BUDAPEST, Hungary — The rector of a university founded by financier and philanthropist George Soros on Tuesday urged Hungary to sign an agreement with New York state guaranteeing the school’s continued operations in Budapest.
Central European University rector Michael Ignatieff said the institution had fully complied with changes to Hungary’s law on higher education but was being held in “legal limbo” by the government’s inaction.
“It’s as if we’re being slowly strangled,” Ignatieff said. “A solution is on the table, but every time we get within reach of a solution, the goalposts get moved.
“A university that is deliberately kept by the government in a state of legal uncertainty to suit their political convenience, is a university that is in danger,” he added.
The European Union and Hungarian courts have challenged Hungary’s new education rules, which critics say were arbitrary and passed mainly as a means to force CEU out of Hungary.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban considers Soros a key ideological foe and the government is in the midst of a renewed campaign against Soros’ support for immigration. For months, the government said that the CEU issue was purely educational and it was merely seeking to level the playing field between foreign and domestic universities in Hungary.
But in July, Janos Lazar, Orban’s chief of staff, acknowledged that Soros’ advocacy for migration changed the relationship between CEU and the government.
Lawmakers on Tuesday approved a one-year extension – until Jan. 1, 2019 – of the deadline for foreign universities to comply with the rules, in an effort to placate the criticism.
CEU needs the agreement with New York state, where the institution is also accredited, to comply with the new government rules. The university must also begin carrying out educational activities there, for which it has a deal in place with Bard College.
The spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo said New York was ready to do so.
“New York state has engaged in talks with the Hungarian government and represented the interests of CEU, a New York state university,” said Rich Azzopardi. “We are prepared to sign the agreement allowing CEU to continue its operations in Hungary, and we await the Hungarian government’s signing of this agreement.”
With parliamentary elections scheduled for April, Ignatieff expressed concerns that the university, in Budapest since 1993 and currently with 1,450 students from 117 countries, would be targeted during the campaign.
“The university is not an NGO, not a political organization,” Ignatieff said. “They can say what they want about George Soros, it actually has nothing to do with us.”