"And yet we think and yet we speak": An academic welcome event for the CEU

In autumn 2019, the Central European University relocates most of its programmes from Budapest to Vienna. In the article and video you can follow the panel discussion organised by the University of Vienna in order to welcome the CEU as a neighbour and partner.

"In a democracy, academic freedom is fundamental for prospering science and an open society," says the Rector of the University of Vienna, Heinz W. Engl, referring to recent threats to academic freedom, such as the narrowing space for academic freedom in Hungary, China and Russia or the closing of universities in Turkey. Moreover, technological progress, such as Open Access publishing, Artificial Intelligence or Big Data, has brought new challenges and perspectives for academia. (Watch the video recording of the whole event)


Heinz W. Engl, Rector of the University of Vienna (© Klaus Ranger)

Engl warmly welcomes the CEU as a future partner in research and teaching: "President Ignatieff, Provost Matei and Pro-Rector Fodor, we are happy to have you here at the University of Vienna today as representatives of the Central European University, but also in your roles as academics."

© Klaus Ranger

Among the audience in the fully filled Main Ceremonial Hall were Eva Nowotny, Chair of the University Board, Georg Winckler, former rector of the University of Vienna, and Erhard Busek, former Vice-Chancellor of Austria, as well as many representatives of the Central European University, the University of Vienna, the Austrian Academy of Science, the city of Vienna and other institutions.


Michael G. Ignatieff, President and Rector of the Central European University (CEU) (© Klaus Ranger)

Michael G. Ignatieff, President and Rector of the Central European University (CEU), thanks Rector Engl and the University of Vienna on behalf of the CEU for the "wonderful idea" of organising such a special welcome event: "How often do you see one university welcoming another as a partner and friend? We are very moved by this gesture and by the solidarity that our university has been shown in the last three years. All I can say is: Thank you!"

He invites everyone in the audience to join the official opening event of the new CEU campus on Quellenstrasse, which will take place on 15 November. "We look forward to being your partners and friends for many years to come."

It is a happy new beginning, but at the same time it is also scandalous that a university in a EU member state is forced to leave. The President of the CEU continues to say: "We strive to keep our flag flying in Budapest. Our defence of academic freedom has not ended, it has only just begun!"




Robert J. Zimmer, President of the University of Chicago (© Klaus Ranger)

Keynote speaker Robert J. Zimmer, President of the University of Chicago, mathematician and, according to President Igniatieff, an outstanding example in the defence of academic freedom, talks about the principles of academic freedom (right to free expression, open discourse and intellectual challenge) and the state of academic freedom on campuses around the world today (constantly struggling with political and religious authorities but also with various movements from all parts of the political spectrum, from within and outside the universities).

"What should be the nature of our response to this situation?" he asks and identifies three key points: 1) Clarity – the universities must make clear that freedom of expression ist not just one of many values that must be balanced, but the essential principle for the universities' missions. 2) Constant effort – on the part of the faculty and university leaders to promote intellectual challenge and for students to learn and appreciate these values. 3) Courage – to stand for these principles.

"We are witnessing such courage today, displayed by the CEU and the city of Vienna," Zimmer says and concludes with a reference to Galileo Galilei: "Let us speak out loud: … and yet we think and yet we speak!"




Liviu Matei, Provost (Central European University) (© Klaus Ranger)

Following the keynote lecture, a panel discussion between Éva Fodor, Pro-Rector for Social Sciences and Humanities (Central European University), Liviu Matei, Provost (Central European University), Katharine Sarikakis, Director of the Media Governance and Industries Research Lab (University of Vienna), Jean-Robert Tyran, Vice-Rector for Research and International Affairs (University of Vienna), Robert J. Zimmer, President of the University of Chicago, and moderator Marlene Nowotny (Ö1/ORF) takes place.

Moderator Marlene Nowotny (Ö1/ORF) starts the discussion round with a quote from Dickens‘ "A Tale of Two Cities": "Are these the best or the worst of times?" she asks the panel.
"We are here to celebrate academic freedom and solidarity," says CEU Provost Liviu Matei. "But the fact that we are celebrating indicates that it is not a good time but a time of crisis of academic freedom, not only in Hungary, but almost everywhere in the world." But it is also an opportunity: "We are bringing something interesting to the academic life of Austria: the ambition to combine humanities and social sciences, and internationality."


Éva Fodor, Pro-Rector for Social Sciences and Humanities (Central European University)


Katharine Sarikakis, Director of the Media Governance and Industries Research Lab (University of Vienna)


Jean-Robert Tyran, Vice-Rector for Research and International Affairs (University of Vienna) (© Klaus Ranger)

Pro-Rector Fodor sums up the story of the CEU‘s expulsion, which started long before the new law entered into force two years ago, and describes the CEU’s next steps: "It will be a complicated year of preparing, building a foundation, coming and going. 600 students will be enrolled in Vienna, others continue their studies in Budapest. In 2021, the entire university will move here."

Vice-Rector Tyran underlines the importance of the so-called Third Mission (entering into a dialogue with the public and explaining the relevance of science in an inviting language) with regard to academic freedom. "As Rector Engl has said, here in Austria, we have the privilege that the right to academic freedom is established in our constitution. But things can change. Many people resent this privilege – they think that it is not an earned privilege." Tyran emphasises that universities must work hard to win hearts and minds and to convince people that academic freedom is also a freedom of the people.

Katherine Sarikakis recommends academics to build closer ties to other professionals in other fields that face the same problems, such as journalists, artists and authors who also struggle with the attack on the freedom of speech and with precarious working conditions. Everyone should test his or her own integrity everday. "From crisis comes opportunity," she points out. "Crises show that the system needs intervention." Sarikakis is also convinced that the future lies with the students.


Robert J. Zimmer, President of the University of Chicago (© Klaus Ranger)

"It is the best of times and the worst of times a lot of the time," says Robert Zimmer. In his view (which also reflects the University of Chicago’s approach), protecting the freedom of the faculty is imperative, even if it means turning down money. Zimmer finds it remarkable to see two institutions such as the CEU and the University of Vienna take such a strong position on academic freedom: "It contributes a little bit to the best of times," he concludes. (br/red)

Video recording of the event: