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Rawlings, Pollack voice support for Central European University

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John Carberry

Cornell Interim President Hunter R. Rawlings III and President-elect Martha E. Pollack have added their voices and strong statements of support in solidarity with Central European University in response to legislation passed by the Hungarian government that could close the university or force it from Hungary.

The legislation requires foreign universities to maintain a campus in both the Hungarian capital and their home countries; CEU has only one campus in Budapest. The legislation is being seen as targeting only CEU; the English-speaking university was founded in 1991 (and still is partially funded) by Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros.

Rawlings sent a letter of support April 5 to Michael Ignatieff, president and rector of CEU, expressing concern about the “efforts by the government of Hungary to undermine CEU’s ability to continue to function as a world-leading institution of higher education.” He praised the relationship that Cornell has had with CEU, which has included a partnership with the Cornell Law School and a “robust” student and faculty exchange.

“The legislation recently adopted by the Hungarian parliament is nothing short of a direct assault on academic freedom that all universities rely upon to disseminate knowledge and to enhance the human condition,” Rawlings stated in the letter. “It sets a dangerous precedent that could have a negative impact on the pursuit of higher education around the world.”

“Please know that the Cornell community stands with you as you seek legal redress against this legislation,” Rawlings concluded.

Cornell President-elect Martha E. Pollack co-signed a letter April 7 with 23 leaders of universities in North America and Europe, to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, expressing support for CEU and concern about the legislation and its likely impact on the university. The letter extols CEU’s global reputation in the social sciences and humanities; stresses the importance of its academic independence; and charges that the legislation is discriminatory in effect and the results would “endanger the academic freedom vital for the CEU’s continued operation in Budapest and set a dangerous precedent for academic life in other countries.” It also might damage Hungary’s international academic reputation and its relationships with its European partners and the United States, the letter stated.

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