WILLIAMSBURG, VA – Recently selected as Provost of William & Mary University in Williamsburg on April 23, Dr. Peggy Agouris, an award-winning scholar and researcher and dean of the College of Science at George Mason University, spoke with The National Herald in an exclusive interview. Among other things, she noted that Greek scientists abroad are willing to contribute to “the progress of our country,” – Greece – but they encounter “unsurpassed obstacles” to their participation.
Dr. Agouris was particularly open about the phenomenon of Greece’s brain drain, saying that it was largely due to “the country’s unwillingness to constructively exploit the enormous intellectual potential it produces.”
TNH: What does your selection as Provost of such an important university mean for you?
Dr. Peggy Agouris: Of course, I feel joy because I am given the opportunity to lead the academic nucleus of such a historic and distinguished university. My new duties include not only broad management activities but also multifaceted responsibilities for strategic planning, programming development, and learning and research linking in order to maintain the high educational quality of the offered studies. I will also try to support and promote new ideas and interdisciplinary fields, as well as innovative research projects, as openly and globally as possible, and especially with attention to the needs and potential of the University’s significant human resources.
TNH: Can your success be an example for Greek scientists studying or working abroad?
PA: The overwhelming majority of Greek scholars abroad have already excelled as students and as workers for many years and they are all proud of us. My career so far is not unique or unusual. There are dozens of Greek academics who have occupied the highest positions (presidents, vice-presidents, deans) in the best universities in the world and I especially appreciate that you include me among them. My message to all Greek scientists abroad is simply to continue with enthusiasm the course that has already begun, to remain optimistic and open-minded, and always to be inspired by the better features of our Greekness.
TNH: What can eminent scientists, Greeks abroad, contribute to Greece and the Greek reality?
PA: I am sure that all Greek scientists inside and outside Greece, in addition to our personal contacts, partnerships and initiatives, have the intention and the will to contribute more systematically and in a more organized way to the progress of our country as we have been asked to do. But what we have to ask is whether Greece is willing to accept our contribution, and how…unfortunately the obstacles to our participation in the country’s development remain. A commendable effort that I and many other colleagues are very happy with is the activities of the Authority for the Quality Assurance of University Education (ADIP), which is responsible for the external evaluation of Greek universities. ADIP has established a register of experts (mainly foreign teachers) and establishes committees specific to each scientific field for the purpose of evaluating Greek academic units. This effort, which has been launched for several years, is an excellent example of how Greek scientists from abroad could contribute to the progress of Greece, with the potential to be applied not only to higher education but also to other places. Unfortunately, apart from ADIP, I have not seen any other similar systematic initiative so far.
TNH: What is your view about the infamous brain drain?
PA: The brain drain is a reality that has existed for many years and is not a recent event as it has been wrongly presented. It is due not only to the financial difficulties faced by Greece in recent years but to a large extent to the country’s unwillingness to constructively exploit the enormous intellectual potential it produces. Thus, as a result, the majority of those who have the qualifications and opportunities to leave Greece do so without hesitation, and most of the time their success abroad vindicates them completely. This is a huge loss for Greece with repercussions that have already mortgaged the country’s future for many more years.
TNH: What is your relationship with the Greek community in the United States?
PA: To be honest, I have not developed a special relationship with the organized community of the United States, though I would like it. I have many good friends on a personal level, but when I asked for the help of the Greek Embassy to get informed and to participate more in organized activities, there was no response. I am, however, watching and I am particularly pleased with the successes of the Greek-American community and the remarkable efforts made to preserve the Hellenism of the Greeks living abroad and maintain the connection with the homeland.
TNH: Could you compare the Greek educational system with the corresponding American one?
PA: The biggest difference I see between the Greek and the American education system is that while in the United State the course of students to universities and the completion of learning is a marathon, in Greece it is a sprint, with the sole purpose of passing the Panhellenic exam that grants admission to universities. In particular, in the United States the choice of school is based on the pupils’ overall (multiannual) performance during their schooling as well as their non-classroom activities (music, sports, volunteering). Thus, universities acquire a complete picture of the student’s personality and students have the ability to build a multifaceted and deeper knowledge. In Greece, on the other hand, the student’s effort focuses on the last grade and the candidate ends up being judged by his performance in 4-5 courses at a specific time. This way of evaluating does not allow Greek universities to admit well-rounded students and is unfair to students who have established a steady and remarkable record in and out of the classroom throughout their schooling.
Dr. Agouris also serves as the director of the Center for Earth Observing and Space Research at George Mason, and is an expert in digital image processing and analysis, remote sensing and geospatial information systems. She was born in Athens and studied at the National Technical University of Athens and Ohio State University. Her family is from Kalavrita on her father’s side and from Lamia and Larissa on her mother’s side. She and husband, Tony, who is a professor at the same university, have a teenaged daughter, Chloe, a high school student. Chloe, though born and raised in the U.S., speaks Greek very well.