A democratic victory

«We inform the government that even if the law is voted through in coup style, we will not proceed with its enforcement, but come September we will proceed with protest action and even the closure of the institution,? the senate of the University of Athens announced in late August, according to its rector, Theodosis Pelegrinis.

Expressing misgivings and different opinions and arguing against legal initiatives adopted by the government is the right and duty of all members of the academic community on an individual and collective level when these are seen as doing nothing to serve the progress of education.

Since when, though, have the institutional bodies of universities and their representatives had the right to threaten that they will not uphold the law?

If and when a decision that comes from the highest echelons of academia is aimed at applying political pressure, the message this sends to society is that the elected government, which puts laws forward, and Parliament, which passes them, are being taunted by the rector and the representatives of the country?s oldest university. This constitutes a clear message that respect for and enforcement of the law stand only so long as they do not affect personal interests and their content is approved.

On the other hand, the statement of the senate may have been intended to herald the stance the institution as a whole aimed to adopt.

The progress and evolution of education hinges on strong institutions, freedom of thought, administrative efficiency and results in terms of economic rewards. Every citizen wants to see an end to the waste of funds, to see students graduate within a specified time limit, to feel that universities are a healthy and vibrant part of the social fabric and to dream of them ranking among the world?s foremost educational institutions.

It is not the role of university professors who have made it into the higher ranks of the administration to oversee the work of contractors (cleaning crews, security guards, cafeterias etc), monitor supplies, supervise maintenance and, generally, to consume themselves with the kind of administrative or technical nitty-gritty that they have been so overburdened with to date.

The sole duty of the academic leadership of a university is to deal with the institution?s activities and curriculum so that it can offer a high standard of education and research, to create an environment in which the students, staff and institution can evolve, and, finally, to broaden the university?s economic base so that it makes better use of state funds and seeks additional funding from other sources such as sponsorships, grants and collaborations. The academic community, as an institutional representational body as well as on an individual level must, of course, be able to express its opinions, but no on has the right to question the law. After all, democracy is based on the principles of representation and majority rule; not on coup-style decisions.

* Athanasios Athanasiou is a professor of orthodontics at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and president of the National Academic Recognition Information Center.

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