In the year or so since this site last checked in with Central European University, the Budapest-based institution of higher learning has appointed a new president and rector, John Shattuck, who will take office in August. The landing of Shattuck can be rightly seen as a masterstroke by CEU’s trustees and founder / chief benefactor George Soros, as he brings to the job a seemingly perfect résumé, which ranges from diplomacy to academia to a stint as national staff counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union when the advocacy group made world headlines for its controversial defense of the free speech rights of neo-Nazis who wanted to through the predominately Jewish Chicago suburb of Skokie. During his first visit to campus after accepting the post, Shattuck emphasized his “tremendous admiration” for CEU’s “mission,”, which, according to the university’s website, includes becoming a “change maker in the region and beyond, with a special focus on contemporary challenges of open society, and democratization.”
But before Shattuck gets to work enhancing CEU’s role as a “change maker” promoting the goals of an open society in the world outside of the university’s walls, he may need to face certain related challenges closer to home. Last week, we had an interesting email exchange with a member of CEU’s faculty, who wrote in to complain about the freedom with which bigoted, far-right-types were able to leave comments on Pestiside’s sister site Politics.hu. We wrote back with a note that summarized our liberal policy on comments – which probably mirrors that of the Skokie-era ACLU – and bemoaned the fact that it always seemed to be liberals writing in and demanding we clamp down on “offensive” speech on our network. We promptly received a reply containing the following (at least for us) hair-raising clarification:
I am actually not a liberal. If I was a liberal I would probably believe in free speech. And I don’t.
Even leaving aside the tricky meaning of “liberal” – Americans usually think left, Europeans right – it doesn’t take a Ph.D. in hermeneutics to get the idea that this person has a rather different idea of the “challenge of open society” than a nice American liberal like John Shattuck.
Being nice liberals ourselves, we’re not going to publish the name of this person, no matter how richly they deserve it. Instead, we’re going to let you do it! Note, however, that unlike most nice liberals, we’re going to be strict in our grading. If no one from CEU has the nerve to out this free-speech-hating galoot – or if such anti-liberal views are so widespread among the faculty it is difficult even to guess – we’re going to give all of CEU an “F” on this exercise, and then inform the new rector that, as far as we are concerned, he’s already on probation. Class dismissed.