What CEU Means (to Me)

What CEU Means (to Me)

Not good. Ignoring an international outcry and over 50,000 protesters in downtown Budapest, Hungarian President János Áder has signed a bill intended to force the Central European University from Hungary. As I write, students are marching to Fidesz headquarters to protest the decision.

This is a critical juncture for Hungary—and a personal moment for me. I started my academic career at CEU, working from 1995 to 1997 as a research assistant for John Earle (who became my good friend and frequent collaborator) at the CEU Labor Project. It was a heady experience: discovering that I wanted to be an academic, participating in policy missions to Moldova and Mongolia, living in Prague (the original home of CEU’s economics department) and Budapest. Not least, there was the daily interaction with a truly international group of students and faculty, many from the postcommunist region that I had decided to study. I have had the good fortune to be associated with some great universities in my career, but for pure intellectual stimulation, nothing beats the CEU cafeteria in 1997.

CEU means a lot to me. It is a liberal institution in the heart of formerly communist Europe. It is a truly international university in a region with mostly national ones. It is an unusually vibrant intellectual environment. And it was once home. CEU will survive, perhaps in Austria if not in Hungary. But the dream of a central European university at the heart of an open postcommunist society—that is very much in doubt.