NEWS

Universities are falling apart

The first thing to go at the end of the dictatorship was the absolute authority enjoyed by the all-powerful professor, a power that was seen to be synonymous with conservative forces and therefore undesirable in the democratic environment of a university. Again, all in the name of democratic reforms, legislative amendments in 1982 dismantled the administrative structure of higher education foundations, resulting in a chaos that did nothing to further education, research or progress. In July 1982, the then Education Minister Lefteris Veryvakis, in the spirit of the new PASOK government’s slogan of «change,» passed Law 1268 during a summer session of Parliament. The law abolished university chairs and in their place set up sectors consisting of the union of several chairs. What were previously small independent, functional units were now brought together under one large, swollen sector, which in turn united with other sectors to form a department, the new basic operational unit that essentially replaced university schools. According to Athens University’s former rector, Spyridon Moulopoulos, «the fear that the chair would be reproduced under another name led to a monstrous structure the like of which is seen nowhere else in the world.» «At a time when science is developing rapidly and fields are continually becoming independent, the 1982 law put everything into non-functional groupings, setting up obstacles to research and progress,» he said. This development was accompanied by the transfer of administration to the general assemblies of sectors, with the participation of professors, assistants, administrative personnel, laboratory workers and students – or their representatives. Any real concept of administration collapsed, since everyone had a reason – and a right – to become involved. The careers of the teaching staff became a personal issue. Advertisements for teaching positions were made following applications from the interested parties themselves and not as a result of any proposal by a superior, or even a collective body. For example, an assistant professor decides when he or she will ask for promotion, whenever it is deemed suitable for the person concerned, such as while participating in administrative bodies, when he or she exercises some influence, or when he or she has friends and acquaintances in high places. A state of anarchy has prevailed, and a civil service mentality has pervaded the entire gamut of teaching personnel at universities. Research is in tatters and everyone has turned their attention to public relations, in the knowledge that they will find the right time to make their mark. Everyone will be promoted, so why should they engage in research? After all, everything is a matter of relationships. As Moulopoulos wrote in his book «The Chronicle of a Revolution,» published in 2000 by Parisianos Publications, since the law was passed, personal motivation has been completely lacking among university faculty members. «The ease of promotion from one level to the next, the abolition of supervised or compulsory research, of dissertations as a condition for candidates for the post of assistant professor, the non-implementation in many departments of the requirement of a published monograph, along with various activities both on and off-campus, have not encouraged research. These days, a young lecturer with ambitions ensures, through the least effort, to rise through the echelons by taking as little trouble as possible. Twenty years after the law was passed, the country’s universities seem empty, despite actually brimming with professors and students. Their structure is anarchic, administration has broken down, most rectors are solely engaged in public relations, students don’t know their professors, since most of the latter are not present on campus, the State spends just 33 percent of the European Union average in the sector. With the exception of foundations that can find resources from research foundations, the rest have tightened their belts to suffocation point. Research is at a minimum. The once prestigious Athens Medical School is in the grip of cliques; its research programs have been subjected to the the pharmaceutical companies and suppliers of medical equipment. Only the National Technical University (NTU) of Athens and a few new regional hospitals have managed to maintain decent standards and improve their positions. Prof. Themistocles Xanthopoulos, dean of the NTU, told Kathimerini that the university has to find new administrative structures to support the teaching tasks, to promote research and offer young people a proper education. The only thing for certain is that the universities are in crisis. The seat of higher learning that is the goal of thousands of hard-working high school children is falling apart. As an institution, it is not worthy of the efforts being made by these children. It is a place where knowledge is being lost rather than gained and a place that is not serving the purpose for which it was created. This situation cannot continue. Universities will have to change, this time without making the same mistakes as in the past. New departments governed by clique mentality The need to set up new departments in order to absorb subsidies from EPAEK, the state organization that administers funds for higher education from the 2nd and 3rd Community Support Frameworks, has resulted in a spasmodic and arbitrary choice of rather unusual courses that are likely to add to the ranks of the unemployed. They include foreign language applications in administration and commerce, geo-information technology and surveying, sea sciences, materials technology and science, production technology and systems, music technology and acoustics, and Balkan studies. Experienced faculty members told Kathimerini they wondered at the criteria and policy behind the foundation of some new departments, 73 of which have been set up since 1999. Only a very few have been able to justify their existence. «There has never been any debate on the criteria for new departments and their curricula. If there were, the paucity of these courses’ content would soon become evident,» Professor Panayiotis Getimis, former vice rector of Panteios University, told Kathimerini. «What usually happens,» he said, « is that courses are chosen on the basis of what each professor can teach and the number of teaching hours he or she needs to meet the minimum number required. In practice, however, faculty members are not really interested in setting up comprehensive study courses based on scientific criteria,» he said. «The education minister bears a great deal of responsibility, as he has followed a populist policy by setting up ‘fashionable’ departments, such as finance, or very specialized courses that will only produce more unemployed,» said Professor Constantine Stamatis of Thessaloniki University’s philosophy of law department «However, university faculty members themselves are also responsible for setting up ‘fiefdoms.’ Departments are set up that have absolutely no content,» he added.