The new guiding light of Hungarian higher education: István Klinghammer

Since my less than flattering comment about László Gy. Tóth aroused so much interest in the quality of Hungarian education, I thought it might be a good idea to devote a post to the nonexistent Ministry of Education and its newly appointed undersecretary in charge of higher education, István Klinghammer.

Let’s start with the very structure of the second Orbán government that deprived certain key ministries of their independent existence. To list only the three most obvious, finance, education and culture, and health were all demoted. Viktor Orbán demonstrated the “frugality” of his government by having only eight ministries–as many as the first Hungarian government in 1848. Naturally, nowadays a central government has a few more tasks than the Hungarian government did in 1848. Moreover, even Lajos Batthyány’s government had a minister of finance. Moreover, not just anybody but Lajos Kossuth himself.

As a result of Orbán’s consolidation, some previously separate ministries were subordinated to mega-ministries, the largest of which is the Ministry of Human Resources under Zoltán Balog. He is supposed to take care of health, education, culture, and who knows what else. Mind you, he as a former Hungarian reformed minister knows mighty little about any of these fields.

Education was given to the Christian Democrats, who chose a middle-aged schoolmarm to be in charge. Although on paper Rózsa Hoffmann has all sorts of qualifications, she is basically a small-minded high school teacher. I wrote earlier about the nationalization of schools and her plans to turn the clock back to the 1970s when she finished her studies as a Russian-French major. Eventually it became patently clear that  this woman just doesn’t have what it takes to “reform” Hungarian education. Moreover, she was an irritant to the country’s university professors and students. By February of this year Orbán at last confronted the Christian Democratic leaders with the sad news that “Rózsa didn’t quite work out” and that, since she is so busy with education on the lower level, higher education should be handled by someone else. So came István Klinghammer, former president of ELTE.

Klinghammer was a controversial choice, although Fidesz politicians felt that “he must be better than his predecessor.” He was described by others as a tough guy who grew up in the worst section of District VIII. At the time of his appointment I noted that he began his studies at the Budapest  University of Technology but two years later transferred to ELTE to become a geography teacher. Well, for me that meant that the young Klinghammer couldn’t quite handle the work in this very tough technical college. After getting a teacher’s certificate in geography he became a cartographer and received a “university doctorate,” not to be mixed up with the Ph.D. As far as I can ascertain, this is the highest degree he received, but he made quite a career for himself at ELTE. In 2000 he became president of the university and in 2010 became a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

Klinghammer Istvan magyarhirlap.hu

István Klinghammer / Magyar Hírlap

Klinghammer likes to talk and is considered to be a good communicator, but perhaps it would be better if he talked less. Ever since he became undersecretary in charge of higher education he has been giving one interview after the other, often saying things he shouldn’t. Not long ago he made great pronouncements about the nature of the university. There is a consensus in the U.S. that a university is, to quote my favorite definition (Random House), “an institution of learning of the highest level, comprising a college of liberal arts, a program of graduate studies, and several professional schools, and authorized to confer both undergraduate and graduate degrees.” The Hungarian word for university, “egyetem,” also gives a clue about the universality of disciplines taught in universities. But then comes our Klinghammer who announces that “engineering and music” shouldn’t be taught at the same university. So, an engineer should know nothing about music, art, or literature. In Hungarian there is a good word for such a person: “professional barbarian” (szakbarbár). Moreover, Klinghammer has little appreciation of any fields outside of natural sciences and engineering because they “don’t produce any value, they only please people and give them happiness.”

So, busy bloggers–I suspect students–did some research on Klinghammer’s own scientific accomplishments. He was prolific, writing according to one account 15 books and 30 chapters in different publications, primarily in Hungarian. But his work attracted little interest abroad; foreign academics referred to his works only twice. Details of his academic activities can be found here.

And how does he come across as a person? Badly. In a lengthy interview he gave to Népszabadság he gave the impression–to use the description of György C. Kálmán (literary historian and former professor at ELTE)–of a man “who finds his titles terribly important, who is a puffed-up academic with narrow views, someone who doesn’t understand the first thing about democracy, someone whose views on learning and erudition are hopelessly wrong; in brief, he is an old fogey.”‘

Another blogger, after looking through Klinghammer’s scientific accomplishments, discovered that among his many publications he even listed articles in Magyar Nemzet and in a popular science magazine, Élet és Tudomány. This blogger summarizes Klinghammer’s impact on the world: “He wrote seven books in Hungarian that inspired ten references. After forty years of work his impact is zero.” Whatever the precise number of publications and references, foreign and domestic, we can definitely conclude that Klinghammer, despite his own inflated self-image, is not a renowned scholar. Perhaps if he had bragged less he wouldn’t have elicited so many antagonistic responses. And this is the man who is supposed to make Hungarian higher education world-class.

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31 comments

  1. Looks like he is cartographer – maps of Hungary, etc. Perhaps that explains the lack of general academic acclaim.

    I wonder how this specialism will lead his leadership efforts …

  2. How on earth was this ass the president of ELTE? I guess it wasn’t a coincidence that he got the post during the first Orban government.

    I think it’s worth to read the full quote about the “value creation”. That is very likely was meant to be a huge lick on Orban’s backside echoing the Great Leaders pontificating about the “work based society”. The dumb ass country boy and the street smart kid from the “worst of the 8th district” in full agreement. The Creme de la Creme.

    So the full quote:

    “In relation to science and technology education, keep in mind, that
    countries can only thrive if there is production and creation of value.
    Disciplines, that in some way produce value should be supported and preferred.
    In today’s world science and engineering are value producers.
    Humanities and culture are important, but do not create value, but please people and
    make them happy.”

    I believe we are not far from giving the Kossuth prize to coal miners (again).

  3. Apropos schools …

    The government stopped the schools from ordering fruit. Reason? There will be a public tender to supply schools with fruit.

    I bet you already know the rest … of course you do. It is Planet Hungary after all my friends.

    The company that is most likely will get the business was formed a month ago (!) and it’s name is the modest “Magyar Iskolagyümölcs Kft”. Hungarian School Fruit Ltd. Owned by a Fidesz MP. The same guy who made the government keep the wholesale prices of the watermelon high a year ago (yes, he is in the watermelon wholesale business).

    Man I can’t believe such a country exists. Sometimes I’m dreaming that it is just a B grade bad hollywood comedy and it ends in 5 minutes …

  4. “In today’s world science and engineering are value producers.
    Humanities and culture are important, but do not create value, but please people and make them happy.” So does marriage to the right person, but it does not necessarily produces the perfect, physically terrific offsprings. As the next step I think prearranged marriages by the government are in order in Hungary (happiness is for losers and for liberals) and the Spartan movement is close behind in order to get rid off the weak. Hungary is not for sissies no more. Welcome to Gattaca!

  5. Gyor Calling!

    Yet another case of the dyke-keeper being put in charge of the swimming pool – promoted well before reaching his level of incompetence.

    Poor Hungary, its education system doesn’t stand a chance – nor does health.

    Communism masquerading as democracy – or a banana republic more like.

    We had fun on here about the water melons before, so I will refrain.

    Another facet of democracy being corrupted – not a meritocracy…

    A crony-ocracy.

    And so like the banned film ‘The Witness’.

    So funny if it wasn’t so pathetic.

    Regards

    Charlie

  6. I don’t know anything about Klinghammer, although his comments about art would seem to suggest he’s a technician type – the sort, in my view, least suited to take a broad humanistic view of education. Unfortunately education seems to be more and more about standardized tests and less about fostering liberal minds. When I was still living in Hungary Balint Magyar was the education minister for a long time. He always struck me as a pretty decent, open minded man that could bridge political divides. I have no idea what he’s doing now. I don’t think he had much fame outside Hungary or was particularly renowned as an academic.

  7. ** Reply Requested When Convenient **

    Kedves Éva,

    Klinghammer pélkdaképéről lásd: http://lazarus.elte.hu/hun/dolgozo/klingh/kiveszp.htm

    >>> Hungarian Spectrum 06/13/13 12:14 AM >>> a:hover { color: red; } a { text-decoration: none; color: #0088cc; } a.primaryactionlink:link, a.primaryactionlink:visited { background-color: #2585B2; color: #fff; } a.primaryactionlink:hover, a.primaryactionlink:active { background-color: #11729E !important; color: #fff !important; } /* @media only screen and (max-device-width: 480px) { .post { min-width: 700px !important; } } */ WordPress.com Eva S. Balogh posted: “Since my less than flattering comment about László Gy. Tóth aroused so much interest in the quality of Hungarian education, I thought it might be a good idea to devote a post to the nonexistent Ministry of Education and its newly appointed undersecretary “

  8. It is unfortunate that you chose to focus on his personality traits rather than provide any perspective on his actual performance as president of ELTE for the past 13 or so years. Certainly he must have established some track record as an administrator during that time. Providing this kind of information — I have no idea whether he was good at this job or not, and your article did not address this at all — would have made your article more compelling and less of a personal attack.

  9. Klinghammer is there to execute whatever he is told. That is his one and only role, and he knows it.

    In that sense it does not matter at all what he thinks or says, he will do whatever Orbán and his circle of advisers will tell him to do.

    His position is similar to that of Mihály Varga (the supposedly moderate Fidesznik, and a former bookkeper for an agricultural cooperative, but hey, if you are loyal, you can be a minister too) as the Minister of National Economy. Varga has no own opinion (although foreign investors etc. love to meet him as he is so civilised – even if says absolutely zilch) and even if he has a personal opinion it makes no difference, he is in his position is only to execute orders.

    Again, this is unbelievable for most foreign observers: that Orbán absolutely micro-manages everything and he and he alone decides in all major (and minor) questions. Any decision involving a university (which may have the slightest political consequences) is definately an Orbán-decision, as well as any major economic decision. Klinghammer and Varga both serve at the pleasure of Orbán and only until he is happy with them, but they will not disapoint.

    If Klinghammer behaves well, he can be chariman of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. For Orbán these are „toy” positions, it makes no political difference if the chairman or the minsiter is a monkey.

    Loyalty and unity are rewarded both on a personal levl and politically, hence the power of Fidesz.

  10. Mark :

    It is unfortunate that you chose to focus on his personality traits rather than provide any perspective on his actual performance as president of ELTE for the past 13 or so years. Certainly he must have established some track record as an administrator during that time. Providing this kind of information — I have no idea whether he was good at this job or not, and your article did not address this at all — would have made your article more compelling and less of a personal attack.

    He was president only for six years. I heard pretty bad things about him from someone who worked with him. This friend quoted me verbatim some choice sentences by the man which unfortunately I can’t quote because of its obscenity.

  11. The ‘new’ education and still this truth remains: from Livia Bitton-Jackson’s “I Have Lived A Thousand Years”–

    “The next morning headlines roar: WE ARE LIBERATED! HITLER’S GLORIOUS ARMY IS IN BUDAPEST!…

    News reaches us of Jews having been arrested in Budapest on the streets, on streetcars, at their workplaces, at railroad stations, and herded into freight trains. And the trains are chained shut. Where were they shipped?”

    Ask Laszlo Csatary who presently sits in a luxury home in the hills of Buda.

    !943…2013…What difference?

  12. OT: One the Fidesz MP has a real success story on his talented family. Not only he received a grant of 15,000,000 forints for his private ventures (car wash, etc.) that will create some new jobs, but since his family is talented, they were able to score received 12 tobacco stores from Fidesz. Gabor Takacs’ wife, mother-inlaw, and brother each received four tobacco shops (while many people who run similar operations for twenty years, were not able to get a single one). I think Takacs should be Hungary’s new Minister of Economy, as he proved how can we create something from nothing! An other achievement by the Orban government. I hope the next picture we see of Orban as someone is kissing his hand will be Takacs’ mother-in-law, while his wife will offer some freshly baked bread for the Prime Minister of all Hungarians.

  13. My apologies for hijacking the blog but it really upsets me, how many Fidesz fans on this blog still try to tell us that we are wrong and the Fidesz is clean and honourable.
    I would like to bring the Hungarian speaking readers’ attention to a HVG article. The article came about as a response regarding the initiative by the Nemzeti Dohánykereskedelmi Nonprofit Zrt. (National Tobacco Trade Nonprofit Limited — I am not sure what zartkoru is), where they asked the winners of tobacco shop tenders to share their families’ success story wit their peers.
    HVG asked those who lost the tenders to share their stories. As it turns out each application cost 32,000 forints (110 euros).

    “I am selling tobacco products for fourteen years by now in two stores. I submitted eight tenders. I lost 8 x 32,000 forints.”

    “,,,at the beginning I was thinking we made a mistake [by filling out the tender application]. After seventeen years of operating the store, we did not receive it either. WE did not have a chance for a second. We do not participate in politics, we have no connections,and truly we were just small entrepreneurs, who made the living from this.”

    “I was doing this for almost forty years, and not too bad, with experience, and qualifications, and now it will all fall into nothing, because they found the manager of the [local] hospital and a doctor more suited. THey won 15-15 tobacco stores in their families. I will end up on the street with my three employees. In my own tobacco store, I put my life work into it.”

    http://hvg.hu/gazdasag/20130613_Egy_masodpercig_sem_volt_eselyunk

  14. OT: very interesting research from TARKI on the value system of Hungarians (as part of the World Value Survey).. Based on the survey, the value system of Hungarian’s is a lot closer to countries in the so-called “orthodox” cultures (Bulgaria, Ukraine, Moldova, Russia), or even to Asian cultures like China, than to other European countries.

    In light of this, The Orban regime is no surprise. Hungarian society scored very low on values such as freedom, tolerance, self-reliance, trust, and participation in decision-making … while most EU countries are on the other end of the same spectrum.

    In Hungarian:

    http://anonymus-hu.blog.hu/2013/06/04/osszezavarodott_magyarok

    http://www.tarki.hu/hu/research/gazdkult/osszefoglalo_kepviselok_091026.pdf

    Eva, please have a look, it’s really interesting and explains a lot.

  15. @Maria Kovacs

    “Tel[e]ki térképszerkesztési módszerei két évtizeddel később ismét érvényre jutottak, Izrael állam megalakulását követően, a határkijelölésnél.”

    That is a bit strange. Klinghammer claims that the 1949 borders of Israel were influenced by the anti-Semitic Teleki who had committed suicide in 1941? Where is the evidence?

    @Margitsziget

    Now there are heavy steel barricades at the entrance. I asked a policeman when the public is allowed to return again. He did not know.

    My hunch is that the closure has nothing to do with the flood. The island will be closed until July 1st, the official day of takeover of the island. Orban & Tarlos will probably announce new resorts, hotels on the islands to be developed by Fidesz oligarchs, the cutting out of a lot of trees.

    They expect demonstrations a la Taksim square [but in Hungary the opposition leaders are asleep again], that is why the island is occupied by the police in advance.

    I wish I were wrong.

  16. OT: very interesting research from TARKI on the value system of Hungarians (as part of the World Value Survey).. Based on the survey, the value system of Hungarians is a lot closer to countries in the so-called “orthodox” cultures (Bulgaria, Ukraine, Moldova, Russia), or even to Asian cultures like China, than to other European countries.

    In light of this, The Orban regime is no surprise. Hungarian society scored very low on values such as freedom, tolerance, self-reliance, trust, and participation in decision-making … while most EU countries are on the other end of the same spectrum.
    In Hungarian:

    http://anonymus-hu.blog.hu/2013/06/04/osszezavarodott_magyarok
    http://www.tarki.hu/hu/research/gazdkult/osszefoglalo_kepviselok_091026.pdf

    Eva, please have a look, it’s really interesting and explains a lot.

  17. You talk of him exactly the way he talked about László Kálmán.
    Where is the problem then?

  18. Mark :
    It is unfortunate that you chose to focus on his personality traits rather than provide any perspective on his actual performance as president of ELTE for the past 13 or so years. Certainly he must have established some track record as an administrator during that time. Providing this kind of information — I have no idea whether he was good at this job or not, and your article did not address this at all — would have made your article more compelling and less of a personal attack.

    What is new in this? Her posts are almost full of ad hominem attacks against everyone on the so-called ‘right’ side. I guess for her these personal insults qualify as genuine argumentation, academic style.

  19. Some1 :
    OT: One the Fidesz MP has a real success story on his talented family. Not only he received a grant of 15,000,000 forints for his private ventures (car wash, etc.) that will create some new jobs, but since his family is talented, they were able to score received 12 tobacco stores from Fidesz. Gabor Takacs’ wife, mother-inlaw, and brother each received four tobacco shops (while many people who run similar operations for twenty years, were not able to get a single one). I think Takacs should be Hungary’s new Minister of Economy, as he proved how can we create something from nothing! An other achievement by the Orban government. I hope the next picture we see of Orban as someone is kissing his hand will be Takacs’ mother-in-law, while his wife will offer some freshly baked bread for the Prime Minister of all Hungarians.

    I was debating the degree of closeness of Takacs to Orban or the Fidesz hierarchy with a friend today. We both thought that he doesn’t necessarily have to be close to either. The pure beauty of the Orban system is to impress upon the nativity that he–anyone–can be this fortunate if he but follow a few cardinal rules: serve the party and its leader unquestioningly; promote the said party fully. This is how you turn a population into groveling sycophants…(if they weren’t already..).

  20. An :

    OT: very interesting research from TARKI on the value system of Hungarians (as part of the World Value Survey).. Based on the survey, the value system of Hungarians is a lot closer to countries in the so-called “orthodox” cultures (Bulgaria, Ukraine, Moldova, Russia), or even to Asian cultures like China, than to other European countries.

    Eva, please have a look, it’s really interesting and explains a lot.

    I just now copied it out to use it either today or tomorrow.

  21. Meanwhile on Planet Hungary …

    The Association of Women for The Nation (Nők a Magyar Nemzetért Közhasznú Egyesület) was awarded a cool 20 million HUF financial support from the Orban government. Other similar organizations got squat or a measly half million (Foundation for the Women of Hungary).

    So far it’s business as usual. This group, Orban’s Hos, were marching with the rented Poles on the peace march and Esther Dunst, an official of the group, wrote that infamous pamphlet to Angela Merkel clearly proving that women too can be assholes not just men (*).

    These wonderful ladies submitted a registration court document where the officials of the association were the following: Gipsz Jakab, Iksz Ipszilon, Piros Arany és Hát Izsák.

    Gipsz Jakab = John Doe in Hungarian
    Iksz Ipszilon = X Y
    Piros Arany = a paprika paste brand
    Hát Izsák = hátizsák means backpack in Hungarian. It’s a pun on Izsák (Isaac)

    (*) The group later rejected Dunst’s opinion saying that was her private views only.

  22. OT – Has anyone read a Galamus article by Zsofia Mihancsik on what happens after Orban? Those of you who can read Hungarian will find it on this link:
    http://galamus.hu/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=213792:mi-lesz-mi-legyen-orban-utan&catid=51:csmihancsikzsofia&Itemid=79
    There are other contributions by others, including: Krémer Ferenc, Lendvai L. Ferenc, Andor Mihály, Fazekas Csaba on the same topic linked to the Mihancsik article. I wonder if these articles could form a topic for us to discuss?

  23. See, whatever is happening to the Czech government will not happen to the Orbán government.

    As a good lawyer he knows that controlling the prosecution and the secret servics, and secondly the courts and the constitutional court, and thirdly the presidential position and the media, will keep hiem in power.

    The Czech are a bunch of amateurs.

    Orbán has dozens of corrupt issues, but unless his phone calls or private talks are recorded, he will be free. We also know that Simicska and co. will not use a phone or an email. So don’t expect scandals.

  24. @Vondra

    Czechia is able to self-correct, it is still a democracy.

    Hungary’s self-correcting mechanisms were destroyed by Orban, Hungary is not a democracy any longer.

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