The Hellenic College / Holy Cross School of Theology (HCHC) near Boston has been recognized by US authorities, since 1984, as a higher education institution that can award Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Masters’ degrees in theology. HCHC has been the pride of the Greek Orthodox Church in America for many decades (since 1937), since most priests and bishops serving the Hellenic American diaspora and beyond, have graduated from there. Unfortunately, since November 21, 2019, the American authorities (the New England Commission of Higher Education) decided to place the university on probation, until the end of 2021.
If the organization, the governance and the academic program is not immediately improved, the authorities say, it risks losing its academic accreditation. Recently, Archbishop Elpidophoros of America expressed his concern about the future of the Hellenic College, stressing, among other things, that “we should support HCHC not because it is a theological seminary, but because it is an unsurpassed academic and spiritual institution of excellence.”
My current suggestion would be to create a medical school that would raise the prestige of the Hellenic College and significantly benefit its financial survival. This would be supplementary to Christos Giannaras’ original proposal to expand the existing HCHC so that it offers classes in the Greek language and Greek literature, art, philosophy, music and dramaturgy.
To the first obvious objection about the cost of creating and operating a modern medical school, I would point to the ever-growing demand for such schools worldwide. New medical schools are opening up all the time in America, Europe and other parts of the world, and thousands of parents pay large sums to see their children become doctors. I will not comment on the quality of these medical schools, but the truth is that they are doing very well financially.
The example of a small country like Cyprus, with its two successful private medical schools and a public one, speaks for itself about their immense financial benefits. At none of these expensive medical schools do the students have the opportunity to study on a 240-acre campus with modern amphitheaters, libraries and sports facilities. They cannot meet Harvard and MIT students and professors in the street, nor, finally, do they have the opportunity to train at some of the world’s best hospitals surrounding HCHC. Today in the US, along with the classic model of a four-year postgraduate medical school for students with a BA or a BS, there are also many medical schools for high-school graduates, requiring six to eight years of studies. The Howard University College of Medicine in Washington DC, for example, offers a six-year program leading directly to a BS/MD degree.
The well-known Rice and Baylor universities offer a “combinable” medical program of eight years, leading directly from one college’s BS to the other medical school’s MD. The Hellenic College could work with one of the many universities in Massachusetts with a medical school so that its undergraduates could continue and complete their medical studies at an already operating medical school. I would even dare to suggest working with Boston University School of Medicine, which already has a seven-year studies program experience. So, what will it take to move forward with this proposal? First of all, for Archbishop Elpidophoros, HCHC President George Cantonis and the HCHC board of directors to assent to it.
The next step would be to find the right person to lead the implementation of such a big and difficult endeavor. A few years ago, Kaiser Permanente (not even a university) hired Harvard’s professor of pediatrics Mark Schuster to set up the Kaiser Permanente Medical School. With fresh ideas, focusing on health rather than disease itself, he created a new program with an emphasis on prevention and public health. He started with a small number of students, stopped large lecture halls’ theoretical classes and created small groups for case-based training. He focused on the wellness of the students to prevent problems such as burnout, depression and so many other modern and real problems of medical education.
Such a modern curriculum that will include existing theological courses could easily be designed for the new “Hellenic-American School of Medicine” at HCHC. If these first two steps are taken successfully and decisively, the path will be easier. Many internationally renowned Greek and Greek-American health professors are currently working in the greater Boston area.
These scientists who participate almost daily in webinars and other activities organized by the Greek Consulate, are ready to support such an ambitious effort. Moreover, the Greek prime minister has already committed to the financial support of the Hellenic College, having allocated 2 million euros a year for 2019 and 2020. Well-known institutions of great donations for health and education can further increase this state financial support, as can wealthy American and Greek-American patriots. A medical school at the Hellenic College in Boston would be a success for the Greek state as well as for Hellenism abroad.
Dimitris Linos is a professor at the University of Athens and a lecturer at Harvard Medical School.