The Canadian thinker is determined to defend his university against interference by the Hungarian state

Michael Ignatieff is living life in reverse. Most people opt for their most demanding roles early on, then a quieter life. But after a career in philosophy, novel-writing and journalism, Ignatieff chose politics in his native Canada, followed at the age of 69 by his most difficult role to date: rector of the Central European University in Budapest. It is a task that has led him into battle to defend academic freedom against the onslaught of the Hungarian government, as its populist prime minister, Viktor Orbán, strives to bring the CEU to heel through a new education law.

Under recent Hungarian legislation aimed at overseas-registered universities, staff will have to acquire work permits, which the CEU says will restrict its ability to hire staff. The government is also demanding that the university open a wing in America and that it no longer teach US-accredited courses.

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