Everything is perfect

When a car crashes into a highway sign, that’s an accident. When, a week later, that same sign crashes onto a car and kills someone, that’s a crime. But it is also the tragic confirmation of the haphazard and irresponsible way in which things are done (or not done) here which allows the most mundane things to become deadly. The second tragedy is that no one, at any level of the State machinery, can assure citizens that such an «accident» will not be repeated. And of course, no one accepts responsibility when such things do happen. Once again we saw that when nothing is done to prevent or solve a problem, the result can be catastrophic. Unfortunately, though, inertia appears to be our society’s driving force. Whenever anyone does try to fix something, to shake awake those sleeping dogs, he or she has to deal not only with the rabid response of those directly affected but the lack of support from the rest of us. It appears that most of us prefer (or at least tolerate) a situation in which it is better to live with problems than to risk solving them. This has been most evident in the last few weeks, with the sit-ins at universities and the fuss about the government’s efforts to make some simple and obviously necessary changes to the tertiary education system. From the reactions, and from the fact the larger political parties cannot hinder the Left Coalition Synaspismos and other, smaller leftist parties, from driving the universities into an impasse, one could reasonably conclude that our education system is already doing so well that the only thing it needs is to be left alone. Of course, those manning the barricades will tell us they are demanding better schooling and more money for the universities, and that the government is trying to destroy public education by allowing the establishment of non-State universities. The simple answer is that more funding is indeed necessary, but that the problems which have left our universities being held in such low regard are not related directly to funding or the possible establishment of private and non-profit universities. The problem is that the universities have been taken over by petty political interests. There is also a lack of evaluation and accountability that affects both teachers and students, not to mention the institutionalized anarchy (or rather, the institutionalized handover of power to organized minorities) stemming from an uncontrolled and misguided system of «academic immunity.» And there is a general sense that the university is not a temple of learning and research but rather the backdrop for a battle of personal and political desires and demands. This concerns teaching staff, who, in the predominant chaos and lack of accountability, are not obliged to do their best for their students. It concerns students who in this way escape the more rigorous demands of a system that would be based on equal opportunities and personal accountability. And it concerns the small political groupings which, in the madness of today’s universities, find they are able to play a far more prominent role there than is commensurate with their standing in the rest of society. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the above outline of the situation, one need only compare the level of studies at Greek universities with that in other European countries and, more significantly, to look at what efforts have been made to change the situation in Greece. The results are disheartening, with every effort to end the slide of our universities collapsing in the face of almost universal protests. Within this context, one can only wonder at the motives of the faculty members and student groups involved in the sit-ins and demonstrations. Surely they all have their reasons, not least of which (for the students) is the obvious attraction of being young and preaching rebellion while demanding a better future. It is for that future that we hope the «dialogue» which the government held up as a white flag last week will not be a prelude to surrender but rather an opportunity for the students to be persuaded that it is in their interests that changes be made to the education system. It would be criminal negligence on the part of the government if it allowed today’s reactions to undermine the future of these students and of the country itself.