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The first meeting of the Senate in November was held in two parts, in two locations, and was highly attended

2023-11-08 11:15:00

Contrary to its usual practice, the Senate met in two venues: after the pre-defined items on the agenda, the meeting continued in the auditorium on the ground floor, due to the wide interest in the last item. According to the preliminary agenda, the Senate adopted the new regulations on admission to master programmes and on Study Abroad, and made a decision on the awarding of a Professor Emeritus title. Outside the agenda, the Senate discussed the issue ‘Lessons and conclusions for the Senate from ethics and irregularity procedures conducted during the year’.

Budapesti Corvinus Egyetem

The first part of the Senate meeting on 7 November took place in the Senate Hall in front of an audience of lecturers and students, several of whom held improvised banners to protest against the termination of Zoltán Ádám’s employment.

Acting Rector Lajos Szabó informed the participants about the rules of the Senate meeting and asked them to respect these rules, and the participants agreed to do so.

The first part of the Senate meeting

Gábor Toronyai submitted the issue of the employment of Zoltán Péter Ádám Associate Professor as a proposed item on the agenda of the Senate meeting, but the Senate was not able to discuss it. This issue actually falls within the scope of exercising employer’s rights, and, as such, is a matter between the person exercising employer’s rights and the employee. As another item on the agenda, he proposed the establishment of an ad hoc committee of three to five Senate members. The ad hoc committee would be responsible for drawing up a proposal for setting up a permanent “Committee for the Protection of Autonomy” or “Committee for the Protection of Integrity”.  In response to this, the Acting Rector said that the University already had a so-called internal whistleblowing system in place, so there was no need to set up a new platform or committee. He added that completely independently of the current case, already in early September, the Board of Professors included it in its annual work schedule that they would conduct detailed discussions on the issue of university autonomy.

Before attending to the items on the agenda, the participants briefly discussed whether the Senate should discuss the proposal ‘Lessons and conclusions for the Senate from ethics and irregularity procedures conducted during the year and the dismissal of Associate Professor Zoltán Péter Ádám’ as the first item on the agenda – as Gábor Toronyai requested – or only after the other items. With 20 votes in favour, 6 votes against and 6 abstentions, the Senate agreed to discuss this topic in the second part of the meeting, in Auditorium III on the ground floor, as previously announced by the Chairman of the Senate.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Acting Rector presented the assignment letter to Dániel Havran, who will continue to work in the Senate as the Dean responsible for master programmes, and to Tamás Pesuth, who will participate in the work of the Senate in the constituency of the Institute of Finance (as an alternate member for Dániel Havran).

Senators made decisions about three items on the agenda. The first vote was on the amendment of the part of the Admission Regulation regarding master programmes. The two most significant changes are that the introduction of one-year master programmes has made the previous validation procedure redundant, so it has been abolished, and the University intends to use a uniform examination system for the master programmes, by introducing the GMET, NMET and GRE international online tests. The Senate approved the amendment of the Admission Regulation (Student Requirements, Part 1) with 31 votes in favour, 0 against and 2 abstentions.

The second item on the agenda was to make a decision on the new Regulation on Study Abroad. The renewal of the previous regulation was necessitated by external and internal changes, including the alignment of the scopes of responsibilities and competences with the current OOP and the clarification of the details and tasks associated with the application process. The Senate unanimously supported the introduction of the Regulation.

The third item on the agenda was a staff matter: based on the proposal of the Academic Career Committee, the Senate supported the awarding of the title of Professor Emeritus to Miklós Virág, Professor of the Institute of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, with 31 votes in favour, 1 against and O abstentions.

The first half of the meeting was closed by offering an opportunity, outside the agenda, to learn about the experience of the 3-year cycle of the Academic Career Model, with the relevant regulation tol be discussed by the Senate in detail at the next meeting on 14 November.

The second part of the Senate meeting

After a short technical break, the Senate resumed the meeting in Auditorium E III, with a post-agenda item titled “Lessons and conclusions for the Senate from the ethics and irregularity procedures conducted during the year”. The proposal was submitted by Senator Gábor Toronyai, President of the FDSZ-BCE Trade Union of Employees in Higher Education at CUB, in order to ensure that the Senate initiates credible and effective measures to protect standards and values. During the briefing in the auditorium, which was almost full, some members of the audience displayed banners again.

In his speech, Lajos Szabó, Acting Rector and Chairman of the Senate, asked the audience to be open to the facts and what he had to say. He pointed out that the case of a student’s  examination received undue attention in the press because Zoltán Ádám framed the otherwise ordinary case as pressure by MOL shareholders. He said that pressure and external influence are not acceptable, even from Zoltán Ádám, who used the press for such purposes. However, it has to be admitted that there are, unfortunately, many irregular practices at the university which could also be used to create ethics cases.

Lajos Szabó summarised the situation around the recently concluded ethics procedures, touching upon the lack of precision in the description of the examination criteria in the given subject, which gives room for different interpretations, the unclear identity of the subject leader, the eligibility for admission to the examination, the different subject data sheets determining this, the issue of equity and the question of evidence. He explained how the decision-makers of the first and the second instance weighed up the case of a student who barely achieved the required performance. The purpose of the ethics procedure was to establish with absolute certainty whether the principle of incorruptibility had been breached. In one of the ethics procedures, it was established that no ethical abuse had occurred, while in the other procedure, as the ethical abuse could not be proven beyond reasonable doubt, the procedure was closed with acquittal.

The Chairman of the Senate underlined, however, that it was his official duty to initiate the irregularity procedures, because the ethics reviews had revealed cases of suspected irregularities. Both the chairperson of the committee of first instance and the chairperson of the committee of second instance have reported irregularities according to the rules. It is not true that they were alibi actions to condemn Zoltán Ádám. It is not true, either, that the Chancellor can act in economic matters only; according to the regulation, he had to participate in the investigation together with the person in charge according to the order of substitution, as the Rector was not available, and the substitute in this case was the Vice-Rector for Academic Development.

Regarding Zoltán Ádám’s breach of his duty of cooperation, Lajos Szabó said that this was a very serious offence, and the decision was proportionate and lawful. The Acting Rector, as a superior according to the one-over-one principle, found no reason not to accept the decision taken by the person exercising employer’s rights.

Lajos Szabó said that it was misleading to classify a dismissal as intimidation or terror. On the contrary, the flexibility of existing colleagues towards students is limited by the increased media attention to ethics procedures. He said that the details were not disclosed because it would have been unlawful, but since Corvinus’ reputation was at stake as a result of the press campaign, it is in the university’s legitimate interest to disclose the cases in detail, without mentioning names. Lajos Szabó emphasised that despite the allegations in the press, Zoltán Ádám’s dismissal has nothing to do with the fact that he initiated the ethics procedures. Nor can we say that it would have been a kind of retaliation, as Zoltán Ádám had criticised the university several times before without any consequences. Zoltán Ádám, although he presented himself as a defender of academic freedom, was in fact seeking his own interests, the limelight, and he was disgracing colleagues, violating their personal rights, and students not involved in the case were the ones who suffered the consequences of his suspicions.

Speaking about university autonomy, the Chairman of the Senate said that he considered it important to think together on the issue, which the Board of Professors, independently of this ethics and irregularity case, will include in its work schedule for this year. The position of this independent body will be worth looking at and studying, as it can provide a basis for a common understanding of autonomy.

He pointed out that there is more than one side to a story. Improvements require change, and that calls for internal dialogue, not an external campaign. He expressed his hope that the discussion could be concluded soon, and the university could concentrate on its main tasks, education and research again.

Gábor Toronyai, the Senator representing the Trade Union, was the first to take the floor among the contributors to the discussion. In his opinion, the house is on fire and the Senate needs to rise to the challenge. He explained that in the public opinion, the case of the ethics procedures and the dismissal of Zoltán Ádám could not have been connected in any other way than the way it was reported in the press.  He assessed the briefing by Lajos Szabó as an attempt at fencemending and an effort to convince the students. He said that the real credible step would be to set up a committee to investigate attempts at external influence mentioned in the submission, and to reinstate Zoltán Ádám. In his response, Lajos Szabó said that he was aware of the fact that several classes had been taken up over the past few days by  the representatives of the trade union and the Corvinus Employees’ Council  trying to convince students of their position, and he made it clear that the detailed information provided by the university administration was not based on a political narrative, but on facts and compliance with GDPR rules.

Senator Eszter Kirs, in her contribution, questioned the reasons for Zoltán Ádám’s dismissal and the integrity of the rights of the person subject to the procedure, saying that Zoltán Ádám could have felt like a witness in the irregularity procedure and he had not been warned in advance that a failure to deliver the e-mails could lead to dismissal. She said that Zoltán Ádám had not been given enough information to identify which missing emails he was asked to deliver, and this projects the risk that other colleagues would not dare to ask for clarification on an instruction. She also complained that the reasons for the dismissal may have included a sarcastic, vitriolic tone applied towards the university administration. She wished to know – in compliance with GDPR rules – exactly which facts were the basis for exactly which labour law sanctions. She also argued that the damage to the university’s reputation can only be cleared by reinstating Zoltán Ádám, not by communication, otherwise the dismissal can be seen as an arbitrary exercise of power and fosters a culture of fear. Lajos Szabó took this point further, suggesting that it can also be a matter of fear that someone is looking for a link between a corporate partner supporting the university and a lecturer’s positive decision with respect to a student.

In his reply, Chancellor Ákos Domahidi said that they acted in a transparent way and in full compliance with the duty to provide information and communicated with Zoltán Ádám about the requested e-mails in an identifiable manner. The reason for the urgency was that the rules allowed 30 days for the procedure (with the possibility of an extension if justified), and they were already at the very end of the deadline when, after five reminders and 8 days, they had still not received the requested emails. He said that the correspondence was necessary to clarify the circumstances and to get the full picture to make an informed decision.

Senator Kristóf Kovács, as the President of the Student Union, drew attention to the fact that the damaged reputation of the university is a big problem for the students, and expressed his aversion to any of the affected parties trying to convince the students, because students want to and can form their own opinion. He said that at the same time, they need information to see the situation clearly, and this is why they approached the university administration, indicating their need for information, and this is why they are organising a student forum on 8 November with the Rector and Gábor Toronyai, with the support of 25 student associations, to which everyone is invited. He stated that confidence, the internal atmosphere and the reputation of the university must be restored and the matter should be closed as soon as possible so that learning and teaching can be resumed.

Senator Kolos Ágoston argued that these issues would not have created a sensation if detailed information had been made available earlier and it would have been better to keep the information within the walls of the university. He said that although he had no legal qualifications, he did not think that the dismissal of Zoltán Ádám was a proportionate measure. He questioned whether the university would stand behind the lecturer who had been subjected to pressure from an influential parent. He said the university should make it absolutely clear that external pressure is unacceptable. In his reply, Lajos Szabó agreed with the speaker that attempts at external influence are unacceptable, and lecturers should be protected from this, which is an important principle to be respected by everyone.

Senator Mánuel Mágó asked whether there was a lecturer colleague on the committee that conducted the irregularity procedure, and why it was irregular to make the exams gradually more difficult as the examination period progressed. In his reply, after clarification, Lajos Szabó said that three lecturers and two legal assistants participated in the work of the committee, and that exams of unequal difficulty violate the principle of equal opportunities.

Gábor Toronyai asked for the floor again and said that as a trade union leader, he did not consider the dismissal of Zoltán Ádám to be a proportionate measure, either, adding that since Zoltán Ádám enjoyed labour law protection, he could have been dismissed with the agreement of the trade union only, this is why the extraordinary termination was necessary, and that in case it was challenged,  the legal proceeding would take 1-2 years. He stressed that the decision on the dismissal is fear-mongering and that they are taking action to eliminate fear.

As to fear-mongering, Senator Márton Barta said in his contribution that it was about getting mixed up in a case innocently, and Corvinus was characterised by democracy, and not by the culture of fear. A good example for that is that there are a number of university leaders who have criticised the university. He added that the reference to fear can act as a self-fulfilling prophecy, too, and people should think of loyalty to the university instead.

Eszter Kirs spoke briefly again, underlining that she was not telling her personal opinion, but she was speaking as a delegate of her community, and that while they can be proud of their democratic debate culture, the reality is that some colleagues do not dare to express their opinions on social media or in the office mailing system. Márton Barta added that we should find out the reasons why colleagues believed they should be afraid, and we should seek to incorporate the lessons from the case into our future operation.

In his closing remarks, Lajos Szabó thanked the participants for observing the rules and for their comments and opinions and declared the meeting of the Senate closed.

Corvinus has previously provided information on this topic in the following articles (with Hungarian versions):

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GEN.:2024.07.12. - 18:17:14