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George Cantonis, President of HC/HC Speaks to TNH

BOSTON – The two million euro grant from the Greek government to the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology served “to reduce endowment debt, a most critical need” that changed the image and the status of the School and had the positive effect of securing its academic accreditation.

The annual grant of Greece to the Theological School was secured by Antonis Diamataris, the Former Deputy Foreign Minister with Responsibility for Hellenism Abroad and the Orthodox Churches in Diaspora and it was announced to Archbishop Elpidophoros by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Part of the grant was used for the advancement of Greek Cultural Programs.

In an interview with The National Herald President of Hellenic College-Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology George Cantonis spoke about how the first installment of the annual grants was utilized. He also spoke about the reaccreditation of the School as well as the general reorganization that has been undertaken thus far. He also analyzed the priorities set for the coming months and years.

Cantonis verified the information reported by TNH that he does not receive any salary from the School, and that he is not even reimbursed for his travel expenses. He declined to answer about the lawsuits by two former professors, Dr. Holmberg and Fr. Clapsis, because he could not comment on “the ongoing litigation.”

Cantonis also did not comment about the letters written in favor of Dr. Holmberg and against the School by Metropolitan Methodios and Fr. Thomas FitzGerald, who continues to teach at the School. Holmberg has included those letters to support her lawsuit against the School.

The entire interview has follows:

The National Herald: How do you feel about the decision of the academic agencies to reaffirm the accreditation of Hellenic College?

George Cantonis: My reaction was complicated, I must admit. I was filled with joy, enormously relieved, grateful for all the work of so many at the School necessary to accomplish this feat, thankful for the support for our efforts that we received from faculty, staff, board, His Eminence our board chair, Fr. Jon Magoulias our board vice chair, our many Orthodox support organizations and donors, and our alumni.

We are so very blessed to have unified support from all of these constituencies. Without that support I don’t see how we could have been successful.

TNH: Did you expect their decision to come so quickly, a day after meeting with them?

GC: I had been told by the President of NECHE that I would receive verbal notification from him of their decision within 24 hours of the meeting. It is important to note that they had received an extensive report from us,15 pages of narrative and 12 pages of graphs and financials, nearly three weeks prior to the meeting for their review and study.

However, that they decided to remove us from probation at this meeting did come as a surprise. We received notice of probation the day I became president December 10, 2019. Probation under current rules can last four years. Over the past 14 months, NECHE had reviewed us twice prior to this meeting but this was our first formal defense regarding probation. I and my leadership team believed that they would acknowledge our progress, endorse our plans, and continue probation a while longer awaiting more concrete accomplishments. Clearly, however, they felt confident enough in our current plans and progress to date, and the change in institutional culture that they took action now.

TNH: Where do we go from here?

GC: We have an enormous amount of work to do. That the onerous label of ‘probation’ had been removed from us does not eliminate the responsibility we have to execute the plans we have presented to improve our present and accomplish our future goals.

Fulfillment of our plans must become a reality. Further, the culture change I noted earlier must become well-rooted. And that is a culture of continuous improvement, which requires systems of review, assessment, and change.

TNH: Would you tell us some of your priorities for the next few months and years?

GC: First, complete and implement our draft strategic plan which will institutionalize innovation in our academic programs, and greater accountability and transparency well into our future. We must ensure that we have the best Orthodox Theological degrees and programs in the world and that we reach all corners of the globe through online education.

Second, ensure that our spiritual environment matures and reflects who we are as an institution of the Church accountable to God.

And, third, continue to improve our financial position through budgeting, fiscal discipline, debt elimination, and evaluations of additional revenue streams. Our goals being to develop a tradition of annual surpluses and solid recurring revenue to fund sustained and steady growth so that our programs and students flourish.

TNH: How does the School utilize the two million euro Greece has donated? I understand that two million euro donations will be given to the School every year.

GC: We are enormously thankful for the generosity of the Republic of Greece, and for their recognition of the importance of Hellenic College-Holy Cross in preserving and advancing Hellenism in the United States today. We must thank specifically both our Archbishop and the prime mister of Greece, Mr. Mitsotakis, for making this gift a reality.

The gift of 2.0 mil Euro, or $2,388,000, were used as follows: $2,300,000 to reduce endowment debt, a most critical need, and $88,000 to help fund cultural events, sponsored by the School that advance Hellenism at the Maliotis Center. If we were to be blessed with additional gifts in the future we would evaluate needs at that time.

TNH: What is going on with the lawsuits by former professors Clapsis and Holmberg? Would you inform our Church and Community in America?

GC: With advice of counsel we cannot comment on any issues that deal with ongoing litigation.

TNH: How do you explain the letters written by Metropolitan Methodios and Fr. FitzGerald about Holmberg who uses them (the letters) to support her lawsuit against the School?  

GC: I cannot comment on the issue of tenure as it relates to our ongoing litigation.

TNH: Do you think that the School should stop giving tenure to clergy professors from now on in light of Fr. Clapsis’ lawsuit against the School and consequently against the Archbishop, who is the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, and the Church as a matter of fact since the School is affiliated with the Church? 

GC: However, generally, the subject of tenure is one very much at the center of discussion in higher education. The question of whether it is the most appropriate means of protecting faculty in these changing economic times must be balanced against the possible need to offer it as a benefit to either retain good faculty or induce good faculty to join us, particularly if they have that benefit currently.

It is a complicated subject and one that will be addressed by the Board with input by the deans and faculty.

TNH: Is it true that you don’t get a salary as President, not even your travel expenses?

GC: I have not been drawing a salary because I did not feel that HCHC was in a financial position to provide one.

TNH: How is the economic situation of the School at this moment given the pandemic difficulties in general?

GC: The economic situation is solid because we have maintained a balanced budget and positive cash flow. This has been accomplished with strict adherence to financial planning.

TNH: If you had a message for the hierarchs, the priests, the parish council presidents and members, to businessmen, the congregants of the parishes of the Archdiocese and the Greek American Community what that message would be?

GC: Hellenic College Holy Cross has well commenced enormous changes through a strategic plan focused on: Financial responsibility and accountability; Organizational transparency and accountability; Academic excellence through continuous assessment.

The progress we have made to date, enormous progress in just 14 months, is due to the nearly universal support that we have received from our constituencies.

As our progress accelerates we need that support to accelerate apace. We have accomplished much with that support. We can accomplish and must accomplish more. And we need your additional support to do so.

We are an instruction of the faithful. To flourish we need the support of the faithful.

TNH: Where do you envision the School to be five years from now?

GC: I see: A School of Theology known internationally for its academic strength and for its outstanding preparation of young men for priesthood; a college known for the breadth and depth of its offerings within an Orthodox framework; a Cultural Center and environment that has advanced Hellenism through development and presentation with not only local and regional but national impact – all within a financially secure and sustainable environment, and with a constant view to the ever-changing needs of our faith in our challenging culture.

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