Yehuda Elkana, the third President and Rector of Central European University (1999-2009) was an Auschwitz survivor who became an international scholar and public intellectual with a deep commitment to open society. He was an academic pioneer, leading CEU for nearly half the life of the University. During his stewardship, CEU grew in size, stature, and intellectual scope, and was transformed from a regional experiment in post-Communist education into a major graduate institution of the social sciences and humanities. By 2009 CEU had emerged as a research-intensive institution with global reach. Elkana's central accomplishments at CEU included developing the University into a major center of intellectual life in Central and Eastern Europe, educating thousands of students from the region and beyond to contribute to the building of open societies and establishing CEU as a strong academic institution with a unique mission and a commitment to innovative teaching and cutting-edge research. “Yehuda Elkana achieved a great deal during his tenure,” said CEU Founder and Honorary Chairman of the Board George Soros,” reformulating the University and its mission for the challenges of the 21st century and leaving CEU fully and uniquely equipped to engage with the social and economic challenges of our time.”
During Elkana’s 10-year tenure, various departments, interdisciplinary programs, and research centers were started. CEU's intellectual focus and the scope of its recruitment were widened under his leadership, as students and faculty began to arrive from across Europe, Central Asia, North America, and—increasingly—around the globe. CEU's unique status as an American, Hungarian, and European university is the result of successful initiatives undertaken by Elkana to obtain accreditation for the University from the U.S. Middle States Commission for Higher Education as well as from the Hungarian Higher Education and Science Committee, with the approval and support of the Hungarian Accreditation Committee. The latter accreditation opened the door for CEU to be recognized officially by the European Union and the European Commission as a European university. It also made CEU eligible for EU competitive research funding and student scholarship support.
During his academic career, Elkana was a distinguished historian and philosopher of science who taught at Harvard University and served as a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University (1973-1974) and a Visiting Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford (1977-1978). He served as Director of both the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute (1968-1993) and the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas, Tel Aviv University (1981-1991). From 1995 to 1999 he was professor of Theory of Science at ETH Zurich. He was a Fellow Emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study, Berlin (Wissenschaftskolleg, Berlin). Elkana was also a corresponding member of the International Academy for the History of Science and, beginning in 1997, a member of the Science Board of Advisors of the Collegium Helveticum in Zurich. He was co-founder and editor of the scientific journal Science in Context and author of the book Essays on the Cognitive and Political Organization of Science (1994).
After leaving CEU in 2009, Elkana went on to oversee a program that began work on a global initiative to reform undergraduate university curricula in order to tackle the problems he had outlined in earlier public discussions. The initiative resulted in the establishment of the Curriculum Reform Forum (2009-2010). Elkana also co-authored The University in the 21st Century: Teaching at the Dawn of the Digital Age with Hannes Klopper (2011).
In early 2012, Yehuda Elkana received an honorary doctorate from Central European University in a ceremony that highlighted his research work on the topic of universities in the 21st century. In his written body of work he leaves behind a legacy of powerful ideas that many will continue to contemplate and, as he had encouraged, contest in years to come.