Abol­ish­ing stan­dards

Kathimerini English - - Front Page - BY MARIA KATSOUNAKI

As he handed in his res­ig­na­tion ear­lier this week as head of the board of di­rec­tors of the Univer­sity of Crete, one of Greece’s finest in­sti­tu­tions, Grig­oris M. Si­fakis said that the pur­pose of a univer­sity is not to prop­a­gate ide­ol­ogy but to cul­ti­vate ex­cel­lence. His choice of this last word was es­pe­cially poignant, as it is one of the un­men­tion­ables in the gov­ern­ment’s vo­cab­u­lary. The word ex­cel­lence caused quite a few waves dur­ing the ten­ure of for­mer Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Aris­tides Bal­tas and con­tin­ues to do so, it seems, un­der his suc­ces­sor, Nikos Filis. He may not have de­scribed ex­cel­lence pre­cisely as a stigma but his ab­hor­rence of it is ev­i­dent in many dif­fer­ent ways, in­clud­ing in a leg­isla­tive de­cree that he is cur­rently draw­ing up that fore­sees the abo­li­tion of univer­sity coun­cils. The truth, of course, is that such coun­cils – in­tro­duced by Anna Dia­man­topoulou un­der the New Democ­racy-PA­SOK coali­tion and com­pris­ing lo­cal aca­demics as well as for­eign pro­fes­sors who help over­see the func­tion and stan­dards of univer­si­ties – had lit­tle chance of en­joy­ing the sup­port of the present gov­ern­ment, if only be­cause it holds so firmly to the prin­ci­ple that ev­ery suc­ces­sor must wipe away ev­ery trace left by their pre­de­ces­sor. The dis­band­ing of the coun­cil was also ev­i­dent from ef­forts – by Prime Min­is­ter Alexis Tsipras him­self as well – to dis­tort the un­der­stand­ing of what they do and why they do it. The let­ter and spirit of the law calls for the coun­cil to as­sess the ac­tual qual­i­fi­ca­tions of can­di­dates for the seat of rec­tor or dean, and to se­lect those they see fit to run. The in­evitable ex­clu­sion from the process of cer­tain can­di­dates has been pre­sented by the SYRIZA gov­ern­ment as an ex­pres­sion of an anti-demo­cratic men­tal­ity or even as a show of dom­i­nance, in­stead of as part of the process and ju­ris­dic­tion of the body of ex­pe­ri­enced aca­demics. The sit­u­a­tion with the univer­sity coun­cils re­flects a prob­lem that per­vades the en­tire public sec­tor: the ab­sence of eval­u­a­tions. And eval­u­a­tions are be­ing grad­u­ally phased out ev­ery­where. This is be­cause those in power fear ex­cel­lence as it has the po­ten­tial to re­move from de­ci­sion mak­ers their abil­ity not only to set the cri­te­ria but also to choose the peo­ple they want. The Greek po­lit­i­cal sys­tem is not at all well in­clined to­ward rules, un­less, of course, they serve the par­ties’ nar­row in­ter­ests. What we end up with is not rules but tai­lor-made de­crees that pre­vent the “un­demo­cratic” forces from do­ing their jobs and pro­mote who­ever is in fa­vor at any given time. Ex­cel­lence pre­sup­poses some level of eval­u­a­tion. Oth­er­wise, all we will see is medi­ocrity be­ing em­braced as the norm, which is some­thing that may suit the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem very well but is dev­as­tat­ing for the coun­try.

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