Striking a balance

Following the failure of the negotiations between the government and the university teachers’ union leaders, the situation in universities is deadlocked. Once again, students are held hostage to a confrontation which does not directly concern them. The demands of the strikers also include some important institutional issues, but there is no doubt that faculty staff are mostly preoccupied with their incomes. In an attempt to avert the previous university strike, the administration of Costas Simitis had pledged to raise the pay of university professors. However, the government did not live up to its commitment. Its failure to do so has thus led professors to abstain from teaching and examinations. In that sense, the strikers are right in two respects. On the one hand, because their salaries are indeed low, even by Greek standards and, on the other, because the government has proved inconsistent. The only issue on which professors are totally in the wrong is their demand that they continue to receive their salaries, merely because they call their strike an abstention and still go to their offices. The memorandum of Education Minister Petros Efthymiou, asking deans and the heads of technical colleges to halt payments, was no doubt mandated by the need to put pressure on strikers. However, regardless of any objections, Efthymiou’s intervention is essentially correct. Worse, academic life is in turmoil for the second time in two years. It is not just that students are once again facing the possibility of missing their examinations. It is also the widespread feeling that Greek university institutions are in decline. The strike highlights the broader crisis besetting universities – an issue that both the government and the professors themselves prefer to shun – and they have every reason to do so, as they are both heavily responsible for it. Improving the quality of tertiary education is an urgent need which is dictated by vital social and economic concerns. For this reason, university education must be subjected to an in-depth and serious debate right after the elections. For the time being, we must find a way to overcome the present deadlock. Driven by electioneering objectives, the Simitis administration succumbed to pressure from strikers making highly controversial demands. Given that in the case of universities, the government failed to make good on its pledges, it should try to bridge the chasm. And so must the strikers.