University tensions rise

Tension returned to Thessaloniki’s Aristotle University yesterday when, instead of ending a sit-in on campus after being threatened with eviction by authorities, protesters hijacked an open debate in a university auditorium and lobbed an egg at the dean. As the sit-in at the university’s administrative offices entered its 16th day, the senate did not follow through with its threat to restore order on campus «by all legal means,» which some thought would involve calling in the police. Instead senior academics pressed ahead with a debate on the subject of contracts with private service providers. But the session was disrupted by a group of self-proclaimed leftists who demanded that academics cancel the university’s contracts with cleaning firms. The reason behind the sit-in, protesters have said, is to express solidarity with the head of the Attica cleaners’ union, Constantina Kuneva, who suffered an acid attack in December. When the university dean Anastassios Manthos declared that he was not in a position to cancel the university’s contracts with cleaning firms, tension grew inside the auditorium. Protesters jeered him and other academics and one threw an egg at Manthos. The dean left the auditorium, sending his deputy as a replacement with a letter, signed by Manthos, pledging the speedy formation of a committee to examine the issue of the contracts. Protesters subsequently issued a statement, saying that the decision had been «the outcome of the pressure of the sit-in and the struggle.» Sit-ins were also held in Athens and Patras though no unrest was reported. Meanwhile Education Minister Aris Spiliotopoulos met with the president of the Panhellenic Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (POSDEP), Nikolaos Stavrakakis, who asked the minister for more funding and an increase in professors’ salaries. Spiliotopoulos made no commitment on demands related to funding but heralded closer ties between the government and the academic community. «We are turning the page on a past which was helping neither the state university nor social progress,» Spiliotopoulos said.

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