“Reforming” higher education, Orbán style

“Zdenek” suggested today’s topic and I gladly accepted his invitation. The topic is timely, and I am naturally interested in higher education.

There has been talk about trimming the faculties at a number of universities for some time. The first piece of news I read about the dismissal of faculty members across the board was in March 2012 when it was reported that colleges and universities were in trouble because their budgets had already been trimmed by 13 billion forints in 2011. How much less money they would get in 2012 was still not known.

Today, a year later, we know that Hungarian higher education is not exactly high on the Orbán government’s agenda. Although Viktor Orbán’s twenty-year plan includes upgrading Hungarian universities to the point that they will be among the best in Europe, his government seems determined to diminish even their current state of mediocrity.

kick outOne way to destroy the reputation of a university is to fire faculty members with distinguished international reputations. And that’s exactly what the Orbán government has been doing in the last few years. I assume that long-time readers of Hungarian Spectrum remember the cleansing of the Philosophical Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. If not, it is worth taking a look at the January 2010 post on the affair. At that point several philosophers were dismissed. Now it seems that literature and linguistics professors are in the crosshairs. It is not immaterial that they are liberals.

I do understand, given the government’s attitude toward higher education and its financing, that universities are strapped for funds. The problem is that the decision about who gets dismissed seems to be politically motivated.  At least this was the situation in 2011. At the moment we don’t know with any certainty who will be leaving the Faculty of Arts, just that 22 university professors who are older than 62 will lose their jobs. In addition, the university will ask 10 part-time instructors to take a half a year of unpaid leave. According to the by-laws of ELTE, associate professors can work up to the age of 65 while full professors can stay until the age of 70.

None of the people mentioned as possible targets would qualify for forced retirement under the rules of the university. Tamás Tarján (Hungarian literature) is a 62-year-old associate professor. Sándor Radnóti, a full professor, is 66. László Kálmán (linguistics) is an associate professor and is only 56 years old. György Tverdota (literature), a full professor and departmental chairman, is 65. The last person mentioned was Ádám Nádasdy (linguist), a 66-year-old associate professor; he is the only one who should, according to ELTE’s retirement terms, step down.

The news about the dismissals was first reported by NépszabadságThe author of the article specifically mentioned four names: Sándor Radnóti, Tamás Tarján, György Tverdota, and László Kálmán. Since then, Sándor Radnóti told Magyar Narancs that as far as he knows his name is not on the list. As Radnóti explained, he shouldn’t be forced to retire because he didn’t have the privilege of having a job for forty years as required by law. In the 1970s he worked for a publishing house but was fired for political reasons. Radnóti told Magyar Narancs that he has a verbal assurance that his job is safe.

László Kálmán told Magyar Narancs that he did receive a letter from the dean of the faculty suggesting that he take an unpaid leave of absence until the end of the year. However, it turned out that this is not the first time he received such a notice. Ádám Nádasdy is also among those who might be terminated, but so far he hasn’t received any word about his fate. However, he knows that things can change very quickly.

Everything is in flux, but my hunch is that the information Népszabadság received has some basis. Perhaps the letters haven’t been sent out yet, but most likely the decisions have already been made.

One problem with this allegedly mechanical approach is that the decision makers pay no attention whatsoever to quality. It doesn’t matter how famous or how valuable the faculty member is. The person must leave because of his or her age.  It is enough to take a quick look at these men’s curriculum vitae to realize that if they are dismissed the university will deprive itself of valuable assets. They all are known abroad because they either studied or taught at foreign universities. They all received high academic honors at home and abroad. László Kálmán speaks English, French, Spanish, Dutch, German, and Russian. Ádám Nádasdy speaks English, Italian, German, and French. And what a lecturer! I highly recommend listening to a lecture he delivered at the Mindentudás Egyeteme a few years ago. It is a treat. György Tverdota is the foremost expert on the poetry of Attila József and is regularly invited to international conferences. Several of his works have been translated.

I used the phrase “allegedly mechanical” advisedly in describing the process of forced faculty retirement. Do we really think that only 22 members of the Faculty of Arts at ELTE are older than 62? Presumably age is only one criterion in deciding who stays and who goes. The people mentioned above are well known liberals who frequently express their opposition to the Orbán government’s policies. László Kálmán often analyses speeches of Fidesz politicians, and Radnóti was already a victim of political harassment when Viktor Orbán set Gyula Budai loose to find dirt on the liberal opposition.

I’ve saved the best for last. The new undersecretary for higher education, István Klinghammer, came out with this startling statement: “It is not in the interest of foreigners to have high quality Hungarian education.”  It is jarring, to say the least, to hear this kind of right-wing paranoia from a former president of ELTE and a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (elected in 2010).

Klinghammer is a great fan of forcing students who receive scholarships to stay in Hungary for a number of years. However, trying to make scholarship students the modern-day equivalent of indentured servants will prompt yet another fight with the European Union. Just today László Andor, EU commissioner for employment, social affairs, and inclusion, made it clear in an interview that Brussels will not accept the proposed bill tying Hungarian students to the homeland in its current form.

Klinghammer also has a very low opinion of certain majors. In his introductory interview as the new undersecretary in Zoltán Balog’s ministry he referred to Mickey Mouse majors. He himself began his studies at the College of Engineering (mechanical engineering) but switched to ELTE’s Faculty of Science where he received a degree in geography. His first diploma entitled him to teach geography in high school. He received a degree in cartography later. It seems that Klinghammer’s fame as a cartographer didn’t exactly spread far and wide.

I’m curious whether the Faculty of Sciences at ELTE will have similar budgetary cuts that will necessitate firing twenty-thirty faculty members. By the way, as far as I can ascertain, Klinghammer is still on the faculty of ELTE. He is 72 years old.

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gdfxx
Guest

“I’ve saved the best for last. The new undersecretary for higher education, István Klinghammer, came out with this startling statement: “It is not in the interest of foreigners to have high quality Hungarian education.” It is jarring, to say the least, to hear this kind of right-wing paranoia from a former president of ELTE and a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (elected in 2010).”

I can imagine that smoke filled room full of administrators from Harvard, Yale, Oxford and some similar institutions making decisions about plans to combat the growing competitive threat from the institutions of higher education in Hungary. And others, members of the world-wide anti-Hungarian conspiracy are preparing squads of terrorists with the goal of eliminating whatever is left of the Hungarian higher education after the Fidesz-Jobbik regime is finished with it.

Bowen
Guest

Never mind Ceausescu, Orban seems to be borrowing from Pol Pot’s repertoire as well.

Csöpi
Guest

Klinghammer probably does not receive a salary (over 70, as emeritus, he is not entitled to). In addition, in certain depertments there is simply no qualified prof, those who would be are abroad, so at least one should be kept (maybe his depertment is also such).

I wonder if these fired top profs like Nádasdy, Tverdota etc, who really represent the best Hungary can offer in liberal arts, at least can (do they want to?) teach without a salary? The faculty of arts cannot be imagined without them. It’s insanse.

But too bad that – except for the token rightwinger – almost all of them are known to oppose Fidesz (though most have been rather quiet, anyway the colleagues ‘know’).

Guest

Maybe not too OT:

How is an “Emeritus” treated/paid in Hungary ?

One of my friends (70 years old like me) still has his office, his computer connection to the university and goes there almost every day – he also is invited to seminars and congresses.
Of course he “only” gets his pension, but that is enough for him …

PS:

We’ve often invited him to visit us in Hungary – but he doesn’t like to go on a holiday, you might say his only hobby is working …

gdfxx
Guest

wolfi :
Maybe not too OT:
How is an “Emeritus” treated/paid in Hungary ?

Maybe not like in Rome, we will have a Pontifex Emeritus, starting tomorrow tomorrow. He’ll spend the rest of his life in a monastery.

Member

The Chief of Judiciary, who is Orban’s personal friend, today appointed a judge to lead the Szombathely Court. This power of hers had been declared unconstitutional but she exercised it with complete disregard of the ruling of the Constitutional Court.

The funny thing is that the appointed judge had not even applied for the job.

http://hvg.hu/itthon/20130226_Kezi_vezerles_Hando_Tunde_leleptette_a_ne

Member

The President, Orban’s other friend did not veto the new Civil Code. The new code contains a light version of lèse-majesté – freedom of speech is restricted not to offend the dignity of public officials.

Criticism of the hacking Fidesz politicians by the head of the codification committee,
Lajos Vékás:

http://ptk2013.hu/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/mjog-vekas.pdf

Member

Mr Fellegi outlined today his defense of the Orban government tomorrow in front of the House Committee:

“Only the Jobbik party can be charged with antisemitism in Hungary”
http://hetivalasz.hu/itthon/a-volt-miniszter-a-zsidoellenessegrol-es-a-velemenyszabadsagrol-61002/

This is a blatant lie, in my opinion.

It is true that Fidesz is not obsessed with the Jews, but its official aim is to “restore” the Hungary of 1944 and guess what happened in 1944?


The US Senate just approved Mr Hagel as secretary of defense, so Mr Fellegi will have an easy job in DC.

gdfxx
Guest

tappanch :
Mr Fellegi outlined today his defense of the Orban government tomorrow in front of the House Committee:
“Only the Jobbik party can be charged with antisemitism in Hungary”
http://hetivalasz.hu/itthon/a-volt-miniszter-a-zsidoellenessegrol-es-a-velemenyszabadsagrol-61002/
This is a blatant lie, in my opinion.
It is true that Fidesz is not obsessed with the Jews, but its official aim is to “restore” the Hungary of 1944 and guess what happened in 1944?

The US Senate just approved Mr Hagel as secretary of defense, so Mr Fellegi will have an easy job in DC.

I doubt that the Hagel nomination approval has anything to do with the difficulties (or lack thereof) Fellegi is facing tomorrow.

dvhr
Guest

“By the way, as far as I can ascertain, Klinghammer is still on the faculty of ELTE. He is 72 years old.”

Well, he is professor emeritus, which means that he is on pension, gets a small amount a money (maybe $100 per month), has the right to give lectures and in some cases has voting privileges. Of the full professors who go into pension, the best can become prof emeriti. A rather sad example of confusing professor and professor emeritus if given Agnes Huszar’s article on galamus.hu, where she compares ELTE and the U of Pecs, saying that ELTE fires professors, while Pecs does not, as Eva Pocs, a great professor (emerita, actually) there is still active.

BTW it is very hard to fire a full professor before the age of 70. It can only be initiated by the president of the university and at the end it must be signed by the President of the Republic.

dvhr
Guest

“Klinghammer became a member of the Academy in 2010.” In 2004, to be correct.

“I just remembered last night that academicians have certain privileges. For them the rules on compulsory retirement are not applicable.”

Nope. Professors (in or outside the academy) go to retirement at 70 sharp. (like judges, remember?)

The cause
Guest

What’s the problem with the retirements of pensioner aged professors? There are many many younger professors who need their place.

gdfxx
Guest

The cause :
What’s the problem with the retirements of pensioner aged professors? There are many many younger professors who need their place.

Perhaps they should be all killed, there are many younger people who need their apartments, their food…

Member

The cause :
What’s the problem with the retirements of pensioner aged professors? There are many many younger professors who need their place.

Students need seasoned teachers. You know. Knowledge, expertise … does it ring a bell?

Member

The cause :
What’s the problem with the retirements of pensioner aged professors? There are many many younger professors who need their place.

And you age is?

Paul
Guest

gdfxx :

The cause :
What’s the problem with the retirements of pensioner aged professors? There are many many younger professors who need their place.

Perhaps they should be all killed, there are many younger people who need their apartments, their food…

Careful – Fidesz-Jobbik trolls read this blog – they may not have thought of this ‘unconventional’ strategy.