Maryland, Hungary strike deal that leaves Budapest campus of McDaniel College open

Members of Gov. Larry Hogan's Cabinet struck a deal Friday with Hungarian diplomats to ensure classes continue at McDaniel College's Budapest campus after the Central European country tightened its regulation of foreign universities.

The agreement was signed in Annapolis and ended "weeks of intense negotiations," the Hungarian foreign ministry said in a statement.

McDaniel President Roger Casey said he was grateful state officials stepped in to protect the college's 22-year-old satellite campus in Budapest.

"I'm just delighted that we worked it out," he said. "This could be a model for the other U.S. states."

The agreement marks the first of its kind between an American state and Hungary, which passed a law in April that threatened the Hungarian campuses of more than 20 universities around the world. Hungarian officials said they continue to negotiate with the states of New York and Massachusetts.

Officials with the Maryland Higher Education Commission did not provide a copy of the agreement Friday. They have described it as a pledge of support for McDaniel's foreign campus.

The Budapest campus of what was then known as Western Maryland College opened in September 1994. Hundreds of students have since studied abroad in the ornate building that served as a Jewish school for the deaf and blind before the Holocaust.

More than 700 students, Americans and others, took classes at the Budapest campus this spring. Students may study all four years to earn an American degree and use their scholarships and financial aid there.

A dispute escalated in recent months between the Hungarian government and billionaire philanthropist George Soros, who in 1991 founded Central European University in the foreign nation. The Hungarian government tightened its higher education law in a vote widely seen as an attempt to close Soros' university, known as C.E.U.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has emerged as a conservative nationalist and European standard-bearer for opposition to immigration. Soros has bankrolled liberal causes around the world and feuded publicly with Orban.

Political tensions have seethed in Hungary as the country prepares for elections next year. In April, after the higher education law passed, an estimated 70,000 Hungarians and foreign students rallied in the streets of Budapest in support of C.E.U.

The Hungarian parliament passed the law to require a written agreement between Hungary and the home country or state of any foreign university operating in the nation. The law also requires that any foreign university with a campus in Hungary must maintain a campus in its home country. C.E.U. does not.

Parliament amended the law after Hungarian officials inspected the campuses of foreign universities operating there. McDaniel was the only campus without deficiencies, according to a Hungarian report published online.

Last month, Hungarian diplomats traveled to Annapolis to negotiate an agreement with James Fielder Jr., the Maryland secretary of higher education. The Maryland Higher Education Commission doesn't often — or maybe ever — find itself negotiating with foreign governments. Though McDaniel is a private college, Hungarian diplomats sought assurances from the government of Maryland.

The agreement Friday allows McDaniel to continue with plans to grow the Budapest campus, Casey said. The college has partnered with the University of Central Florida to allow its students to study there. Also officials from Gettysburg College are discussing a similar partnership with McDaniel.

tprudente@baltsun.com

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