The price of a Ph.D.: One has to swear to Fidesz’s Basic Law

On June 26 Judit Kende, a young social psychologist who just finished her Ph.D. at ELTE, wrote the following on her Facebook page:

This is what happened yesterday: I’m not a Ph.D. after all. It turned out that in order to get it I would have to swear to Hungary’s Basic Law, and this in my opinion was too high a price…. For example, the discriminatory sections of the Basic Laws limit the rights of LGBT people and the disabled and allow the criminalization of homelessness. So, by law I didn’t become a Ph.D.

She added that her situation allows her to be heroic because in two years’ time she will have a Ph.D. from the University of Leuven.

Reading this note, I had a very different reaction from hers. I wasn’t concerned with particular passages of the new Hungarian Constitution, however egregious they may be. I would have been equally outraged if I had learned that Ph.D. candidates had to swear to any constitution. “What on earth does the Hungarian constitution have to do with an academic title?” In a normal country, of course, nothing. Outrageous, I thought.

Of course, nothing of this sort can happen in Hungary without a huge public debate where people dissect the legal and political ins and outs of the case. In addition, a long article appeared by a certain Eszter Sebestyén with the title “A hysterical Judit Kende is lying,” in which the author went on and on about Judit Kende’s political motivations. Sebestyén accused Kende of being a member of a group that “ruined the left-wing prime minister Gordon Bajnai and demonized his predecessor, Ferenc Gyurcsány.” So, the attack on her came from the left, not the right. It was alleged that she is not a social psychologist but an ordinary social worker. It’s a shame, in Sebestyén’s opinion, that this course of study is awarded a Ph.D. degree, which of course is not Kende’s fault. Other anti-Kende articles followed that were, in my opinion, utterly beside the point. It matters not how many publications she has under her belt or the quality of her dissertation. What is important is that she received a degree which she cannot officially use because of a most likely illegal action on the part of the university. The inability to use the Ph.D. title on official documents wouldn’t by itself be a problem, but without the title she cannot apply for jobs that demand it.


And that brings me to another topic that raises my blood pressure every time I hear about it. What kind of an idiocy is it that dictates that people consider an academic title part of their legal name. In this country your official name is what is on your birth certificate unless, of course, you decide to change your name or you take your spouse’s name. If you want your friends and acquaintances to know that you received a doctorate (Ph.D., M.D.) it is up to you, but the official world is not interested in your academic title. Or, your students might want to call you “Professor So and So,” but since when do we consider that title part of one’s name?

Anyway, after all the useless chatter, TASZ (Hungarian Civil Liberties Union) came to Kende’s aid. Máté Dániel Szabó has taken up her case. Szabó finds it important that this “illegality at ELTE come to an end.” He added that they might be satisfied with a change in the regulation to make swearing on the constitution optional. Well, I take a more radical view of the matter. I would demand the cessation of the practice altogether.

Of course, I am no lawyer and I understand that TASZ will have to approach the case on the basis of existing law. It is not enough to say that the practice is indefensible. TASZ will argue that demanding a loyalty oath is illegal because it is contrary to the law on higher education. Their second argument is that it unduly interferes with one’s freedom of conscience. After all, there are religions that forbid their members to swear any kind of oath. Third, a sizable portion of Hungarian society has serious problems with some of the passages of the Basic Laws of 2011 since it reflects the beliefs of people with certain political and moral views. These last two arguments gain importance if the Orbán government thinks that a change in the law on higher education might solve the problem at hand.

I might add that this practice is not new. During the Kádár period doctoral students had to swear on the 1949 Stalinist constitution. At least before 1945 students couldn’t swear on the constitution because, like Great Britain, Hungary didn’t have a written constitution. During the socialist period no one could question the practice but today, when citizens have the opportunity, the issue should be pursued. It doesn’t matter whether it is the 1949, the 1989, or the 2011 constitution. Such an act simply has no place in a ceremony where doctoral degrees are awarded.

I wish Judit Kende the best of luck. And if I were her, I wouldn’t care about all the negative voices, this time from the left. I’m glad that she decided to be “hysterical.”

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July 28, 2015 7:18 pm

Let’s face it, in a country where Ph.D handed out like the publication of Watchtower, is not such a big loss not to add that to you resume if you have choice. Pal Schmitt, Hungary’s disgraced former president claimed such title, and it is known that other degrees are landed at politicians hands as party favours (literally).
I wish Judit Kende a more respectful title, and she seems to be able to get one. I feel truly sorry for those in Hungary who would like to be and can be proud of their knowledge, education and title. Unfortunately the respect for the Hungarian education institutions is also been taken away by Fidesz, and their mafia.

July 28, 2015 11:56 pm

Kende should appeal to Brussels. She’d win. Foreigners who take PhDs in Hungary are given different oaths – in theory, she should be able to demand the oath given to any EU citizen (other than Hungarians).
In any case, the oath administered to Hungarian PhDs before Fidesz took office was also absurd, in my view. Hungarians were (and still are) required to “swear to be faithful to the Hungarian people” (What does that mean, pray tell? Is there such an oath in any other country? None I know of.) Adding the “Basic Law” to that only makes it slightly worse.
Weirdly – but perhaps logically – foreigners who complete doctorates at Hungarian universities are not required to swear to uphold the honor of the Hungarian nation or to honor the Hungarian constitution.
Text on p. 67, here:

July 29, 2015 1:55 am

Congratulations on Judit Kende’s brave stance, viz the ever more ridiculous and unethical “laws” of the Fidesz government.

In many Hungarian universities half the students are either Jobbik, or Fidesz (almost the same thing now) while the other 50 %, who are opposed to the regime, simply keep their heads down and hope that by keeping quiet they will get their degrees and get a job.

The silence of the opposition, in universities, is partly the reason why Orbán and his thugs continue to exercise ever more control over every aspect of people’s lives in Hungary.

If the silent opposition in universities took the same sort of brave stance that Kende has, things would improve, so I applaud her courage in speaking out!

July 29, 2015 2:11 am

… Orwell’s “1984” »»» Orban’s “2010-2015”.

Simple as that. For a normal western minded intellectual (or for any normal person…) even breathing the air Hungary becomes impossible. In this poisoned world of the FIDESZ there is only one place to have a decent existence; outside of Hungary… If this regime will continue unhindered, then in a matter of a couple of years besides the new FIDESZ ruling class only the old, the lame and the enslaved masses would be living in Hungary…

And those who had the guts to leave for better pastures, because of the deeds of the Orban regime, would be ashamed to be known as Hungarians… One day history will remember this era in Hungary to be equal to the destruction caused by the invading Mongol herds in the 13th century by Genghis Khan…

July 29, 2015 3:38 am
Readers should be aware of that other aspect of Kende’s situation too, namely, that it may be doubtful that hu’s thesis and scientific performance is up to standards: The thesis is only 99 pages long (with appendices and references) and hu published only one refereed journal article (the crown jewel of a 6 item list of publications where 2 items are published conference abstracts; see ). I do not think that these are “beside the point”, as the author wrote it in the post. Just imagine the following hypothetical situation: I’m scamming people by selling them counterfeit products but after a personal conversation, I refuse to sell one to a client because he requires a statement from me that I am not a jew, as he do not want to buy anything from jews. If I start ranting about it on the internet, it is pretty sure that sooner or later the originality of my products will be questioned, as some people love to dig into things that received media exposure. This would not diminish the fact that some might find my client’s request offending , and such a request is discriminatory. But this request, and the whole situation… Read more »
July 29, 2015 4:51 am

Are you crazy?

July 29, 2015 6:19 am
I have long been baffled by the award of ‘doctorates’ (little and big) in Hungary. I acquired my PhD for a piece of original or ‘pure’ research in modern history which was presented for examination by thesis (100,000 words minimum) including a viva, involving two external readers and examiners. For this purpose, I did three years full-time research and it took me another eight years to complete the thesis. I also have an M.Ed. in teacher-training, based on a taught course and a short dissertation, based partly on original classroom research. Yet I continually hear comments in Hungary such as ‘she’s too young to receive a doctorate’ or ‘it’s not relevant here’, and yet, when I am asked to ‘proof-read’ doctoral dissertations in English (or rather ‘Hunglish’) they are invariably unoriginal in their findings, based on limited sources of evidence, and, even where these are original, not developed beyond dissertation level. Moreover, most ‘kandidátus’ dissertations are concerned with ‘applied’ rather than ‘pure’ knowledge. Can you enlighten me? However, all I had to do to receive my PhD, once it had been awarded, was to stand for the national anthems (UK and Welsh). Even that was obligatory, not compulsory, since I… Read more »
July 29, 2015 11:49 pm
The Hungarian educational system is byzantine – and bizarre – in that it is unusually complex. As you know, here is only one sort of doctorate in most English-speaking countries. In Hungary, there are several sorts. Sounds as if you got yours at Oxford or Cambridge – or a univ. using their standards for history doctorates. I’ll try to make this simple for you 😉 There used to be a so-called “little” doctorate in Hungary. That is no longer awarded, so it is essentially irrelevant now, and I won’t go into the details. A normal doctorate is one awarded by a Hungarian university. Unlike Oxbridge doctorates, in addition to the thesis the Hungarian doctorate requires a certain amount of published work (generally x no. of articles or chapters in Hungarian and/or foreign journals and books – as you know, no publications are required prior to def. at Oxford/Cambridge, just a rock-solid original thesis). Standards for ordinary theses, as you noticed, can be… well… Assuming the holder of a doctorate goes into academia and teaching (the minority in Hungary, as in the UK), normally to get tenure the person should submit a new thesis for habilitation (this, too, is different from… Read more »
July 29, 2015 7:35 am

Poll by Tarki, taken between July 17 and 24, sample size= 1000

Fidesz 22%
Democratic opposition 19%
Jobbik 13%

don’t know, don’t answer, other = 46%

Democratic opposition: MSzP 11%, DK 4%, LMP 2%, Egyutt 1%, PM 1%

July 29, 2015 7:45 am

The Hungarian dissertation disease probably was at least in part transmitted from for profit Universities here in the USA, many of them on-line offering PhD programs dissertation free or MA’s thesis free. Instead what is called a capstone project is required, the quality of these projects vary greatly. They are most common for PhDs, and MA’s in education and management.

In order to be competitive with for profit University graduate school programs from many historic Universitites are now offering this capstone option and graduate programs on line on a very part-time basis. These programs are cash cows and even the relatively prestigious University of Chicago offers this option at its graduate school,of bussiness in Chicago. Graduate school is in the the non-science areas and humanities simply more often than not a marketing tool for individual career advancement.

Unfortunately this is now even happening at the MA level at the U.S. Army War College. There is no question that having a degree from the War College increases the chances of one becomińg a flag officer, in the Army, i.e., brigadier general, or rank O-7, and above.

July 29, 2015 8:32 am

Re: “Unfortunately this is now even happening at the MA level at the U.S. Army War College. There is no question that having a degree from the War College increases the chances of one becomińg a flag officer, in the Army, i.e., brigadier general, or rank O-7, and above”

And on that I’d wonder if it is true that degree proliferation does add another layer today on developing the qualities necessary for success on the modern day battlefield and forms of battle. For on that ‘studying’ is a bit different than actually ‘doing’.

And on the ‘dissertation disease’, does that perhaps imply a Hungarian PhD is not much to speak of? I have read that some Latin Americans and Europeans with advanced graduate degrees who come here to the states have a very hard time using the degree they have.

You know there’s a running joke that came out when ‘buttonized’ picture taking appeared with those first generation digital cameras. Nothing like a picture taker to get the ‘PHD’ designation. And that was ‘Push Here Dummy’. So to do that ‘PHD’ was simple as simplicity itself…No sweat…-)…

mikki benson
July 29, 2015 11:17 am

My views are very much in line with Eva’s.
In essence as soon as politics infiltrates any university by political pressure, financial black mailing, ideological requirements pollutes scientific freedom. The biggest, most reputable universities in the world are – I assume – not at the mercy of political dependence. In Hungary the opposite is the case. No educational institution are independent anymore. The consequences? The real value of different degrees becomes pretty messed up, which has a very negative effect, since even the worthy, proven achievements will be skeptically recognized. On the other hand the politically “subsidized” titles overvalued.
Until the universities are not liberated from politics there is no cause for optimism.

July 29, 2015 1:41 pm
Rikard I suspect that some Hungarian PhD’s in business, management, marketing, and other areas are actually of value and others probably are not. One of the biggest so called graduate school “diploma mills” here in the USA is the University of Phoenix actually owned by the Apollo Group Inc. The company owns and operates four higher-learning institutions in the USA: the University of Phoenix, Western International University, Axia College, and the College for Financial Planning. It owns universities in Mexico, Chile, and Brazil . It owns Open Colleges in Australia. The core concept of advanced degrees made easy over time in order to enhance a résumé is internationalizing and is creating numerous questionable advanced degrees world wide. But most of the Hungarian programs that attract foreign students I think Rikard is thinking of are often what are called joint degree programs. Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) has a number of such programs. For the most part the additional joint degree from a University like ELTE probably would not add much value to a US based degree, unless it was very specialized for example from the Department of Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana University. (Incidentally the Indiana program was founded as a… Read more »
July 29, 2015 2:29 pm

You know as I was reading your remarks it came to me whether or not today’s Hungarian students get the chance to come here and say study at Yale (Ms Balogh’s alma mater) or Harvard or the Fletcher School or any other of the top international studies universities here in the U.S. But something tells me it may not be so easy taking a look at relations right now. Maybe the government feels the students will get the dreaded ‘democracy’ infection?