Central European University said Monday it will move its U.S.-accredited degree programs from the Hungarian capital of Budapest to Vienna in September, as Hungary’s government is refusing to sign an agreement allowing it to stay.
University President and Rector Michael Ignatieff said Monday that the school “has been forced out” of Hungary, calling it an “unprecedented” act against an American university by a NATO ally and against a European university by a member of the European Union.
The EU’s executive commission last year referred Hungary to court in the university case, saying that amendments Hungary made to its higher-education law — some of which clearly targeted the school — were counter to academic freedom and other EU rights. The law has also been challenged at Hungary’s Constitutional Court.
Ignatieff said while the university had “a pretty good (legal) case” at those courts, he would not speculate about their outcomes. The university said it would retain “accreditation as a Hungarian university and continue teaching and research activity in Budapest as long as possible.”
“The move to Vienna is a permanent move,” Ignatieff said.
While the agreement for Central European University to remain in Budapest has to be signed and ratified by parliament by Dec. 31, the university set a Dec. 1 deadline for its decision on the move to Vienna to still have time to recruit students for the 2019-20 academic year.
The university’s ouster is part of populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s ideological battle against Hungarian American philanthropist and school founder George Soros and his “open society” model. It is also part of a wider crackdown on academic freedom, including tighter budgetary and research controls over Hungarian universities and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.
In October, for example, Hungary eliminated gender study programs at public universities.
The U.S. State Department issued a statement saying the U.S. government was “disappointed” that no agreement had been concluded between Orban’s government and Central European University, which has an enrollment of more than 1,400 students from 118 countries, as well as nearly 400 permanent or visiting faculty.
“The departure of these U.S.-accredited programs from Hungary will be a loss for the CEU community, for the United States, and for Hungary,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.
Despite repeated statements to the contrary by the university and New York state, where the school is also accredited, Hungarian officials maintain that the university has failed to meet the new rules for higher education and prove it is conducting educational activities in New York.
Witte writes for the Washington Post.