Rare moment of political maturity

On August 24, the Greek Parliament paid a debt it has owed to society and its educational system for decades with a broad majority. The new education law represents a leap in progressive reform. It increases universities? right to self-administration and releases them from the Education Ministry?s stranglehold. It abolishes the long-defunct law regarding asylum that transformed universities into hotbeds of violence and lawlessness. It removes the students (or rather the political students? unions) from the election of rectors. It introduces the concept of the engaged student and makes special provisions for part-time students who also hold down jobs. It applies assessments for professors and departments, promotes an international outlook and provides motivation for achievements in research.

The run-up to the vote showed us a lot, and the tide of events that led up to it revealed who was swimming naked. A lot of games were played ahead of the passing of the new law, including the generation of rumors that acclaimed foreign academics disagreed with it, which were aimed at discrediting Education Minister Anna Diamantopoulou.

Greece remains the only country in Europe where time stopped in the early 1980s. Other countries prepared their educational systems for the challenges of international competition and a knowledge society, while Greece has spent the past 30 years trying to settle the scores of the 1970s student movement.

The failure of the system is not due to society and the Constitution, as some naysayers argue, but to the status quo within the universities that resists all forms of change: mediocre and absent academics, politically embroiled rectors and student union chiefs, and forces that use universities as a means to gain supporters, executives and muscle.

The senate of rectors recruited a specialist in constitutional law to find not two or three clauses in the law that are ?unconstitutional,? but ?at least 23.? Among these ?unconstitutional? directives are that only one student can sit on the university board, the effective abolition of a ban on law enforcement officers entering university grounds and electing acclaimed academics to serve at universities for a five-year period. Such a loose interpretation of what is constitutional and what is not makes us wonder how they only found 23 clauses to pick on.

Thankfully, the majority of society (and, most likely, of the academic community) found an ally in broad parliamentary support for the law. The government introduced a modern law, with many initial weaknesses (most of which will be adjusted along the way) and the minister made a significant number of compromises in order to get as much cross-party support as possible; this is to her credit.

The final outcome sends the message that consensus leads to a win-win situation, and the opposition gains points by showing the determination to put aside its differences for the greater good.

The education reform law is a first step toward ending the sad tradition that has left Greek universities on the sidelines of European education. It is true that it has weaknesses and that we are in for a difficult autumn as the culture of flouting laws and resisting change is still very strong and deeply entrenched.

But, despite the looming shadows, we experienced a moment of political maturity that will hopefully prevail when it comes to other important reforms as well.

* George Pagoulatos is a professor of European politics and economy in the International

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