Elections bring change but not hope for universities

In Greece, 2014 has been an election year par excellence. Earlier this year deans in all universities were elected. On 25 May triple elections – local, district and European – were held. The election of rectors is currently under way. And the possibility of a national election later this year has not been discounted.

The elections of deans was the prova generale for a head-on collision between newly elected management councils of institutions – which are seeking to play a leading role in higher education – and the academic community, which regards the councils as an additional and unnecessary management tier.

The politics

The triple elections in which the government was roundly defeated (without falling) for the first time by a left-wing party, precipitated sweeping changes in cabinet.

But despite declarations that ‘the message of the ballot box was received’, the reshuffle was on the level of people not policies – particularly economic policy which, dictated as it is from Berlin, remains unchanged.

In the reshuffle the education minister portfolio was taken from Konstantinos Arvanitopoulos, a conservative MP, and placed in the hands of Andreas Loverdos, a former leading member of the Panhellenic Socialist Party who has now formed his own independent political group.

Arvanitopoulos’s decision not to support, in local elections, the incumbent mayor of Piraeus who is the prime minister’s ‘best man’ politically and socially, probably cost him re-election.

Instead he supported political upstart ship-owner and president of champion football club Olympiakos, Vangelis Marinakis, and his supposedly business ticket, which won the election.

During his time in office, Arvanitopoulos set out to destroy free state education, with cuts in state finance, closures and mergers of hundreds of schools, and suspension of thousands of teachers and administration staff – a peculiar arrangement where staff marked for redundancy are kept on suspension for a year on 75% of their salary.

Loverdos, as health minister from 2010-12 in George Papandreou’s government, started to dismantle the health system, which his successor Adonis Georgiadis has given the kiss of death. There is concern that he has been called on to dismantle what little Arvanitopoulos left intact in higher education.

Rector elections

The forthcoming elections for university rectors provide an opportunity for management councils of institutions to take long-harboured revenge against those in the academic community who actively opposed their existence.

The first sample of possible intentions was earlier this year when the council of Athens University rejected the sole candidacy of incumbent dean of philosophy Eleni Karamolegou, apparently because she had taken an active part in mobilising the university against law 4009/11, which introduced the additional management tier in higher education.

At the end of May, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki rejected the candidacy for rectorship of Vice-rector Giannis Pandis and professor of chemistry Andreas Giannakoudakis, also a former vice-rector.

Both have appealed to the state council, the highest judicial authority in the country. The result – if in their favour – is likely to influence the election, the standing of the future rector-elect, and the status of the councils themselves and the extent of their powers.

Similar clashes are expected to develop at other major universities and in particular Athens University and the National Technical University of Athens, where the reaction to the 4009/11 legislation was particularly staunch among academics, support staff and students.

The irony is that the legislation was supposed to eradicate former practices of nepotism, secret agreements, and cases of bribery and corruption in elections for top positions in higher education institutions and establish fair, honest and universally accepted procedures.

Instead, without resolving previous shortcomings, it has brought about a new conservative body of well-established academics with still active ambition for power and a vengeful attitude towards colleagues who for a variety of reasons opposed government policies.