The greatest achievement of the post-dictatorship era in Greece was that people no longer lived in a state of fear. People were free to read any newspaper they wanted, free to sing any song they wished, free to openly express their opinions. Fear has returned, however, and where it should least reside: at Greek universities.
Across the country, we are hearing cries of distress from academics and students who are struggling to deal with this growing phenomenon. But it is a deeply-rooted evil, and frustration has taken hold of the institutions. Many universities have become pockets of lawlessness – also thanks to Greece’s asylum law, which is designed to prevent police from entering campuses, it has to be said.
Groups of violent hooligans have asserted control over entire faculties and routinely threaten anyone who dares to voice a different opinion or complain about the rampant filth and graffiti. A small minority of individuals who do resist are subjected to verbal and physical abuse.
Senior university officials have given up. They find themselves trapped in a jungle-like environment, constantly having to lower their standards and just making sure they don’t lose their grip entirely.
Greek families have made many sacrifices so that their children can go to university. The students who really want to make progress eventually do so, but only through small acts of heroism, as they have to turn a blind eye to all the decay and misery around them.
How are we going to purge our universities of fear? This is not just a matter for the police or the administration. Sure, some political will from the government and rectors would help to restore order, but ultimately it is in the hands of the people.
We occasionally read in the news that some institution has ranked high in some international table. Such achievements are significant and commendable and there indisputably are pockets of excellence in Greek academia. Take a moment to think where the country would be now if universities actually matched the standards of their European peers. If there were basic rules and organization, and an environment that inspires academics and students instead of putting them off as it does now.
Many people think it’s too late to remedy the situation. They believe that the only solution is to establish private or non-profit universities that will have a positive spillover effect on their state-run counterparts. Perhaps they are right. It will take a major effort to eradicate fear and get Greece’s universities up to standard.