GREECE: Elections prevent university's closure

Only hours before expiry of the time required by the Education Act, approved by the Greek parliament earlier this year, the Technological University of Crete managed to elect a rector, thereby preventing a management crisis which might have led to the institution's closure. It was the fifth successive election - four previous attempts failed when a small group of militant students opposed to the act and committed to rendering it inoperative, violently disrupted the elections forcing the institution to postpone them.

Shortly before the fifth election, outgoing rector (and a candidate for a further four-year period) Joachim Grispolakis stated categorically that neither he nor any of his colleagues were prepared to remain in office beyond the expiry of their tenure on 31 August.

This meant that if a rector was not elected, the institution was running effectively without management. As a result, its services would be severely curtailed, financial acts of any kind would be suspended and, significantly, the autumn examination period would be placed in jeopardy.

On the last available day before the deadline, lecturers and administrative staff (their votes in the electoral process weigh 50% and 10% respectively) were able to vote without incident. But the area where students were casting their votes (they count for 40% of the total) was invaded by the same, small group of extreme militant students who grabbed several ballot boxes and destroyed their contents.

With no time for another postponement, the election was declared valid and the result was allowed to stand. Accordingly, Joachim Grispolakis was elected rector with 51.75% of the votes cast, while his opponent professor Giannis Phillis received 48.25%.

After his re-election, Grispolakis spoke to the press about various 'circles' opposed to his candidacy. He declared that his expressed position on asylum and academic freedom inside the university might not have found favour with some people.

"I have said in the past that student occupations of university areas are illegal because they jeopardise the university asylum which guarantees academic freedom and not criminal activities," he stated.

Defeated candidate Phillis, an electronics engineer at the institution, was bitterly disappointed at the result and extremely critical of the handling of the situation.

"The new rector," he told University World News in a telephone interview, "has been elected only with 60% of those eligible to vote, in other words only the votes cast by lecturers and admin staff. Students, whose votes represent 40% of the total, were prevented from exercising their democratic right and all our appeals for a repeat election were rejected."

Phillis also spoke of a small militant group which, for reasons of its own, cultivated a turbulent climate in the institution. He claimed the student vote favoured his candidacy but refused to consider that the destruction was a deliberate act of provocation.

He said, however, he would appeal to the State Council, the highest judicial authority in the country, against the result, pointing out that already some departments had openly declared that they would not recognise the result.

"We are unable to understand why the rector refused to accept or even consider our objections to the procedure," Phillis said. "In similar circumstances in other universities, the voting process was repeated the following day in safer conditions but in this case our suggestion was rejected out of hand and for this reason we have no choice but to appeal to the high court."

Grispolakis denied he refused to allow a repeat election: "It's not in my hands to decide one way or the other," he insisted, speaking to University World News. "The legal advisor, Nikolas Kotsifakis, advised the Central Electoral Committee that according to the law if 60% of those eligible to vote took part in the election then it was valid and the result could stand. The committee accepted the advice, the votes were counted and I was elected."

Asked whether the disputes over his re-election, his opponent's recourse to the State Council and the presence of the militant group in the institution would delay the relaxation of the current tense climate, Grispolakis said: "We have been elected to carry out the work of the institution and we are determined to do so. We have a lot to do. We have to start a fine arts department and a civil engineering department and we have to get on with that and bring it to a successful conclusion. We do not have the luxury to deviate from this."

Events at the university are perhaps a very small taste of things to come later in the autumn at the start of the new academic year, when the determination of the students (and some academics) to go on opposing the new Education Act (three-year rolling plans, evaluation, recognition of private colleges) will escalate. The Education Secretary's devotion to his neo-liberal remit, the privatisation of Greek higher education, will be put to the test.