Letter from Athens: Greek Universities Striking Out – and with Pay

In the United States, college football is deep into its season, with the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays fast approaching. Students are busy studying, preparing for their lives and careers. Professors are preparing classes, giving lectures, setting up exams and holding students to the highest ideals of education that was once the province of Greek thought.

But not in Greece. The college year, which begins late anyway, hasn’t begun at all at eight universities because the administrative staff has been on strike for more than two months.

They’re not protesting a lack of resources, or equipment or the tools to do their jobs, but the impending transfer or firing of 1,300 staff under a government scheme being imposed on the orders of international lenders who rightly discovered there’s hundreds of thousands of needless workers on the public payroll.

Being a college professor or administrator in Greece is already a better job than playing center field for the New York Yankees when they were winning all those World Series before the Boston Red Sox turned up the heat in the last 10 years. Professors rarely have to teach or even show up, passing on the chores to graduate assistants and have more days off than on.

Greek universities aren’t run on merit but through party links; students are admitted with failing grades on their exams and allowed to stay until they’re pensioners without ever having to attend a class, and the diplomas aren’t as valuable as flushable baby wipes. It’s nice work, especially when you don’t have to do it.

So since the school year allegedly opened, the professors and administrators have simply just stayed home. And here’s the best part: they’re getting their full salaries. Why can’t we find jobs like that?

Who wouldn’t want to strike if you kept getting paid and there was no sign anyone was going to do anything about it. This is just another reason why Greek universities – in the country which began them thousands of years ago with Plato’s Academy and Socrates discourses in a more enlightened time – have such a dreadfully poor reputation.

It’s been almost a decade since the European Union told Greece to stop violating the common law and allow private universities to open but the government – tied to its political affiliations in the colleges – has ignored it, wanting to keep the status quo of ignorance.

If you have a degree from Princeton, you can’t be hired to be a civil servant in Greece because the country only recognizes degrees from its own schools, many of them useless havens for eternal students who never graduate and indifferent professors who don’t really teach.

It’s November and there hasn’t been a class in the striking schools with the holidays on the horizon, when the universities shut down for weeks – which means unless they reopen before that students who studied to get into the schools will go through 2013 without attending a class, further devaluing their confederate dollar diplomas.

Athens prosecutor Panayiota Fakou ordered a probe into allegations administrative staff at the University of Athens and the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA) were receiving full pay.

They are enjoying a long paid vacation although it’s hard to tell if they’re not working since they often don’t.

It’s obvious there are no logic professors. The administration leaders said the staff is being paid because the strike has shut down the payroll departments and workers there who are striking can’t be informed they aren’t working and so can’t dock themselves and other strikers.

It was not said if the free pay would continue uninterrupted or if the workers would be docked later retroactively. Striking workers in other sectors, such as teachers, lose pay for each day they don’t work although there have been reports that many workers declare themselves in a work action and not strikers so they can get paid to stay home and not work.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who earlier this year issued civil mobilization orders to force striking Metro and port workers to return to their jobs under the threat of arrest of being fired is letting the university officials stay on strike without taking any action.

A few years back a University of Athens professor said the school would rank in to 50 in the world. News flash: it wouldn’t rank in the top 50 HIGH SCHOOLS in the United States and students at Boston Latin and Boston Latin Academy get a better education.

The World University Rankings lists only one from Greece – the University of Crete, in the 301-350th slot – in the top 400, an ignominious showing for the country which created the whole concept of higher education and original thought that has been reduced to rote memorization in high schools and indifference in college.

Curiously, Greek students who delight in occupying high schools at the slightest whim, and without consequence, aren’t rebelling that their professors are staying home, forcing them to miss classes critical to their future. And apparently they don’t teach Socrates anymore or they’d know he said, “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”

There’s one way to get the professors and administrators back though: stop filling their vessel with cash and they’ll be back before you can say immobilization order. And that, as Arthur Spooner said, is how you learn.