Australian professor to lead Greek university

One of the first priorities of the newly elected first president of the management council of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, distinguished professor of classical Greek studies at Cambridge University Professor Richard Hunter, will be to find realistic solutions to the institution’s severe financial problems.

Speaking at a press conference following his episodic election, Hunter revealed that together with pursuing his vision for the future of the university and tackling its restricted finances, his intention is to establish rules and regulations that will be observed by everybody.

“One of the chief responsibilities of the council of management,” he said, “is the formation of an audit committee (as well as other special committees), which will not only supervise all the financial activities but will also inform members during their regular meetings.”

He emphasised that another of the management council’s basic concerns would be to open the university up not only to society but also to the international scientific community, and to attract the cooperation of industry.

He said that the education ministry, in order to affect greater savings, was proposing through the ‘Athina’ plan a series of mergers and-or abolitions of academic courses, departments and even entire universities. For this reason, a sub-committee had already been formed to monitor the effects of this policy.

Richard Hunter (59) was born in Australia and studied at the University of Sydney. On completing his PhD at Cambridge in 2001 he was immediately elected to the Greek Chair there and later the same year became a member of the Athens Academy.

He has enjoyed a long and fruitful cooperation with Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, where he was made an honorary member in 2004. He is a top professor of Greek and classical studies, has taught at many universities in Europe, the US and Australia, and has written several books and articles. He is an ardent lover of Greece.

Hunter’s appointment at the helm of the council ends a very long and acrimonious dispute between the university and the education ministry.

Rector Giannis Mylopoulos played a leading role – along with a large majority of other rectors – in opposing implementation of the legislation 4009/2011 introduced by former secretary of state for education Anna Diamantopoulou, who is now out of government office.

Mylopoulos, who appeared at Hunter’s side at the press conference, said: “Professor Hunter is an international academic personality and his knowledge of Greek civilisation and culture is a guarantee that he is able to assimilate quickly the current Greek reality.”

He went on to say: “By its participation in the election process, the Greek academic community has shown that the period of conflict is now a thing of the past and that what is important, in a period of very deep economic crisis, is the survival and the progress of the Greek university, whose primary role is producing and conveying knowledge.”

Hunter and the new management council were elected by electronic poll, because the traditional process of election was disrupted on several occasions by students and academics who opposed the provisions of the law.

The new 14-member council includes eight internal members elected from the staff of the university and six external members who are working in higher education establishments in foreign countries.

Mylopoulos will remain in his position until the end of his term – but without his three vice-rectors – and will assist the new president in his duties.

It is not clear whether rectors in other universities where elections have been held and presidents have been elected will also remain in their positions or resign, and-or whether the position of rector will be abolished or will remain as another tier of academic management.

Meanwhile, a great deal of unrest is simmering in the ranks of academics who have seen their salaries reduced by more than 50% and the budgets of institutions also cut by more than half.

It is thought that the government is attempting to privatise higher education. The bastions of free state education have all but collapsed and the void is likely to be filled by private college owners, with possibly dire implications for the future of higher education.

Already one of these college founders and aspiring university owners has been arrested for fraudulent practices, having collected from the state large amounts of money with forged documents.

More than 2,000 lecturers at Aristotle University were called upon to vote for representatives of the Unified Association of Management and Research Unions as well as for representatives for the Panhellenic Federation of University Teachers Associations.

Academic and administrative staff are voting in support of social reforms, a substantial increase in the government’s grant aid to institutions and a serious improvement in working conditions, salaries and wages.