Prof. Aristotle Michopoulos Speaks to TNH about Hellenic College/Holy Cross

Dr. Aristotle Michopoulos, professor of Greek at Hellenic -Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. Photo: TNH/Theodore Kalmoukos

BOSTON – Dr. Aristotle Michopoulos, Professor of Greek at Hellenic College and Holy Cross School of Theology in Boston for the last 31 years, having arrived there from the University of Florida where he taught previously, knows Hellenic College and Holy Cross better than anybody else.

In addition to his teaching, he also served as Dean of Hellenic College from 1995 to 2002. Michopoulos has also supported the School financially in a substantial way with his own money.

During an interview with The National Herald he noted that he served as Dean of Hellenic College under three Archbishops: Iakovos, Spyridon, and Demetrios.

He was the head of the Greek Studies Department before going on sabbatical last year, with his duties being transferred to Professor Dova. He noted there is a total of four professors teaching Greek at the School, himself, Dr. Dova, Dr. Holmberg, and Dr. Vasileiou.
W
hen we asked him about the current situation at HC/HC, just about a month or so before the end of the academic year, he replied: “it depends on how one looks at it. Your question brings me to what happened in Florida during the recent Leadership 100 Conference, where one of the participants had the ‘bright’ idea of proposing a reduction in the programs offered by the College and I took an opposite stand. In my reply I mentioned that the Jewish community has five schools of theology and another ten regular, i.e. secular ones. Of those fifteen colleges, the best one in theology is Yeshiva University in New York City with more than three thousand students and over five hundred million dollars in its endowment.

The flagship of the other Jewish universities is Brandeis University, which was created during the same time as HC/HC. It has over six thousand students in all its graduate and undergraduate departments and over one billion dollars in its endowment. We, on the other hand, have less than $30 million in our endowment and are discussing how to cut some programs.”

He said further: “I told them we have only one College and we are not by any means poor. The Jewish Americans are the most affluent immigrant community and we are second, while we are first in education and they come second, according to B. Rosen’s study. While they are able to maintain fifteen universities and especially some first-class ones, we have only one and want to chop it up and at the same time we pride ourselves that we have the only Greek Orthodox College in America! But if we make those cuts then we will not have even that, and we will simply have a school of theology. And the Russians have one of their own. Is that the right solution?”
He continued, saying that, “Hellenic College produces teachers, business executives, and many other specialties needed by our Church. And in the final analysis, if you go to a Church and there is no congregation there, what will the priest do? We can graduate students who can become priests, but if there are no faithful at the Church, then we have failed. That’s why we need everybody, i.e. priests, presbyteres, children, and the faithful. I have funded a Professorship in Greek History at Hellenic College and this moment I am funding a Scholarship Fund with $25,000. I told the audience at Leadership 100 that I’m offering at this moment $100 thousand dollars, if you give $1 million to take care of all the programs at HC/HC. I received applause, but nobody got up to make, let’s say, a pledge of fifty thousand or somebody else to make another pledge, and there ended the whole story.”

TNH asked Michopoulos to comment on reports that he has given serious amounts of his own money to the School. He replied that, “the Professorship in Greek history received $167,000 a couple of years ago and every year I give thousands of dollars for other needs of the school. During the past thirty years this sum must be above $100,000 and this is money that goes for all kinds of needs. At this moment I am funding an Endowed Scholarship Fund for the students of the College and have pledged $25,000 and hope not to stop at that amount.”

When we asked him why he was doing this, he answered, “For many reasons. One of them is that I was born poor and I believe in education. The second reason is that if there were no scholarships I might not have studied myself. The Greek Government paid for my studies – I got my BA from the University of Athens – through an I.K.Y. Scholarship, and the U.S. Government paid for my Ph.D. studies.”

He continued, saying, “It would be ingratitude and ungratefulness if I would forget all this and put my money in my pocket and were interested only in enjoying my life. To buy, like many others, a Mercedes or a Lexus, and go around showing-off my wealth. I had a Toyota for twenty years and some colleagues laughed when they saw it, but I changed it only when it could not run anymore. Then I replaced it with another Toyota.”

He then said with emotion, “I believe in Education and Hellenism and I have a sense that we are not doing our job well and that bothers me.”

Asked what he meant by “we are not doing our job well, and to whom he was referring, he replied, “All of us, both rich and poor. Each one of us finds a nice excuse and that brings to my mind the gospel parable: ‘I bought a farm, I got married,’ etc. while in essence we are self-destructive.”

Regarding what was to blame for this state of affairs, he said, “our culture. I thought a lot about it and concluded that we must change our culture.”

Asked who will change it and how,” he said, “I don’t know. All of us together, I guess. When I was a graduate student in Florida, we had invited Vassilis Vassilikos to speak to us and as I was taking him to the airport, we were talking in the car, and I will never forget what he said to me. ‘Aristoteli, the Modern Greek is interested only in two things: his belly and his reproductive organ! Nothing else is of interest to him. And that discussion took place in the 1980s!” Professor Michopoulos emphasized again, “we must change our mentality.”

He was then asked if it is also a matter of leadership.

“It is also a matter of leadership, he said. “I’ve thought a lot about it. But who elects the leaders? The people!”
Finally, we asked about the specific current situation at Hellenic College and Holy Cross and how things reached this point, inquiring also whether only the president, Fr. Christopher Metropulos, is to blame.

“I do not believe that only one person is responsible for everything,” he said, adding, “to some extent there is a distribution of power in everything. When the faculty elected me as its representative to the Board of Trustees and saw certain things there, I realized that we had let things veer off course.”

20 Comments

  1. Michopoulos is part of the problem. He has been at the School for 31 years, and every student complains about his ability to teach Greek. The School has not improved because Michopoulos has been there for 31 years, it has hit rock bottom.

  2. I, I, I, I, I……………..ok, this man donates money to the school. Big deal, lots of Greeks donate to their parishes and some donate to the school too, you ain’t buying your way into heaven brother, no matter how hard you try. This interview was a waste of time, the self-serving tone of “look at me, I drove my Toyota into the ground so I could give to the school” is not impressive, but obnoxious.

    As for the insulting comment to ALL Greeks about the belly and the reproductive organ, that may be true, but these same people are the ones that get up every day, work long hours in their respective businesses so they can support their families and the Church. I have to go now and eat a plate of bacon before I meet up with my harem……………..

    Gimme a break!

  3. “Who elects the leaders? The people!” Oops, he forgot to add, “except in the Orthodox Church!”

    Who leads the school? The President and the Board of Trustees. Who appoints all of them? NOT the people, but the archbishop. Stop blaming “the people” as the ones responsible, instead of the leadership. It’s still astounding that not one single person or leader has admitted even a microgram of accountability throughout this whole disaster.

  4. Prof. Michopoulos falls into the same trap that many wealthy Greek-Americans fall into — in striving to “beat the Joneses next door” and to show up the “wealthy Jewish Americans,” they make inaccurate parallels between Hellenism/Christian Orthodoxy and Jewish culture/Judaism.

    Is Judaism a culture or a faith? It is both, though secular/non-observant Jews vastly outnumber faithful, observant Jews (as they also did throughout the Old Testament).

    Orthodox Christianity, however is a faith. Yes, it is expressed in the cultural context. We all know these: the Greek, Serb, Russian, Romanian, Arab, and many others.

    Contrary to Prof. Michalopoulos’ belief, I think there is a need and demand for Orthodox Christian colleges/universities in America (though there is little funding at this point). However, as the current HCHC debacle illustrates, there simply isn’t the demand for Greek Orthodox colleges/universities out there.

    This is an important difference: many Americans are encountering Christ in His Church, yet not in the Greek context. Too many narcissistic Greek-Americans fail to realize this important nuance and simply assume that Orthodox Christianity = Greek Orthodoxy. It doesn’t.

    Tragic, since the wealthy GOA community could do so much as leaders to help establish Orthodox Christian colleges across America. However, they insist on Greek Orthodox colleges, which no one wants.

    Prof. Michalopoulos, stop conflating Hellenism with Orthodox…

  5. This is pathetic and sad claptrap and reminds me of an institution stuck in a 1950s black and white tv sitcom. The school must be closed as part of a complete reform of the church in America. Once again we see that the Golden Goose of world Orthodoxy (America!) is being strangled by the “Greek above all” mentality and by complete incompetence and unaccountability.

  6. The abusive comments comments listed above are counter productive toward producing solutions which may assist HCHC in solving its many problems. May I suggest a few items: 1 Keep the archbishop out of the selection process .2 Select a committee of 10 Orthodox faithful, 6 lay people and 4 clergy, to interview qualified people, need not be Orthodox. However the person chosen must possess heavy qualifications of being able to operate a seminary or a first class university school, savvy on being able to secure grants and smooze orthodox and cultivate companies to fund special projects.To obtain such a person we must pay an amount consistent with the market, perhaps a young retiree. 3 An all out campaign to solicit funds for the school by the parishes:each diocese shall be obligated to raise a certain amount. 4 A solid effort to advertise our HCHC in the Greek/American press, other Christian magazines, offer special scholarships. 4 The people chosen to teach at HCHC must have a PHD , no good ol guy stuff, nor a refuge for ol timers. 5 We must be ever mindful that our university accreditation is at stake. We are at the brink of losing HCHC and the previous hodge/podge patch em up were a disaster. For your information, our Catholic friends have turned most of their universities to secular chancellors; also all their bishops must retire at 75 years of age. How is that for shaking the establishment. Our Church establishment has to awaken, this is not 325 nor 789 nor 1054.

    1. Nick, what’s abusive is how the church and its institutions have treated the faithful for decades. Start there and don’t get your Midwest sensibilities in a twist from the commenters , above , who have every right to be really pissed off.

  7. Dr. Michopoulos is correct about changing our mentality in order to be a successful ethnos and have successful organizations – egos are in the way causing divisiveness and thus we have defeat instead of progress. I admire Dr. Michopoulos for his financial contributions to Hellenic College/Holy Cross. I remember him as a good man when I was a student at Holy Cross (class of 1996). Money alone will not solve the problems of the School or the Archdiocese which our wealthy members recognize. Trust in the leadership must be earned by the new leaders yet to come; then the donations will come. A wise man taught me a Greek saying he learned through experience: The fish stinks from the head.

  8. Nick,

    The chapter on university accreditation has already been written and it’s only a matter of time before the announcement is made. Holy Cross should live on but Hellenic College is done and for all the right reasons – why do you need a school of 60 students, of which 30 will go on to Holy Cross regardless.

    What is is incredibly frustrating is that this message has been clear to everyone for last 7-10 years and the HCHC brain trust should have been preparing for this versus having their hand forced.

  9. First, Brandeis was founded 10 years after Holy Cross. To be fair, their purposes were different. But, once the decision was made in 1960 to establish Hellenic College we begin to see why the idea has failed. The college initially was a feeder school for the school of theology. It took 8 years to get preliminary accreditation and full accreditation wasn’t achieved until Dr. Thomas Lelon became president. He has been the only president who had experience in higher education administration and he fought every step of the way by clergy and laity within and without the school as well as the faculty. He actually put the college on the path to success but it didn’t last long. Aside from him, and the Rev. Dr. Leonidas Contos who got preliminary accreditation, the school’s president has always been a clergyman who had no higher education administrative experience. The school has never been supported in the manner it could/should have been over the years by one of the most successful ethnic groups in the US. The endowment has never been larger than 30 million dollars when one could expect it should be close to 500 million. So, what has held the school back? Administratively has been mentioned above. But what else. First, it is not just that it is a church related institution. Lots of institutions are. Even the Mennonites have a college. (continued)

  10. But the archdiocese has always had a stranglehold on the school. The by-laws dictate that the sitting archbishop will always be the chair of the board of trustees. Further, he appoints the trustees and he has the power to over-rule any decision made by the trustees. The board of trustees has always lacked real heavy hitters, and that doesn’t mean just being wealthy. But it can be surmised that such people wouldn’t be interested and, further, that the archbishop wouldn’t want such people on the b0ard because they would attract too much attention and not take easily to the archbishop vetoing decisions made by the board. The deans also have no administrative experience in other institutions. The exception was Dr. Lily Makrakis. Greek studies and the classics are a waste of time and money. Students today need to get their education in fields they can get good jobs in. It would be a different thing if the elementary education department was better and why not have majors in social work and nursing and the sciences so Orthodox students could make a difference in our society. But that wold take foresight, knowledge of higher education and money, none of which are in any abundance at the school. The hierarchs have no interest in growing the school because they would not benefit by such growth. And, they don’t want money going to the school that might be kept in their metropolises. It will take a radical change to save the college but it just ain’t going to happen.

  11. Rumor had it that the CFO and the HR director at HCHC were leaving the beginning of May. That changed today when the President fired the CFO. Undoubtedly firing rather than leaving makes it seem that the CFO is responsible for the school’s financial woes. That is certainly true to some extent but the blame is undoubtedly shared by the President and the finance committee of the board of trustees. Then again, the sooner the CFO and the HR director left the better given that their combined salaries amounted to almost $250,000 annually. (Yes, the figure is correct, your eyes aren’t deceiving you!)

    1. Repanidi – more to the CFO story than you’re telling. He’s being made a fall guy for all the wrong reasons.

      What about the Presidents salary, and his car, and his house, and his two assistants, and his reliance on seminarians as cheap labor ( yes – they did rake his yard )?

      And then you have faculty who teach 1-2 classes a semester, conduct no research, don’t advise students, and earn over $100k for maybe 15hrs of work each week.

  12. As I said, the CFO is; being made the fall guy although not totally undeserved. And the finance committed of the board of trustees has remained out of the picture but are they ever to blame as well!! The faculty issue is another big issue that needs to be addressed aside from finances. You’re right about the class load, hours on campus and no research book production. All ot these issues are addressed in the faculty handbook. The problem is that the policies are not enforced. And, concerning the Greek program, it went down the tubes when Peter Nychis retired. No teacher of Greek at the school is anywhere near proficient as he was. Quite possibly the premier teacher of modern Greek in the US. The President’s salary is thought to be North of $200,000. The car has been standard practice for years. And , of course, there’s his association with the Orthodox radio program he founded and which, according to his contract with HCHC, he was supposed to sever his ties with but many believe he still runs it and derives an income from it. As for students raking his yard possibly they are on work study but all grounds work is usually done by buildings and grounds staff and they have always done work at the president’s house on campus. The real issue is whether he is qualified to be president. He is not. He was a plant by the archbishop.

  13. Most all Greek Orthodox Parochial Schools of various Greek Orthodox communities across the US have in allotted time frame failed due to various reasons – socio-demographic,economic, administrative mis- management, etc.
    Some Greek Orthodox Parochial Schools have since become Charter Schools (with inclusion of Greek language, culture and religion) – all fine and dandy but I doubt that the contemporary diversified mix of students who most of them are non-Greek Orthodox actually give a fig!
    Greek Orthodox Parochial Schools were fine in the 1950s and up until the 1960s, when there was a stronger homogenous Greek society. Now they are the way of the dinosaur.
    Ditto for Hellenic College.
    It was a good idea, but unfortunately it never evolved and is now likewise obsolete.
    It’s similar path of extinction is inevitable.
    Stop beating a dead horse and focus on re-establishing a bona-fide Greek Orthodox Seminary that produces REAL priests!
    To make comparison with Catholics, Jews, et al and their respective institutions of higher learning is non-sensical and worthless. They have real know how and money, we don’t have either!

    1. Yeah, the Israelis at Tel Aviv University have managed today to create a human heart from a 3D printer using human cells. All this in 70 years of returning to a desert and creating a high-tech nation.

      Next week, the Greeks will dice up a heart and kidneys to make a “mageritsa” soup and then fire rocket works at each other’s churches, all the while proclaiming that they are to be respected as a superior race, culture, and religion.

      Who’s kidding whom?

    2. You, as do many others, continue to look at the subject from the point of view of being a “Greek” school. Part of that problem is the school’s name, Hellenic College. That was a mistake from the get go. But there is a difference between that idea and one of a faith based college that would attract Orthodox youth, convert and cradle alike, Greek descent, Russian, etc. That might appeal to a broader constituency. There’s lots of money in the Greek American community but not the willingness to do it the right way. Lots of chiefs and no indians. Lots of what do I get out of it. Liberty University is a faith based, Evangelical school. Their mission is to take young people and give them a good education and instill in them a deep sense of the value of their faith so they will go out into society and be the best possible representatives of evangelical christianity regardless of the professional path they choose. Now, that’s a mission statement! But try selling that idea to Greeks. Unfortunately it is probably too late to change course.

  14. The CFO did nothing more than bail the ship.
    All actions come from the direction of the President . Firing the CFO as the fall guy, who has already left for health reasons, is worse than JOKE but truly a sin from these men of the cloth.
    Shame on them for not doing what is needed.
    They liable and negligent for this schools demise.

    1. The CFO had resigned last month, to be effective the first week of May,and he has signed on to be the CFO of a small start-up faith based college in Boston. It seems that any talk of illness is a purposeful misdirection. Look as well to the board of trustees. Today the members are mostly sycopant rubber stamp people for the Archbishop. He is ultimately responsible, along with trustees and the president. The finance committee of the board has long been absent from real oversight. Lots of people want to make the president the sole fall guy to keep attention from themselves. He is, no doubt, equally responsible. One of the least qualified leaders the school has ever had. But he serves at the pleasure of the archbishop, as do all the trustees and the archbishop has absolute decision making and veto power for all that has to do with the school. He deals with the school the same way he deals with all difficulties: sweep them under the rug, make no ripples in the pond, and maybe they will go away.

  15. The Archbishop asked the president to resign. He resigned today. Also. the Massachusetts board of higher education has notified the school it will pull accreditation. The CFO either knowingly or unknowingly gave false or misleading information to the board and when additional information was requested he ignored the request. Let’s see who the interim head of the school will be. And will the archbishop also be going so the new archbishop can deal with this mess and get a new president? Who knows what tomorrow will bring,,,,,

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