Monday, March 18, 2013

Anti-Semitic Problems at ELTE

For the uninitiated, ELTE (Eötvös Loránd Tudományegyetem) is the university where I have been teaching for the last 11 years. It is 350 years old and is the largest university is Central Europe. However, we now have a serious problem that has not happened before in anyone’s memory of the current staff.

Backtracking: Suddenly at the end of this last week, my home e-mail box was flooded with e-mails from the Department of English and American Studies faculty list-serve. Generally, it is my habit to delete, delete, and delete some more as I am frustrated with a faculty of English instructors who write in Hungarian. There seems to be a total disregard for the dozen or so non-Hungarian speaking faculty as unnecessary appendages. I often feel like Oliver Twist, “please sir, can I have some more?” English that is.

Finally, due to the excessive number of e-mails, I was curious enough to use Google translator to weather the storm of dialogue. It was a futile attempt as even Google has yet to master Hungarian beyond the 1st grade level. Frustration prompted me to write a department colleague after she joined the Hungarian discussion. She sent me this picture stating this was the reason for the original outcry and flurry of e-mails. The translation is "Jews! The university is ours, not yours! Best regards, Hungarian students..."

After a couple dozen or more emails, one of the instructors from the English department requested that the conversation be switched to English for all concerned. I for one was pleased as I think the rest of us who are not Hungarian speakers were also; this is based on our involvement with the comments that followed thereafter.

In synopsis, the general feeling which may not be fully conveyed here since this is a general overview is that this issue should be broadcast far and wide. It was believed by all faculty and staff that everyone should be aware of what we are facing in 'higher education’. This is also a generalized reflection of the atmosphere outside of the ivory towers as well.

Those that rose to the charge decided that it would take too long to get the university’s rektor to do something university-wide, so this department put an anti-discrimination statement on the department's website. It can be read in English and Hungarian here.

Two hundred and seventy-nine e-mails later (no joke, they were counted) the staff wanted to have a formal stand on this issue. The suggested ways to show solidarity ranged from having menorahs in the rooms to wearing Stars of David, to having signs on our doors that are advocated by the Council of Europe, which can be seen if you click here. They state "All different, All equal".

Not everyone could agree on what to do, so the resolution was for everyone to do what they are most comfortable with. Personally, I would do it all. I stand strong on this issue. Over the years, I have had a number of students confide in me that they were Jewish, but would never share it with their classmates. I went to school with so many Jews from Kindergarten through college that I am Jewish by proxy. What hurts one group of people hurts all people. 

Then there was the discussion about how to raise the issue in our classes. Though everyone felt strongly that all students should be made aware of this and discuss it, some were concerned about overkill if students faced the issue repeatedly in one week via 9-10 classes.

Other faculty members have overheard students claiming to belong to the far right political group and as such were making derogatory remarks about different groups of people. The question that has not been answered yet, in English anyway, is what is an instructor’s recourse if the rules are broken in a classroom? Or on campus?

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