and teachers have been fighting this clamp down on academia through protesting or signature collecting. Academic community from around the world are showing solidarity with CEU.
The United States said it was “disappointed” that CEU was unable to remain in Hungary.
The European Commission, which has taken Hungary to the EU’s supreme court over the education law that prompted the CEU move and has clashed with Orban over democracy issues, said it was “deeply concerned”.
The law “needs to be brought back in line with EU law”, said an EU spokesman. “It is now for the Court (of Justice of the European Union) to clarify this matter.”
Guy Verhofstadt, the liberal leader in the European Parliament and a former Belgian prime minister, said Orban should feel “shame”, adding that it was the first time since Oslo University was forced to close by Norway’s Nazi German occupiers in 1943 that a European university had been shut down.