The Malfunctions of the Greek Universities and the Collision with the Greek State – an Interview with Yannis Milopoulos, Dean of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
By Victor Tsilonis & Athena Avgitidou
translated by Sofia Simiti
Everyone has been familiar with the problems of the Greek University for decades. However, the prolonged period of the deep economic, social and political crisis, which we experience today, has naturally led not just to the escalation of the well known malfunctions of the Greek University, but also to the manifestation of new problems – i.e. not only nepotism, lack of meritocracy and corruption – due to the state’s authoritarian attitude.
In this extremely uneasy period, the Greek state made an attempt to implement the Law 4009/2011 under the title “Structure, function, quality assurance studies and Internationalization of Universities”, concerning the reform of the universities, without taking into account even just one proposition of the academic community for this new framework law.
However, despite the vast majority of 83% of the total number of Greek MPs, who voted the new law, this law was never really applied, in fact, since the academic and ex-Dean of University of Athens Georgios Babiniotis was appointed Minister, the recently voted framework law began really quickly to defer to the Greek Calends.
In this specific historic time, we thought it would be rather well-timed but most of all essential to interview the School of Engineering professor, ex-president of the “Association of University Teachers (ESDEP)” and currently Dean of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki Yannis Milopoulos, although at that time neither George Papandreou had begun to give speeches to foreign universities nor the historic decision had been made yet, according to which Augustinos Dimitrios –the student/victim of the notorious ‘flower-stand’ incident– was awarded with 300.000 euros as damages.
For exactly this reason, the members of the “Intellectum Editorial Team” devoted themselves to a small research about higher education issues. Antonis Galanopoulos participated with great zeal in the team as well, who prepared many of the following questions.
It must be noted that, due to a turbulent meeting of the Dean’s Counsil, the first scheduled interview was canceled. After repeated attempts of communication, the interview was set once again exactly one week later without Antonis, who was unable to attend this new meeting. Finally, in the following interview we discuss with Yannis Milopoulos about a wide range of topics, which concern our educational system and “the Greek university of contradictions” of yesterday, today and probably tomorrow.
V: At first, we would like you to tell us about your personal career course in the academic community. You went from being a teacher in the Faculty of Engineering to finally being the Dean of Aristotle University. What led you to stand for election?
I have always been interested in active citizenship, education and the public university. In the past, I was president of the Association of University Teachers (ESDEP), i.e. in a time when answers were required and a change of model was demanded on behalf of the university. Therefore, it was clear that the University Dean elections of 2010 wouldn’t produce a Dean, who would continue the previous course of action, but someone who would adjust the university into a new situation, with a political view, a specific plan and an academic vision. And indeed, the new situation came along with the economic crisis, the new needs and the attack against the Greek public universities, as we have been experiencing it the last few years. Fortunately, we –the group of people who claimed the Deanship– all had these special characteristics and perhaps that is the reason why we gained the trust of the academic community.
V: Why should one be an academic before becoming Dean?
Simply because the administration of an academic institution requires that the deep knowledge of its academic function exists. And at this point, I respond to all those people, who claim that we react to the administrative model because we constitute a union, which is afraid of losing its seat. We are not afraid of losing any seat.
The truth is that the question of the university administration constitutes a deep academic issue. The administration of a university is not the same as the administration of a business, a company or an industry, since it requires the deep knowledge of the academic function of the university. Otherwise one cannot make a decision concerning the new post-graduate courses, pre-graduate courses, new research or academic directions, creation of new schools, merger of new faculties, election of new professors or even yet the university finances and proper distribution of funding.
Nevertheless, the state fails to understand this, because often its representatives haven’t even passed outside the university, i.e. they believe that the university administration should be run by people who don’t have any connection with it, ‘outsiders’. So that the connection with society is ensured, they say. We too wish to preserve the connection with society. Therefore, we should structure a supervisory-controlling Board, not administrative, which will be constituted at 100% by ‘outsiders’, if you will, and the role of which will be the administrative control of the university and improvement of its connection with the society. I would totally agree with that.
V: Did you characterize the enactment of the law during the summer as a ‘deviation’, because the dissolution of the democratically elected institutions of the universities was attempted via this law, before they even make it to the middle of their term of office or was there another reason? And which are generally the basic counter-suggestions of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki on this law?
The fact that the law was enacted during the summer is a minor issue. The major issue was the fact that the Parliament enacted a law about universities without consulting the universities, and in fact with the view that the universities belong only to society, not academics, and therefore we weren’t qualified to participate in the formulation of the new legal regime. Aw you can understand, this constitutes a deep undemocratic and anti-academic view.
There are many particularities, which we now encounter due to this bad law. The biggest problem of the law is that it didn’t result from the claim of the academic community, as opposed to the law 1268/1982 for instance. There is no movement today anywhere in the university in favour of this reform. Therefore, this was the main reason why I consider this law a deviation from the democratic and academic normalcy. In fact, I myself visited the former Minister of Education and the Standing Committee on Cultural and Educational Affairs and submitted the proposals of the academics. Is it a coincidence that none of them was taken into account?
The second reason I called the enactment of this law a deviation is because the circumstances were ripe for the enactment of a law at the academics’ request. Namely, it was historically the first time that the universities and the senates were officially claiming the reform, but towards an academic and not a ‘market’ or business university, as the lawmaker after all desired.
Additionally, a top issue was that we, the academics, didn’t participate in its formulation at all. This is a law, which is governed by bitterness towards the academics and the universities, and as it was said the other day in the Council of State – according to which even Tolis Voskopoulos could be assigned Dean – especially since it forbids one to have a former academic life and it gives exclusively preference to “people from inside the market”.
V: Doesn’t that happen abroad?
There is an Audit Office in the public universities of Europe and USA. The university management is always carried out by an academic, even from another foundation. Namely, there is no university in the world run by a singer or a grocer or a man without a degree. Furthermore, the university Dean is the president of a council that has mainly supervising responsibilities and not at all academic ones.
Therefore, could it ever be possible to trust people with no academic qualifications or qualities to choose the top academic authorities, who will consequently be the ones to ensure the meritocracy of the elections for the aforementioned ranks? For instance, I’m telling you the following: the academic tradition and ethics are interwoven with the fact that the professor chooses the associate professor, the assistant professor and the lecturer; the associate professor chooses the assistant professor and the lecturer and so on. So, how is it possible one man – who may not even have a university degree – to choose the Dean and be in charge of the assignment of the electoral bodies, which will elect members for all the academic ranks? This is absolutely contradictory. It has no connection with the academic ethics and tradition.
And this is perhaps the main reason for having called this law a deviation. Now, if you would speak with a lawyer, he would mention the unconstitutional aspects of this law, however I am not the most suitable person to do so.
A: Let’s examine a little bit this democratic deficit. In the case of the education law, we see that the typical ratification of a law is not enough for its implementation, but that its social legalization is previously demanded. This is clearly shown from the fact that the law has not been enacted. Do you think that this democratic deficit is applied strictly on the education law or does it now characterize politics in general?
You ask a very apposite question. The last few years this tactic has been general. On the pretext of the economic crisis and the bankruptcy, a series of initiatives have been taken from the political system, which by invoking the “social and economic emergency” have led to statutes and political choices that absolutely conflict with the public interest, i.e. the public interest is no longer the crucial factor that defines the legislative process of the Greek parliament.
I don’t want to hold a conversation about the Memorandum of Understanding; nevertheless the educational issue wasn’t imposed on us by anyone. We proceeded to its legislation on our own. What I mean is that even in a time when laws against the social interest have indeed been enacted, even at that point one can discern what was compulsorily imposed on us in order to receive the loans and what we enacted on our own due to an obsession.
Therefore, the educational issue was clearly a case of an obsession by a group of people around the former prime minister, which was executed by the former Minister of Education, Anna Diamandopoulou. Briefly, these are older views and ideas, which have now found the way to be expressed on the pretext of the economic crisis. Namely, this group attempted to catch us off guard in a time when the entire society is afflicted; now decisions are made, which in another time would be totally unthinkable. Therefore, you are indeed right to ask this question. There is a connection between what is happening in education and what is happening in general. But the law enactment was just a pretext.
A: We would like you to tell us a few things about the recent formation of a work team for the law amendment, with Mr. Babiniotis’ initiative, in which you participate. Do you think that it can work effectively after the political frictions it has caused?
It is true that in order to ‘counterbalance’ the situation in the committee, they later added the two presidents of the University and Technological Educational Institutions trade-unions (who are coincidentally people of the former Minister’s background or, in any case, they agree with her views), the two presidents of the Technological Educational Institutions (who also coincidentally implemented the law) and a representative from the prime minister’s office. Therefore, in this way they substantially attempted to ‘cancel’ the participation of the Deans in the Babinioti committee.
And at this point, I would like to say that there is no Dean who has a different opinion than me. Whomever he would assign in the committee among the 20 elected Deans (we are talking about elected Deans and not the other four assigned Deans from universities with administrative committees), they would say the same things I do – Albanis and Remelis – because there is a unanimity in the Hellenic Universities Rector s’ Synod about this subject. So the important thing is the fact that some Deans were assigned in this committee.
But let’s return to the question: Babiniotis is an academic who taught, made research and has been writing for years; he was later assigned Dean for an eight-year tenure in National and Kapodistrian University of Athens and at present he has been temporarily assigned the exceptionally significant Ministry of Education portfolio. He couldn’t have any other conception than the one he has, because he is an academic and there is no academic today, who doesn’t disagree with this law firmly or tentatively.
Therefore, since Babiniotis had expressed himself against this law via an article of his, we all thought that his assignment to the Ministry was a symbolic act of the state, which had decided to change its course of action.
V: But why is there such a fight?
The fight is carried out by a group of people around the former Minister and Prime Minister, who have influenced the big networks and the newspapers and attack the universities with the pivotal thrust that we don’t implement the law. They don’t care if this law is good or bad, if the universities will improve or deteriorate due to this law. They have communicatively focused on something that ‘works’ on people and they stick to that: we are the ‘unlawful’ and they are the ‘lawful’.
Nevertheless, I will tell you that if there was a statutory representative of the state who broke the law, that would be Mrs. Diamandopoulou, who for two years, i.e. until she brought her own law, failed to implement the law of her predecessor Mrs. Giannakou, along with the four year planning it provided. Therefore, if Mrs. Diamandopoulou is looking for the ‘unlawful’, she should look in the mirror. We are not unlawful. We make assiduous efforts to implement the law, but the law keeps on running up against immense obstacles and shortcomings, which are caused by the fact itself that this is an anti-academic law.
V: However, the law was voted by 250 MPs…
I could joke about it and ask “how many of them have actually read it?” I could mention the New Democracy party, which declared the law the day before its enactment unconstitutional and voted for it the next day. Finally, I could tell you that the scientific committee of the Parliament found the law unconstitutional and that we appealed to the Council of State for the same reason.
And I will ask you the most important question: even if 255 or 300 MPs voted for this law, is such a law better than the one that is voted for by 151 MPs? I believe that even if a law has been voted for by just 151 MPs, it is absolutely legal – legalized. Isn’t it?
The second thing I would like to tell you is that people make mistakes. If it turns out that the Parliament made a mistake and enacted a law, whether because its members didn’t read it or didn’t understand it or someone led them that way, shouldn’t we right our wrongs? Should we obstinately insist on our self-destruction? Those people who claim that “first you should implement the law and then we will improve it”, they might as well say “first jump off the balcony with no parachute and while you are falling we will figure out what kind of parachute to give you”.
In other words, what they urge us to do is to proceed to catastrophic changes on universities, in order to satisfy the law implementation claim. This constitutes the communicative contrivance of the aforementioned mighty group. However, people are unaware of what I’m telling you. I have mentioned this a million times before, but it has never been reported in the media. This as well constitutes another -more general- democratic issue that we are facing.
I wonder if it a coincidence that no council elections have taken place in any Greek university. Is it a coincidence that contradictory regulations constantly arrive from the Ministry, which refute one another? Because this law has so many blanks and shortcomings that even the lawmaker himself – i.e. the Ministry of Education office members – cannot implement it.
Therefore, should we continue to act like we must implement the law, just because the great networks and the 8 o’ clock news force us to do so, while serving a particular communications strategy?
A: Education in Greece has always been poorly financed. To what extent is this problem expanded today?
Let’s examine the international valuations. The Greek universities are usually ranked below the 300th place. The reason is the following: if the valuation criteria for a university depend on its facilities (buildings, laboratories etc.), i.e. on issues that are directly associated with the university funding, then you can see that Greek universities are by far inferior to the American and European giants, which have enjoyed for centuries a munificently funded academic life. On the contrary, our universities have been functioning for a few decades; Aristotle University of Thessaloniki has been functioning for only 85 years and has in fact gone through a foreign occupation, a civil war and a dictatorship.
Therefore, in order to respond more analytically to your question, I will tell you that the funding of Greek universities and education in general has never been satisfactory in our country. I will refer to 2006 data, which prove that while the average financing per student in Europe was 10.000€, it simultaneously was 4.ooo€ in Greece and 5.ooo€ in Slovakia. Today, it is only 2.500€ per student. So the poor financing of the education has been long-lasting, because education has never truly been a priority to this country.
However, on the contrary, when we witness the criteria to be associated with the scientific personnel and the academic performance of Greek researchers and professors, the Greek universities are far ahead. And I can report two researches that prove it. The first one is a research recently made for 45 states of OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), where Greece is ranked 21st for the presence of scientific personnel in international scientific journals, despite the fact that we are almost bankrupt. Therefore, we are in a very high scale where the academic performance is valuated, not the funding and facilities.
The second annual research recently made is called Webometrics and concerns the Web contents trafficking and the university academic attitude in general on the internet. Usually, the promoted qualifications via the internet are not the facilities and the laboratories, but the publications, the personnel books, the educatory and research programs etc. Therefore, you can see there that the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki comes first from all the Greek universities and is ranked 158th from all the universities, which are more than 20000. So, at that point we belong to the 0,78% of the world’s universities, i.e. below 1%.
V: How valid are these valuations?
They are absolutely valid, of course as far as the criteria which are set on each occasion are concerned.
V: But what about the international scientific databases and the ‘Tracer’, where the access for the Greek researchers has been dramatically reduced due to the lack of funds?
Their function has already been afflicted severely, as have the research institutions in general. It was considered that the education, the research, the libraries and the research institutes should be the first victims of the austerity. And that is why the research which is conducted today is funded mainly by the university itself and by the Research Committee reserve, i.e. from the money that was raised all these years from conducted researches, since the state research funds are nearly zero.
V: According to an official written statement “the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki has suffered the smallest loss from the Greek debt restructuring in comparison to other great institutions in the country”. Why was AUTH less exposed to the ‘haircut’ than the other educational institutions?
It was our choice. We at the Aristotle University –not just we but the previous administrations as well– never invested in bonds. We have always been depositing the money to bank accounts. Therefore, there were no bonds which were invested voluntarily by the university itself, and I’m saying ‘voluntarily’ because I will explain to you what happened next. So, the following happened: last year, contrary to the state’s exhortation to invest our reserves in bonds, our legal committee opined that we ought to ensure the public interest, i.e. to set up a public tender and choose the bank with the highest interest. Therefore, we invested our reserves in the bank accounts with the best interest rate offer. This way we saved our reserves. Nevertheless, we lost a small amount of the money in the end, because the State General Accounting Office blocked the Engineers’ and Public Works Contractors’ Pension Fund reserves, which are allocated to the state’s Technical Universities (therefore in our Technical University as well) for the improvement of the education and research. Afterwards, the Bank of Greece compulsorily converted this money to bonds! The amount in question is more or less 6.5 million euro, but at the same time the smallest amount lost from a Greek university.
A: You mentioned earlier that education and market are irreconcilable concepts. How do you face this crucial conjunction in terms of ideology as Dean of AUTH? Should we allow the laws of the market invade the university?
Education is directly interwoven with providing equal opportunities to the citizens. Any economic and social injustices that exist in a country are smoothed out via providing equal educational services. Consequently, education is the only safe way to ensure the equality of all Greeks in the opportunity of economic growth and social prosperity. Therefore, in this concept education is a fundamental public possession. Not that the educational field couldn’t be linked with the labour market and the market economy, however the concept of providing education to the citizens is basically associated with democracy. I consider myself one of the millions of Greek citizens, who wouldn’t be able to study if there was no public education and wouldn’t be what they are today. So, this must be preserved.
V: How do you feel about the fact that the new law practically forces students to study whether in another institution or abroad, in order for them to be later able to work at the institution they started out from?
This is a naïve regulation. If Greece was a country with thousands of universities like USA, then it would be evident. However, in a country which has 3-4 Medical Schools, 3-4 Technical Universities and 3 Law Schools, it is funny, for instance, for one to have to study at first in Thessaloniki and then get a Master’s Degree in Komotini, in order to be assigned later in Athens. It is clear that this is one of the thousands ‘copy/paste’ provisions from the American system, which have no connection whatsoever with the Greek one. We are talking about universities, which are less than the fingers of one’s hand. How can we make such comparisons?
A: One of the criticisms leveled at the Greek University is that it provides students with degrees with no relevance to reality. Do you think that this criticism refers directly to the quality of the provided education?
This is a myth. Whenever a graduate of our own goes to universities in Europe and America, everyone reassures me (and I have witnessed this myself) that Greek scientists are among the best worldwide. Therefore, the education which the Greek system provides – despite the poor funding – is highly competitive and makes our graduates acceptable in the world’s best universities.
However, on the other hand, I wonder if the graduates of foreign universities – which are supposed to be better than ours – who return to Greece find employment on better terms. Namely, doesn’t a school teacher, a doctor or a mechanic with a degree from a good American university get in the line of unemployment along with the Greek graduates? Perhaps, in the end, it’s not the degrees that have no relevance to reality, but the Greek labour market that is crooked, i.e. could it perhaps be the economy to blame and not the universities?
Because I have the feeling that lately people are trying to blame the universities for everything that has gone wrong with the country. Substantially, the only thing they haven’t told us is that we are to blame for the bankruptcy. However, I suppose they will say that as well soon enough.
A: What would you say to a Ph.D candidate who struggles on a daily basis in order to conduct his research and at the same time faces this total disdain of the added value of his paper?
I think the road of research and production of the new scientific knowledge, which you too have chosen to follow, is not a road that will give you any material reward in return, and rarely any acknowledgement. This is a road, though, which is a necessary requirement in order for anything good to ever happen to this country, so there can be economic development, culture, social prosperity. Because today we live in an era which has been named – I will use an economic term – an economy of knowledge. Namely, knowledge has now an economic value. Therefore, one who is a worker in the field of knowledge and opens up roads of new knowledge is the one who creates the conditions in order for all of this to exist afterwards, which today anyone who disdains and deprecates one considers very important, such as the market economy.
Therefore, I would suggest that you take an example of the ‘patriotism’, due to which the Greek university functions today and accept in advance the fact that acknowledgment and remuneration won’t come easily.
Unfortunately, I have nothing more encouraging to say when you can see that the deans, who are supposed to be the top of the academic pyramid, are mocked and disdained daily by significant political factors.
V: Simultaneously, you have attempted in this polemic to bring the university close to movements, such as the ‘potato movement’ or the creation of the ‘social clinic’, and you have selected the model of self-management in the Law School cafeteria, the bookshop, the publishing house and others. Is this a solution against the poor funding or an ideological-based policy?
I would say that it is an ideological choice, which nevertheless reflects totally on the modern reality. Namely, the fact that we are trying to stop the cash flow out of the university and attempt to exploit whichever benefits we have from the university activities in favor of the university itself is something that has never been so timely nor has ever had more value. Because we function with half the money, therefore it is imperative that we earn more from our own activities, in order to reduce the given losses. And this attempt is remarkably accepted by the university community and that is why it seems to be effective.
V: Are there any figures which prove that the self-management model brings to the university greater revenues than the lease of the Law School cafeteria, for instance?
I will tell you. When we took over the management of the university, we went through the lists of revenues, expenses and profits of the leased cafeterias. We then established that the multiplication of the nominal rental of a cafeteria to 12 months was different, compared to the actual and far lesser revenues of the leases. Whether because the occupants didn’t pay in case of a strike or a sit-in, or because we were closed in the summer or for any other reason. This was the main motive, which made us think to exploit them ourselves. But it’s not just that. It is the fact that the money now earned from the cafeterias is invested for the university and becomes scholarships or jobs for the students. Therefore, it is exploited for the benefit of the university itself.
V: A study by the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) reports that “it is common knowledge that politicians have found their prop in the university…They leave cost-free the university to join the parliament and return at their post after their career is over or the contrary: when politics end, the university doors open to welcome the politicians. The academic career fills…the void of politics”. What do you think?
At this point you are referring to a small, one would say, group of professors, who are whether elected in MP posts or appointed ministers or presidents of organizations, i.e. to anyone involved in politics. I have an entirely different perspective on what politics should be. ELIAMEP implies that a politician must be a professional politician with no other employment, therefore not an academic, a doctor or employee, but a person devoted to politics. I, on the other hand, think that a politician should come from society, hence should have a profession. And amongst these professions some would be employees, freelancers, businessmen or any other. Therefore, I consider axiomatic that some of them would be professors. And, in fact, if someone would accept that professors are experts in certain scientific fields, such as economy, medicine, the environment etc, it is then reasonable the osmosis with politics to be more frequent than with any other specialty. Therefore, I find nothing wrong, illicit or harmful in this for politics or the universities. On the contrary, I consider extremely harmful the fact that there are politicians, who have been systematically elected for 20 or 30 years, although they have no connection with the reality, they have never worked and live exclusively at the expense of the political system. I think that they are responsible for the country’s current situation and not the employees, who after their term in the parliament ends they return to their previous employment, i.e. in this case the university.
V: So, you are not opposed to the tendency of some politicians, such as George Papandreou, who has recently stated that he wants to go back to the university. Would we like him in AUTH?
I don’t think that Mr. Papandreou has a Ph.D. Unless he becomes a member of the council he founded during his tenure of office, Mr. Papandreou has no certificate of aptitude for teaching, in order to teach in the university. Which scientific field could he teach? It takes a lot of work to reach the point of teaching in a university. It takes a Ph.D, years of research activity, publications…
V: Nevertheless, politicians teach in universities abroad, like Bill Clinton, as visiting professors.
A visiting professor is an entirely different thing. Indeed, there could be some people from the business field to teach certain courses with fixed-term contracts, but not as permanent university professors. Let’s just say, wouldn’t the participation of a few professional journalists in the Journalism Department be reasonable?
V: I am referring to this matter because this issue has been resurfaced again recently due to the declaration of the actor Roberto Benigni as Honorary Professor of the School of Italian Language and Literature in the Faculty of Philosophy of AUTH. In the end, how positive is the declaration of eminent figures as Honorary Professors, who can afterwards appear as visiting professors – I don’t think there’s something to stop them – in AUTH Faculties, which may nevertheless be irrelevant to their activities and studies? For instance, why wouldn’t the declaration of George Papandreou as Honorary Professor of the School of Political Sciences be more relevant, given particularly the fact that he was considered by the ‘reputable’ journal Foreign Policy as one of one hundred thinkers of all times?
If George Papandreou had contributed to politics as much as Benigni has contributed to the Italian civilization, then I would agree with you. Benigni was awarded by the School of Italian language and Literature for his contribution in the formulation and promotion of the Italian civilization. He is a famous Italian scriptwriter, director and actor, who has made a major contribution to the Italian civilization and, therefore, the School of Italian Language and Literature has recognized his contribution to the Italian and mainly to the European civilization. So, I don’t see anything incompatible.
However, I will tell you one more thing: the university is not a glass tower, merely with people who have Ph.Ds. or an academic relation between them. The university is an institution which begins and ends in the society. Therefore, eminent people who have assisted in the progress of the society, the civilization and, in this case, the development of the cinema, are by all means useful to the university as well.
Consequently, I consider this award a benefit for AUTH and Mr. Begnini himself confirmed it with his statement about Greece not owing the world, but that the world owes Greece. Greece needed this statement and it confirmed the correctness of Begnini’s selection as an Honorary Professor. Furthermore, Benigni gave a profoundly academic speech about Dante’s Devine Comedy, which made quite an impression for the depth of its analysis.
Lastly, I should note of course that an Honorary Professor is not equal to an elected professor of the institution. It is simply an honor, a symbolic gesture. Therefore, it doesn’t mean that Benigni will be teaching tomorrow in the Greek university, but mainly that the Greek university has promoted a dimension of its relationship with the European society, contradicting the fact that it constitutes an introvert and closed system.
A: You have witnessed the ‘flower-stand’ incident in conflicts which took place on November 17th 2006 outside AUTH. Five years later, on the same day, you faced as Dean of AUTH the SWAT team invasion to the university grounds. We would like you to describe your feelings concerning these two days. How much have the two events affected you?
The ‘flower-stand’ incident was a story, which affected me and hurt me deeply, not only because I witnessed the incident but also because our account was later negatively ‘exploited’ by a portion of the political world and the media. Namely, there was a kid beaten to death and yet it was presented as if we testified for political reasons or our personal publicity and not for the protection of the boy’s human rights.
It was a very important day of my life because, firstly, I witnessed the extent of violence which can derive even from representatives of the state and secondly, because I witnessed the injustice that can be put upon anyone who tries to protect the weak. Namely, despite the fact that in the ideology of many of us, protecting the weak is one of the necessary constituent elements of a state, in this case the state itself prevented citizens from protecting the weak, since the state was his torturer. Therefore, the story involved many messages both for me and my colleagues who were with me that day. Furthermore, the judicial proceedings of the case and the threats made to us during their course were quite instructive.
Well, five years later I experienced a small police invasion, as you say, as Dean of the university and I attempted to prevent it along with my students and colleagues (and we eventually did) at the cost of inhaling several thousand kilos of chemicals. It took us two to three days to recover from that day.
V: But the guilty parties of the ‘flower-stand’ incident were convicted. Didn’t that fact constitute redemption?
You are right. There was expiation; the guilty parties were convicted because there were citizens who revealed the event. But how many ‘flower-stand’ incidents have occurred and haven’t been revealed? It took eight university professors to witness the incident, in order for the case to be published in the first place and then reach the courtroom.
A: Contrary to the technical, law and economical terms, which the Ministry uses to approach the public university, what is the vision that should guide and define the educational system?
I think that our country today lacks a vision for education. A vision for education means a vision for the future. But today this doesn’t exist. Unfortunately, the previous years our educational system has been guided by the market economy and this constitutes a general phenomenon of the so-called globalization of the economy, i.e. the educational system actually serves the rules of the market economy, while it should be the opposite.
And this is much more evident today than in previous times, when unknown economic centres run the future not only of my country but of other countries as well. Therefore, I would say that what needs to change from now on, and involves the state’s bankruptcy, is that the final target of our civilization should be the man himself. A man means civilization, knowledge, education. Therefore, education should be elevated to a prime pursuit of our system and not be subjected to any expediency of market economy.
I am certainly not suggesting that education should not be related to economy. Anything but that, education is absolutely related to economy and society and there should be interconnection and osmosis. However, the issue here is what is leading us after all; economy or the social interest and man’s progress? Unfortunately, the driving force of everything today is the economy and that’s what led us here in the first place. And that is also what the new law pursuits for the universities: to subjugate them to the economic interests. We want the university to be a temple of education and the educational system to provide education equally to all Greek citizens, regardless of their economic and social status. Therefore, all Greeks will be able to participate in their share of economic development and to enjoy the fruits of social prosperity. This is the vision of a good university.
Unfortunately, though, this is not the case today. The government wishes to appoint businessmen in the administrative boards of the universities and the market economy to predominately decide on the scientific directions, which a university will follow. In other words, they want the market economy to conquer the last village of Gaul, which constitutes the last resisting field against the phenomenon of economy’s globalization not just in Greece, but also in Argentina, Europe and all over the world.
V: Of course, the ills of the Greek universities are presented as well, such as the lack of meritocracy in post-graduate programmes admission, the lack of transparency in the process of promoting or electing professors and the fact that the Greek university has become adrift today in the student political parties. What is your answer to all the above?
My answer is that many things must change and serious action must be taken to reform our field. I’m not implying that the university is a temple of justice. Of course such things happen, as they do everywhere in the society. When the Greek society is corrupted, the Greek university can’t possibly have raised walls to protect itself from corruption. Nevertheless, as long as the Greek universities are subjugated to economic interests, these phenomena will multiply, because what leads someone to corruption and interweaving is the personal interest.