The Central European University under Siege

Joan Scott:

On Tuesday, Nov 27, I joined a group of protestors outside the Parliament, on Kossuth Square in Budapest. There, a coalition of students denouncing “attacks on academic freedom” had convened a week-long Open University (Szabad Egyetem). The protest was taking place in three small white tents, dwarfed by the towering Parliament building—it felt a bit like David and Goliath. The tents, in which the students stay all night, rotating shifts, were equipped with heaters; the largest of them had chairs and benches, with a long table at the front for the speakers who came to address them. I had agreed to talk about threats to academic freedom in the U.S. There was a schedule announcing each day’s discussions, musical performances, and cultural events—it reminded me of nothing so much as the teach-ins organized in the 1960’s to protest the Vietnam War. Faculty and students had joined together (now as then) to produce knowledge as a form of political protest.