Friday, March 01, 2013

Good Bye Mr. Chips

I have been getting e-mails from friends in North America as well as Europe regarding the university where I teach. Articles have appeared in the New York Times and International Herald Tribune showcasing the student protests primarily, but ignoring the funding cuts. 

What has been hot news here and apparently abroad are the group of students who performed a sit-in in the offices of the rector and other administration. None of my students have been involved; had a number of them joined in, we could have canceled classes while they were otherwise busy. The reason for the protests is due to a relatively new (a little over a year) government law. Students must live and work in Hungary for 2 years for every year of education they have received. A BA degree is 3 years, so assuming one graduates, they are committed to a six year length of stay working here. If they don’t fulfill this obligation, they have to repay the tuition for their education. 

Until this law came into effect, students were free to earn their degree and then move on to greener financial pastures to ply their trade. Basically, the powers that be are trying cut back on brain drain, which is understandable. I think of all the US students who would love this opportunity for an education. 

While the students were protesting, the faculty was having its own battle. Just before this semester was to begin, a faculty only e-mail circulated announcing the closing of the campus copy center. The notice stated that anyone having exams to administer would be personally financially responsible for getting them reproduced at their copy center of choice within the city. 

This caused a flood of 100s of e-mails through the faculty mail list of instructors protesting and threatening to quit giving exams before having to provide compensation. Since these exams were basically for lecture courses, I was only a bystander watching the action. 

As if this were not enough, this last week a staff list e-mail was circulated stating that six high profile faculty members were fired. From what I was told by other staff, many of them were about 65 years old, which is the mandatory retirement age for university teaching. However, some were not there yet. The reasoning that was later shared was that it was due to a severe cut to the university’s budget slicing 7 billion Huf. We were told to expect to say good-bye to others as the semester progresses. Aside from staff sharing the gossip they hear, they have also forwarded the reports as they appear in the Hungarian press. Of course, I have to use Google translator to read them. 

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