Rector election sparks council vs academic conflict

The ‘election’ – or more appropriately the appointment – of a new rector at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki is once again creating tension between the institution’s management council and its academic community.

Current rector Giannis Mylopoulos, whose term of office is rapidly coming to an end, recently wrote that “according to the new legal system the university authorities will no longer be elected by a direct and democratic vote but indirectly through a system of pre-selection which will be carried out – without specific criteria – by the institution’s management council”.

The council, Mylopoulos continued, was “a half-elected and half-appointed body which includes non-academic members and which – unlike the rector and the senate – is not accountable to anyone”.

At the end of May the management council of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki rejected the candidacy for rectorship of vice-rector Giannis Pandis, thereby preventing him from placing himself before the judgment of his peers for the top administrative position.

Pandis became well known for his staunch opposition to the government’s controversial higher education legislation, law 4009/11 – whose articles, ironically, the management council invoked in order to prevent his candidacy.

Rejecting Pandis’ candidacy, the council said that “it made its choice taking into account recognised prestige and substantial administrative experience”. But the candidate had both in abundance, since he has served as vice-rector of economic programming and development at the institution for the last four years.

Councils criticised

It is not the first time that management councils have acted against well-established practices, leaving them open to severe criticism.

Last year, the sole candidate for the position of dean at the Athens University school of philosophy, Professor Helen Karamalengou, was rejected by the institution’s management council despite the fact that she had already held the position for some time.

At the time the Association of Teaching Staff issued a statement saying that the university’s management council had chosen to use “the most undemocratic provisions of the legislation, those that give the right of pre-selection of candidates for the positions of rectors and deans”.

This was “not in accordance either with the academic or the democratic spirit which should guide the members of the university and which point towards regimes and practices that we hoped belonged in the distant past”.

The statement referred to the period of the military junta – 1967 to 1973 – when human rights were suspended, and when asylum was established to protect academics from prosecution – a provision that was abolished when the higher education legislation came into force.