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Education Ignatieff taking job as president of Budapest’s Central European University

Michael Ignatieff sits in his former parliamentary chair in his office at Massey College in Toronto on Sept. 28, 2012.

DEBORAH BAIC/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Michael Ignatieff is leaving North America. The former prime ministerial hopeful, who led the Liberal Party to the worst results in its history in the 2011 election, will become president of Central European University in Budapest on Aug. 1.

The university, which is for graduate students, is globally renowned for its programs and seminars on politics and government. It was founded 25 years ago by businessman and philanthropist George Soros through an endowment recently estimated at almost $900-million.

Hungary is familiar ground to Mr. Ignatieff, 68, who cemented his reputation as a journalist and global thinker with Blood and Belonging, his BBC series and 1993 book looking at resurgent nationalist movements around the world, including in Eastern Europe. His wife, Zsuzsanna Zsohar, was also born in Hungary.

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But the new job also marks his departure from this continent, a place that rarely proved as hospitable to his intellectual ambition and ambivalence as Europe.

After spending most of his adult life in Britain, with a later sojourn at Harvard, Mr. Ignatieff's rise to party leader in 2008 raised eyebrows. Was Canada ready for a prime minister who, according to a profile in this newspaper, had a family vacation house in Provence rather than Haliburton?

As it turned out, the skeptics had reason for doubt. Conservative ads reminded voters that "he didn't come back for you," and Mr. Ignatieff did not have enough charisma to overcome that perception.

He resigned as party leader on May 3, 2011, after a historical rout that cut the Liberals to 34 seats and swept away his own seat.

For a while, he taught at The University of Toronto and Harvard, where he earned his PhD in history in the 1970s. In 2014, he took a full-time academic appointment at the John F. Kennedy School of Government.

The author of 14 books, Mr. Ignatieff takes up the job of president and rector at CEU as the school is expanding its campus in the Hungarian capital.

His new post was announced by Mr. Soros himself. "Dr. Ignatieff is a scholar and policy practitioner and as such is ideally suited to lead CEU in these challenging times," he said.

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