By Alexis Papachelas
Nothing is easy in this country – especially if it involves change. It’s like a film on a never-ending loop. So many serious and chronic problems have built up over the decades that anyone trying to reform any sector has to walk a tightrope. If they’re bold and committed to shaking things up, they risk being pushed off the rope. Apart from the personal sacrifice, though, the reforms they want to push through will also suffer the same fate. If, on the other hand, they take things slow, maintain the balance of interests and allow themselves to remain trapped in the quid pro quo system, they will have no legacy to leave behind.
It is true that meaningful change is a fine balancing act based on very difficult decisions. Many Greeks, for example, want everything to change at the country’s universities, and they want it done yesterday. Youngsters deserve this, but so do their parents, who have made so many sacrifices for their education. We are demanding that rectors take brave decisions by throwing out the troublemakers who organize sit-ins and other disruptive protests so that our universities become equal to what we see in other Western European countries. We forget that academic officials are constantly under threat and are even subject to violence sometimes. Their greatest fear – and it is a justified one – is that the situation at their institutions will spin completely out of control, to the detriment of their students.
Of course there are those politically minded rectors who don’t care for anything other than holding onto their seat or who are in the game just for show, before pursuing a career in politics. But there are also those who are not afraid to expose the cost to taxpayers of the troublemakers’ shenanigans, compared to others who hide it, ostensibly to protect their university’s reputation. We prefer those who are constantly battling to improve their institutions without making a song and dance about it; people who design strong postgraduate programs, who form volunteer groups, who encourage research, who make regular progress toward normality without pulling the rope. They are encouraged, of course, by finally having a minister who listens and wants to change things and a police chief or municipal authority that responds to their demands.
The important thing in this country is to always keep your eye on the prize, on the final goal. What do we want our universities to look like in two years? What do we want the downtown Athens neighborhood of Exarchia and the area around the Athens Polytechnic to look like? How can we bolster excellence and research? The answers to such questions cannot be simple nor can they be dictated by the obsessions and cliches that our politicians so often find themselves trapped in. What counts is results and to get them we need courage and strategic patience – insofar as it doesn’t become an excuse for complete inaction.