Princeton’s Hel­lenic Stud­ies Cen­ter gets Athens HQ

Di­rec­tor Dim­itri Gondi­cas talks about the aims of the new branch’s ed­u­ca­tional pro­gram and also about the univer­sity sys­tem in Greece

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY APOSTOLOS LAKASAS

Dim­itri Gondi­cas speaks pas­sion­ately but mod­estly when dis­cussing the new branch of Princeton Univer­sity’s Seeger Cen­ter for Hel­lenic Stud­ies in Athens.

Gondi­cas has been at Princeton since the 1970s, first as a stu­dent of physics and then as a lec­turer in Mod­ern Greek, go­ing on to be­come the di­rec­tor of the Seeger Cen­ter of Hel­lenic Stud­ies in 2010.

“The first for­eign stu­dents to at­tend Princeton on a schol­ar­ship were Greeks. They were brought from Cephalo­nia in 1825 and pre­sented to the univer­sity as de­scen­dants of Per­i­cles and Plato,” says Gondi­cas.

“I have been very for­tu­nate to have the honor of serv­ing in the field of Greek let­ters at a lead­ing univer­sity that cul­ti­vates the hu­man­i­ties, in an ex­cel­lent aca­demic en­vi­ron­ment where Hel­lenic stud­ies have a solid foun­da­tion. I have had the op­por­tu­nity to work with dis­tin­guished col­leagues – such as Edmund Kee­ley, Alexan­der Ne­hamas and Peter Brown – whose work has ad­ver­tised Hel­lenic stud­ies world­wide and who sup­port our col­lec­tive ef­fort.”

Gondi­cas ex­plains that other than the study pro­grams and aca­demic chairs it has helped cre­ate, the cen­ter also ar­ranges for stu­dents and pro­fes­sors to visit Greece for on-site re­search and stud­ies, as well as to work with their Greek coun­ter­parts. It fur­ther pro­vides re­search grants for Greek and nonGreek sci­en­tists, and works with Greek mu­se­ums and in­sti­tu­tions.

The cen­ter’s history dates back to 1979, when Princeton es­tab­lished the Pro­gram in Hel­lenic Stud­ies – thanks to a gen­er­ous do­na­tion from phil­hel­lene alum­nus Stan­ley J. Seeger – which later evolved into the Cen­ter for Hel­lenic Stud­ies.

“We wanted the pro­gram and the cen­ter to act as a bridge be­tween dif­fer­ent sci­en­tific ar­eas and a link be­tween Princeton and Greece and the Eastern Mediter­ranean,” says Gondi­cas of the Athens Cen­ter for Re­search and Hel­lenic Stud­ies.

The aim of the new cen­ter in Athens is to of­fer sup­port to high-level re­search in the hu­man­i­ties and so­cial sciences and to pro­mote Hel­lenic stud­ies. We aim to bol­ster our al­ready ac­tive sci­en­tific co­op­er­a­tion net­work with Greek aca­demics and Greek in­sti­tu­tions. Re­sources will come ex­clu­sively from funds from the Seeger trust, as well as dona­tions from grad­u­ates and friends of Princeton’s Cen­ter for Hel­lenic Stud­ies.

In a small in­ter­war build­ing that we have ren­o­vated with re­spect for its ar­chi­tec­tural iden­tity. We chose the neigh­bor­hood of Pan­grati, which is dy­namic and a short dis­tance from sci­en­tific in­sti­tu­tions, mu­se­ums and li­braries.

I work in the US but have very strong pro­fes­sional and per­sonal ties with Greece, so I have a first­hand view of the sit­u­a­tion. De­spite the ills of the crisis at ev­ery level (eco­nomic, in­sti­tu­tional, so­cial), so­ci­ety has en­dured. It has not rup- tured. I be­lieve this is not due to the struc­tures and wel­fare in­sti­tu­tions of the state, which have ba­si­cally col­lapsed. The Greek fam­ily is still guided by cer­tain val­ues and sus­tained by a sense of dig­nity and pride. De­spite the ex­is­tence of ex­treme, anti-demo­cratic and vi­o­lent phe­nom­ena in pub­lic life, the eco­nomic mi­grant, once a “xenos” (stranger/alien), has now be­come a mem­ber of the com­mu­nity, ac­cepted and re­spected – even­tu­ally – for this di­ver­sity. This brings us to the sub­ject of cut­backs in fund­ing for the hu­man­i­ties. The cul­tural flex­i­bil­ity to co­ex­ist with the xenos, to evolve into that kind of per­son, is some­thing that lies within us fol­low­ing cen­turies of cul­tural di­a­logue with the “other” and is a com­par­a­tive

wor­ried about the fact that Greece has some very sig­nif­i­cant pock­ets of ex­cel­lence and many sci­en­tists – in Greece and abroad – who are in­ter­na­tion­ally dis­tin­guished, yet its uni­ver­si­ties fare badly in in­ter­na­tional rank­ings,’ says Dim­itri Gondi­cas. ad­van­tage that we should be cul­ti­vat­ing – with­out ar­ro­gance, of course. This is also ev­i­dent in the way that we have re­acted to the refugee crisis.

The Greek di­as­pora alone can­not find the so­lu­tion for Greece. But, with a strate­gic vi­sion, with imag­i­na­tion and with in­no­va­tive think­ing from both sides, the “com­mu­ni­ties of Greeks” can in­ject the coun­try with new ideas and peo­ple. Stem­ming and re­vers­ing the out­flow of man­power and equal part­ner­ships with Greeks abroad should be the pri­or­ity in or­der to launch the coun­try be­yond the crisis.

I wouldn’t like to ap­proach such an im­por­tant and com­plex ques­tion with haste, but here are a few thoughts: Pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties in Greece are cen­tral­ized and weighed down by bu­reau­cracy in terms of their struc­ture. In­ter­ven­tions by the state of­ten cre­ate more prob­lems than they solve. In the Western world, uni­ver­si­ties are or­ga­nized ac­cord­ing to their own goals and func­tion au­tonomously to a great de­gree, un­der con­di­tions of trans­parency and con­stant (in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal) as­sess­ment. We should be wor­ried about the fact that Greece has some very sig­nif­i­cant pock­ets of ex­cel­lence and many sci­en­tists – in Greece and abroad – who are in­ter­na­tion­ally dis­tin­guished, yet its uni­ver­si­ties fare badly in in­ter­na­tional rank­ings. It is dis­ap­point­ing that ex­cel­lence is not set out as a na­tional goal, and this is a broader is­sue that af­fects the en­tire coun­try. The way that so­ci­ety is or­ga­nized, the in­sti­tu­tional struc­tures, rarely of­fer mo­tives for fair com­pe­ti­tion, with trans­parency. Nev­er­the­less, the hu­man dy­namic is there, it is com­pet­i­tive and ex­tro­vert, but is not given the op­por­tu­nity to flour­ish. Of course it takes courage and gen­eros­ity of spirit to make way for the younger gen­er­a­tion and promis­ing peo­ple so that they can pur­sue a lead­er­ship role in de­ci­sion-mak­ing and in­sti­tu­tional cen­ters.

Of course it can, fore­most on the con­di­tion that the univer­sity com­mu­nity wants it, and of course that the state al­lows in­sti­tu­tional im­prove­ments and helps fi­nance the ef­fort. This takes plan­ning and strat­egy, a set of pri­or­i­ties and not half-hearted ef­forts. It takes part­ner­ships with lead­ing in­sti­tu­tions abroad in or­der to mo­bi­lize ties with the Greek sci­en­tific di­as­pora, with think tanks and with healthy en­trepreneur­ship. The state needs to in­vest – also by forg­ing pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ships – in knowl­edge and in­no­va­tion, with mer­i­toc­racy. Peo­ple alone can­not bring change; it takes broader con­sen­sus and syn­er­gies, it takes so­ci­ety de­mand­ing ex­tro­vert­ed­ness and ex­cel­lence at ev­ery level of ed­u­ca­tion.

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