Rebuilding our universities

We grew up with the legendary figure of the professor with a capital P, a man of great stature who taught valor as well as the classes in the curriculum. Some still remember Konstantinos Tsatsos being carried on the backs of students after a patriotic speech in the middle of the German occupation, or Alexandros Svolos mesmerizing his audiences. And, of course, there was Georgios Koumantos, Sakis Karagiorgas and Lefteris Papagiannakis. What did they all have in common? These professors were not afraid to speak their mind nor rail against authority, even at a heavy price. They condemned human rights violations by the state but they also criticized violence masked as revolutionary rhetoric. Greek universities went downhill following the infamous legal framework which, despite good intentions, produced a corrupt web that has entangled professors, political parties and student leaders. Rectors needed the parties to get elected; students needed student leaders to pass classes; professors needed to be on good terms with student leaders or they would get bullied. And so was born the vicious cycle of mediocrity. There were small mafiosos who controlled university departments, took care of their own little businesses and treated the university as if it were their own private stable. Sometimes professors with a capital P were replaced by small individuals who were afraid of their own shadows and who expended all their energy in an endless series of give-and-take with student groups and violent gangs. We have all seen the outcome of this. However, for people who care about state universities and taxpayers’ money, things have come to a head. Citizens demand the obvious: universities that are guarded by their own security, the free movement of ideas but not of drugs or flammable materials, and a university asylum policy that protects everyone against arbitrary acts by the state as well as gangs. It will not be easy and it will come at a price for anyone who decides to spearhead the effort.