Dispute disrupts work at Greece’s Open University

An unresolved dispute at the Greek Open University (EAP) «has led many academics and members of the governing board to give up any attempt to change things,» a faculty member told Kathimerini. In a recent letter, the permanent faculty association of EAP asked the education minister to intervene directly. It called for the appointment of a new governing board, alleging that Panayiotis Siafarikas, chairman of the board, had engineered the exclusion of deans from board meetings and made unlawful decisions. The letter charges that it is «unconstitutional» for a university that has already been in operation for more than 10 years and has an estimated 30,000 students for 2008-2009, and 1,300 teaching staff on contracts not to be self-governing. And it adds that, after excluding the deans from the board, formed in May 2004, Siafarikas made unilateral decisions on matters such as «the appointment of course heads and coordinators, assessment of staff, and even the number of pages students were required to read.» Staff association president Lila Leontidou told Kathimerini that Siafarikas had tried to prevent new academics from being appointed to permanent positions, which would by law oblige the university to elect a new administration. At present there are some 25 permanent teaching staff; other needs are met by teachers on contracts. There is considerable tension between the chairman and staff members Spyros Tzamarias, Dimitris Niakas and Thanassis Hatzilakos (who recently accepted a professorship in Cyprus). The chairman’s clashes with the latter two have led to legal proceedings and disciplinary hearings. «I have often expressed the view that EAP could contribute decisively to upgrading academic potential in Greece and offer high quality studies. I believe that EAP can make a key contribution to scientific research, improve the level of studies and strengthen academic incentives for learning,» Tzamarias told Kathimerini. «Unfortunately,» he added, «the chairman and governing board treat EAP as a second-rate university for mature-age students and prisoners.» Worse still, he argued, was that the administration had stripped the university of staff members and the teachers of their academic roles. «We hold a record in that not one staff member has been appointed in three-and-a-half years, academic bodies exist purely for decoration, and research has been hurt by the indifference and even hostility of the administration. «I’m afraid that an institution with 24 staff members, some 30,000 students and 1,200 course advisers cannot retain its character as a university. I’m afraid that under the existing administration and the policy it implements, EAP will gradually degenerate into an organization that simply manages the fees students pay to hire the teachers.» Who is right? The academic quoted at the beginning of this article commented: «It no longer matters who is right. Everyone has their own argument. What matters is that the situation is disastrous for the university. The Education Ministry must intervene at once.» Siafarikas played down the problems at EAP, saying that the crisis was artificial and that EAP was developing. «I say categorically that there is no tension between the governing board and the staff overall. On the contrary there is a spirit of cooperation. Apart from two or three individual staff members, who for their own reasons create artificial tension,» he told Kathimerini.

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