Welcome from the Acting Dean

Dear Student,

I am delighted to warmly welcome you to the School of Public Policy as a new member of the CEU community!

When I first came to the Central European University, it was 1998, Budapest was a bustling city, and Hungary a place to be.  CEU quickly established itself as a beacon of the transforming region, intellectually leading the transition towards democracy and freedom in this part of the world. Those years were marked with success – free elections and the market economy became the norm.

But the society grew negligent and self-indulgent. Many took freedom for granted and forgot a key lesson that history repeatedly teaches us: freedom does not come, nor stay, for free. It requires persistent vigilance; it has to be nurtured, and defended.

The growing danger many overlooked culminated when lex-CEU attempted to silence and shut down our University. But we have passed that test with vigor and resilience which the authors of lex-CEU underestimated. Grossly. CEU students, faculty, alumni, staff and friends all around the globe – including leading Hungarian and international academics, Nobel prize winners, presidents, prime ministers, and other dignitaries – all raised their voices in defense of freedom, supporting our University. For me, the defining moments were when we marched in the streets of Budapest with a group of SPP students and tens of thousands of CEU supporters. It was then when I realized that our message had been received by our students:

Have no fear. Fear is what debilitates efforts, what erects limits to and borders in our minds.

Respect the others and otherness. We come from different countries, backgrounds, gender, preferences or identities, but we all belong to one family, the human family of equals. Balance power with responsibility. The more power you have, the more prudent you should be wielding it. Power can help, but also hurt. Nurture trust. Trust is a prerequisite for fruitful interaction, including when collaborating on projects, but also, when reconciling various interests and preferences.

Back on those days when we marched, we had no fear, we marched as brothers and sisters, and we wielded great power in a very civilized and orderly manner. And we prevailed! And I was profoundly proud of our students. That is because defenders of freedom lose, if and only if they give up.  But we never did, and we never will.

The last academic year was a great year for our University. Many masters and a good number of PhD students have graduated and are now on their way to launch their careers, each of them contributing a unique piece to making a better world. Among them were about 80 graduates of the School of Public Policy, of which I am particularly proud. 

I wish you a great academic year at SPP. I wish you lots of inspiration, perseverance, and courage. I wish you to never stop asking questions. I wish you many sunny days, and on the cloudy ones, may you find helping souls.  

I hope you have read this foreword up to this point so that I can give you your first homework assignment at CEU’s School of Public Policy: Imagine you are given 20 seconds on a concert stage to address a crowd of 100,000 people. What would you tell them? Write it on a piece of paper, and keep that note in a safe place. I will come back to it.

Martin Kahanec
Acting Head