Interview with CEU President and Rector, John Shattuck
On September 14, CEU President and Rector John Shattuck was interviewed by an alumnus, Brandon Krueger (IRES '00; also, current Director, CEU Online Communication Unit). The video, and transcript, follow:
Brandon Krueger: We are having an interview today with the President and Rector of Central European University, John Shattuck. It will be relatively informal in nature, some quick questions and some follow ups, and we will see where that leads. First off, John Shattuck, thank you for sitting down with us. Can you give us some introductory remarks about yourself in order that we can have a sense of your public service including civil liberties and human rights. Tell us how that has shaped your world views today.
John Shattuck: Well, I have been involved in international work for many years, and also civil rights work: these were the twin pillars of my career. I was a civil rights lawyer in the US for about a decade at the very beginning of my career, working on civil liberties and civil rights in the American Civil Liberties Union, working on what was known then as the civil rights movement. It was sort of the tail end of that movement bringing together people from all over the country who were trying enact legislation to bring about equality of treatment to all Americans. And I was also involved at that point in some very important court cases that were brought to hold accountable some members of the administration of President Richard Nixon, who had violated the civil liberties of Americans. And those court cases were very important in the context of the work that was done by the House Judiciary Committee to develop articles of impeachment of President Nixon. So that was a very important part of my career. I then went to Harvard and I was Vice President at Harvard and taught at Harvard Law School, taught civil rights and civil liberties, and at that point—this is in the mid-1980s—I started becoming very active in human rights and international work. I was elected to the board of directors at Amnesty International and I was the vice chair of Amnesty International. I began to do a great deal of travel and it was at that point that I had my first travel to Central and Eastern Europe. I went to Prague, in what was then Czechoslovakia in 1986, a very difficult time for the Czechs. I was doing a human rights report, and I did that report for Amnesty International and the remarkable fact was that about four years later I opened up the newspaper, the New York Times, I was in US, and I saw the person who had been my principal contact as a dissident in Prague, had just been named the first ambassador—by another dissident, former President Vaclav Havel—to the United States, so that was sort of my personal involvement in the changes that took place in this part of the world, over in that period. I continued to teach at Harvard, and worked on international issues at Harvard Law School and Kennedy School of Government. Then I entered into government service, I was asked by President Clinton to be the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. I was very much involved in the Balkan conflicts, and efforts to end those conflicts—the terrible human rights crimes and genocide that were being committed in Bosnia. I was active before there was any cease-fire on the ground, in compiling evidence of human rights abuses that were being committed, and also involved in the Dayton Peace Process that ended the war in Bosnia. And I was also involved in many other international issues around the world during that period and then I became the US Ambassador to the Czech Republic in 1998 which was kind of an amazing turn of events, as that was where I began my career in Central Europe. I got to know very well President Vaclav Havel, who had been in prison when I first came to Prague. So then I spent the last eight years teaching human rights law and international relations at Tufts University and as a CEO of John F. Kennedy Library Foundation in Boston. So that is a kind of a nutshell that brings me to this job as President and Rector of CEU and all the parts of my career really point to this seat that I am in today.
Brandon Krueger: Clearly you do have this background in Central Europe that leads to the next question about CEU here in Budapest, Hungary. There are some things that are very-well known already such as its international character, it has a very interdisciplinary approach to teaching, there is a focus on high intensive research as well, and I am sure you were aware of all these things before you came here. I am just wondering of those or what other types of things as well might be particularly attracted you to come here?
John Shattuck: Well I think CEU is a truly unique institution in the world, it is a global laboratory. We are made up of over 100 nations among the students, and about 30 to 40 nations among the faculty. There is no other university that has as great a global diversity as CEU. At the same time, it is a young university and a dynamic one and there are opportunities to work across disciplines to bring together social sciences in a variety of different ways, and humanities, law, business, management and public policy, to bring CEU to even greater heights. My experience teaching and as a vice president of Harvard University, a much bigger university, an older university, has shown me that it is very difficult to turn the ship, when you are running a very big ship like Harvard. When you are at CEU I think we can be more nimble, we have an opportunity, and I have sensed this among the faculty and students. There is a hunger to work across disciplines and to make this university greater than the sum of its parts. So that is what attracted me here, as well as the mission, the open society mission, which is really the heart of what CEU is all about.
Brandon Krueger: Well you have already mentioned opportunities and there is one other aspect what is really interesting about CEU and it is that it has one foot on the US and the other is on Europe. There are times when it is quite challenging to negotiate these two identities. However, I think there are a lot of opportunities that are generated by this. Please share with us your opinion about some of these opportunities.
John Shattuck: Well CEU is really a sort of three-legged stool. We have the American leg, we are registered in New York State with the Board of Regents as an American university. We are also a Hungarian university, we have been recognized by the Hungarian Parliament just recently in the amendments of the Hungarian law which gives special recognition to universities that have international character like CEU. And finally the third leg is the European Union, which provides support for scholarships for students who come from outside the EU area. Of course many of our students are in that category, and the EU also provides some research funding. So that makes us again truly unique—there is no other university that is a Hungarian-American-European university. It certainly creates legal complexities in terms of ensuring that all regulatory aspects of all three of those jurisdictions are met. But CEU does very well by that and it creates enormous opportunities because our identity as a university is truly unique in the way that no national university, no matter how international its students can be.
Brandon Krueger: Yes and that work is taking place in a particular environment which is of course we have already spoken about—its quite international in character. The history of CEU which first and foremost was rooted in Central and Eastern Europe in this area but in recent years the recruitment base is considerably expanding. Now we are recruiting from more than 100 countries. The students body made all that. You have hinted at some of this before, but I was wondering what particular advantages have based upon the fact that we over half the countries of the world here at CEU?
John Shattuck: Well I think it gives every subject that is studied at CEU a kind of new dimension that you do not get anywhere else. If you sit in a CEU classroom, you find that often no two students come from the same country, and each is bringing a different national perspective when they are studying something like medieval history, for example—their curiosity about the Middle Ages in Central Europe—it can reflect a Chinese, or an Indian, or a Columbian or a Venezuelan point of view, as well as the point of view of people from this region. It also gives a special dimension to our faculty. Sticking with the medieval studies example, one tends to think of the study of the Middle Ages in Europe—but our medieval studies department is now moving far to the East and we are beginning to look at what was going on contemporarily in China and India and in the Arab World, in the Islamic World, during that same period. That’s a unique approach toward medieval studies. You look at another subject that is more contemporary, the study of political science and the issues of governance and how governance works in different settings and again you have the whole global culture to draw from in the different kinds of government structures that exist in various different countries. And a common set of themes across all of those cultures which is how do we transform our society, how do we enter into a transition from a nation-state approach towards governance, to a more transnational and international approach; how we deal with the issues of communication and media, which are changing so rapidly around us as these all new means of communications get developed when the old means begin to disappear. All nations and cultures have to deal with that, but here at CEU we can actually reflect from every country’s perspective what these different issues are, so that is what brings the rich diversity of this university into sharp focus when it comes to working on our academic program.
Brandon Krueger: So in essence we are not only able to have the students and the faculty with additional perspective but also we are able to expand our own academic focus as a result of this situation. I think you have already mentioned that you had the chance to meet with students last week and before that as well.
John Shattuck: Yes, and over the weekend too. We ran in a road race together.
Brandon Krueger: Oh, yes over the weekend, so in many different areas. Well in short how would you describe the CEU students that you have met so far and what are your impressions of them?
John Shattuck: The CEU students whom I have met are adventuresome, they are risk-taking, they are out there doing something that is a rather brave thing to do. They are coming to a truly international setting. They are speaking English, not their own native tongue. They decided that this is the kind of format that is interesting to them. But they are also wonderful, normal people at the same time. They are all smart, these are very good students. We have a highly selective student body and of course we provide assistance, scholarship assistance to those who need it and choose our students on the basis of merit. So we do not simply educate the elites or old elites, but rather people who have the opportunity to get ahead even though their parents may have never gone to college. These are very enterprising people, the CEU students, and I think the record of where they go afterwards, the alumni that we have, shows that many of them are entering into governmental, international, transnational arenas, often working in organizations like the UN. They are also going to academia, they go back and teach in their own countries and they become mainstays in their own countries, or they are going into the European Parliament—we have several alumni who have been elected to the European Parliament or their own national parliaments. These are people who are going to be leaders, a new generation of leaders in a transnational world.
Brandon Krueger: With respect to those students, graduating, becoming alumni, they are going back to their countries, international organizations. A lot of them would like to become very active and want to shape policies and these kinds of things, which leads me to what I’d like to ask next. Obviously, Open Society Institute and CEU that has a long standing relationship with the institute. Their mission is to try to build vibrant and tolerant democracies. I am just wondering then… what is CEU’s role, if any, in being active in terms of policy-shaping?
John Shattuck: Well CEU is going to have a very close relationship while I am president and rector with OSI and with other global civil society organizations and we are going to do this through a new entity that we are creating. We are creating a School of Public Policy at CEU. And our School of Public Policy like everything else at CEU will be quite different. You often think of public policy as it is taught at universities as a subject that involves figuring out how governments can develop good policy and implement it. But what we will study is how civil society, people from all over the world who are having impact on governance, are organizing to try to influence the development of policy—whether in the field of global warming or the subject of poverty eradication or issues of the delivery of health care, or human rights, or international security. These are all subjects that are of intense interest to global civil society—and CEU, through its School of Public Policy, working closely with OSI, and other organizations is going to study all of that. We are not an advocacy organization, we are an academic institution, and that is what we remain, and we can build the framework within which you can understand how public policy is developed—maybe we can understand more fundamental issues like how the social networks are developed through sociology or history of any particular area through the history department. We’ll get our departments working together through the School of Public Policy. That is how CEU will relate to the world of advocacy and we will do so through the organizations we will study.
Brandon Krueger: You have actually mentioned some lists of these areas of research and public policy and with relation to that, I am just wondering what are some up-and-coming areas of research that you think that merit additional focus in the future for CEU?
John Shattuck: Well I have mentioned a few of them just now. We have a very strong environmental science and policy department—we have several research institutes in that area. We are going to deepen our work on the environment and particularly on the topic which is so much in people’s minds, global warming, but also in areas involving energy, and the impact of various aspects of human interaction with the environment. I think issues of health care are global concerns, certainly a great concern in the United States which is wrestling with this. CEU will develop this area, working with OSI, which has very strong interest in public health. We will be doing various kinds of research, for example questions of how to encourage health care professionals, doctors and others, who are educated in one place to return to their countries—if they come from countries which have a great need for medical professionals—so they do not simply become part of the brain drain. Questions of human rights will continue to be a very central focus of what CEU does, but human rights in broader sense of that word: human security. How do we provide security for the integrity of individuals, protecting individuals from the kind of mistreatment they often receive from the hands of governments and others, how can we understand the underlying conditions which lead to major human rights abuses—why does genocide occur? What are the circumstances under which leaders in countries that are falling apart, and failed states, sometimes stimulate ethnic conflicts which often lead to genocide? How do we understand all that? These are the kinds of things that I think CEU, and I have just mentioned three or four examples, will be doing in its School of Public Policy and at many other of its departments.
Brandon Krueger: And finally I would say in the midst of these challenges that the world faces, and on what course CEU must conduct its own research on—what challenges does CEU itself face in the next five years?
John Shattuck: Well I think we have several. Certainly we have physical space challenge, that is, we need to grow. We are going to grow certainly if we develop a new School of Public Policy. Also we have a Business School that needs to be integrated more into the university. So physical space is a challenge and it’s one that we are working on right now. Integrating the various parts of the university is another challenge as we grow, and become more successful and more excellent in many fields, we have to make sure that the university coheres—that is a community of scholars, of people who interact with each other and bring the expertise they have in one discipline or another to bear on work that may be going on in the whole university. I mentioned earlier the Business School. The Business School needs to be brought back into this central part of the university. I think there are some administrative challenges for the business school as well as integration challenges. Another challenge is the development of the new school of public policy, and developing a close relationship between the existing departments and school of public policy, while maintaining the strength and growth of each of the departments at the same as the school of public policy grows. We also will want to work to find a good balance between CEU as a global institution and CEU as an institution that is rooted in this region in Central Europe. It started here, it has its most central mission coming from here. And I think Budapest is a very fine home for CEU because Budapest is really a crossroads of the world and I think it is good that CEU is in a city that is not specifically associated with any one very large country. We are not in Western Europe, we are not in United States, we are in Central Europe: we are in a proud and storied city which is, as I have said, a crossroads in the beginning, and today also. So it is a good symbol for CEU as a university that is rooted in this region but has grown into a global institution. So we need to work on that relationship. These are some of the challenges we are facing in the period ahead.
Brandon Krueger: Sounds like we have a lot of good stuff to do. I wish you all the best for these. President and Rector John Shattuck, thank you for the interview today and good luck for the future.
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