In mid-August of this year, the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán began his campaign to push legislation barring universities from offering gender studies programs. The legislation will primarily affect Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) and Central European University (CEU), the two institutions currently offering the degree.
Lorinc Nacsa, who is in government with Mr. Orban as a coalition partner, described gender studies degrees as a “wasteful luxury and destructive, and not economically viable.” Hungarian right-wing parties oppose gender studies for ideological reasons.
CEU has continued to promote its stance on promoting academic freedom for its students, maintaining its impasse with Orbán’s intentions.
Inside Higher Ed, a publication dedicated solely to news on the higher education sector, has stated that the draft does not represent the Hungarian government’s official policy and is still an evolving situation that is being monitored. However, Euronews reported that as of September 2019, the government would no longer finance gender studies courses.
The defunding of the program will impact ELTE, though CEU is privately funded and can continue its program uninterrupted. CEU, a U.S. accredited academic institution founded by American billionaire and founder of CEU George Soros, a target of Orbán’s and many other global right-wing campaigns.
A spokesperson for the university has gone on record, attacking the the government’s policy and stating that the university will continue to promote academic freedom for its students.
Other universities have come out in protest and support of CEU’s stance. One such example, the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) have begun a blog post, calling for contribution on a series on transnational anti-gender politics by the Departments of Gender Studies and Engenderings.
CEU’s University Rector, Michael Ignatieff further elaborated that the bill would “send a chill” through the Hungarian higher education sector.
Opposing the move to defund the degrees, Professor of Gender Studies Andrea Peto has outlined the importance gender studies research has on policies and legislation. Peto says that the analysis provides opportunities for different social groups and different political decisions. It also takes into account the interests of marginalized social groups, creating a more inclusive society.
Organizations such as the European Consortium for Political Research and the Council for European Studies (CES): Gender and Sexuality Research Network have all come out in defense of the international importance of the discipline. A letter drafted by the CES was posted on Twitter, responding to the proposed law, “expressing deep concerns and requesting reconsideration of the law.”
Many members of the CES Gender and Sexuality Research Network are renowned Hungarian colleagues, who have contributed to the scientific study and the ideology that the government should not affect the advancements made by this field.
The move by Orbán comes as a new wave of far-right governments have taken power in countries such as Poland and Italy; while anti-academic rhetoric aimed at the supposed left-wing nature of academia has only increased, now finding a voice in government and legislation.
There has been no formal announcement from the EU as to how they will react to a member state curtailing academic freedom. In a report commissioned by Safeguarding Academic Freedom in Europe (SAFE), an EU funded project, they write of “academic freedom as a fundamental human right and as a key element in creating a knowledge economy in Europe”, adding “academic freedom is essential to the proper functioning of universities.”
Academic freedom falls under the same protections under the European Conventions on Human Rights as the right to freedom of expression. However, as larger issues dominate the news cycle, such as Hungary’s steadfast support of Poland’s attack on their judiciary, and their refusal to bring sanctions against them for such, it is unclear whether or not the EU will make this an issue.