Newsletter - December, 2020

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Dear Friends, 

I am honored to have the opportunity to contact you again through our e-newsletter. Although all university teaching had to move online, and faculty and staff moved to home office at the end of October, my colleagues and I have strived to adapt and utilize the opportunity of remote teaching the best possible way.  

Department Seminars have been taking place online and recordings are made accessible to the public.  

Professor Levente Littvay is sharing his pre-recorded lectures as part of a weekly online series. The first out of six videos was made together withProfessor Erin K. Jenne(IR, CEU), in which they are covering a few important principles in voting behavior. 

We have some good news for our prospective applicants because CEU increased stipends as of 2021/22. We remain thankful for your help in sharing this possibility with interested applicants, as well as attracting the next generation of talented Political Science students.

Best wishes,
Zoltan Miklosi
Associate Professor
Head, Department of Political Science

As a tradition, I would like you to ‘meet’ again one of your faculty members – this time Levi Littvay sends his personal message too. 

Dear alumni, dear friends,

What year is this again? Oh, it’s 2020. Then, I better start this letter with the mandatory “I hope you are not dead” statement that was included in every letter we wrote or received since the spring. Why should this one be an exception? Here goes: “I sincerely hope you and your loved ones are well and you are staying safe… and sane. (I can’t say I am. But let’s move on.)

So, you might ask, what did life look like for a newly minted Full Professor of Political Science like myself in 2020? It was February when I was returning from Bamberg, Germany, the other host of the ECPR methods school, to the hills of Florence, Italy’s European University Institute where I was on fellowship for the year. Little did I know that a few weeks later everything would shut down. I was planning to peacefully write my book, work on my articles - and then 2020 happened. My three-year-old daughter was sent home from preschool. And we were limited to the one block radius of our home (and the grocery store). Soon, other countries started to shutter. And the shutdown reached CEU classrooms a few weeks before the end of the Winter Term.

Earlier in the school year, I helped a student at another Hungarian university get access to one of our courses. He said, the transition to an online classroom was very organized in both places. The difference was that it took a few weeks at home, while at CEU the Rector said this needs to happen and an hour and a half later everyone had access to the platform and the classes were online. (He doesn’t know it, but it took a few days of prep work, and the Rector only sent the decision when everything was ready to go. Still. This was amazing.) But of course, nobody really knew what to do. Everyone tried to turn their webcams, their computers into their classrooms and teach as if nothing happened. And it worked, a testament to everyone’s commitment to make it work.

In late spring, I was still stuck in Florence and not a single word was on paper of the projects that were supposed to be done in the summer. (And as I type this I realize, nothing has been written since either.) My full time job became trying to figure out how CEU will be able to host the ECPR Methods School in the summer. It was clear, and the decision was made relatively early, we are not going to have a normal event. The three-week methods school with 500 participants had to move online. A few months later, everyone’s full time job became a more conscious, more deliberate and more effective online education plan for the Fall.

Today, our classes are duplicated to accommodate the people who were able to show up in Vienna and also those who couldn’t. The online classes have morning slots and evening slots to help students who are scattered around all of the globe’s time zones. We found tools to create a social learning environment without having the common space of the classroom to converse. We learned to make education work for the most diverse university in the world in times when borders are closed. Is it perfect? No. There are many problems. But it works and the things we learned along the way, I am convinced, will enhance students’ experience for years to come even once we are out of this ugly pandemic.

We did other things in 2020 as well. We made a new campus in Vienna our full-time residence, cut a deal with the city for our beautiful permanent home that will be the envy of the most beautiful US garden campuses. The breathtaking Otto Wagner-designed Steinhof is going to be the archetype of the American campus in Europe. Imagine a beautiful park with gorgeous buildings, students hanging out on the grassy hillside. Someone shows up with a guitar. It’s spring. The weather is getting better. These future students already made Steinhoff their home. They live there. They study there. They have fun on these grounds. And these are not just the same kinds of students you found in the Budapest dorm. They also include undergrads, now intermingling with their MA and PhD peers. This year, 2020, we also started teaching undergrads political science at CEU. That’s probably not what we will remember of 2020, but it certainly should have been.

This year was not fun. I constantly had to remind myself that despite everything really sucking bad, I am extremely lucky. Many lost close loved ones or went through unprecedented economic hardships. I do sincerely hope you are in an equally lucky situation. But do not be hard on yourself even if you are one of the lucky ones. It is OK to feel like this year has been horrible. I do believe that the future is brighter and it is coming fast. And as such, I hope you will continue to be our future, our community, and our heritage. You make us proud and it is a feeling we could use more of in 2021.

Sending lots of Love from Vienna

Levi Littvay

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