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Letter from Athens: We Don’t Need No Education: Greek Universities’ Fight Song

January 23, 2022

Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame? On Wisconsin? Fight On, Southern California? Bow Down to Washington? Boomer Sooner, Oklahoma? Michigan’s The Victors? Boolah-Boolah? Fight Fiercely, Harvard?

Those American college fight songs have nothing on that of the University of Athens, or  the Athens University of Economics and Business (AUEB), and Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, and just about every other Greek college.

Those schools have One Less Brick in the Wall because they were torn off by anarchists who used to invade campuses to get weapons to toss at riot police, or they were taken by agitators who want to build squats and hideouts or by students with nothing to do.

We don’t need no education

We don’t need no thought control

No dark sarcasm in the classroom

Teachers, leave them kids alone

Hey, Teachers, leave those kids alone

And that’s what teachers did – and governments too – and police, until New Democracy ended asylum on campuses that had become sanctuaries for criminals, drug dealers, and students who don’t have to graduate or even go to class.

With so much time to fill, a minority of them – avoided by the majority and fearful professors and cowering officials – vandalized property, wrote graffiti (probably misspelled) on the walls, or smashed through to make their own little space.

If you check the list of the world’s top universities you’ll have to go very far down toward the bottom, in agate font, to find any in Greece considered worthy of attending, although the great part is that you can run amok without punishment, and take over buildings and classrooms. Hey, I’m late for Occupation 101!

It’s not just that governments and university rectors and officials look the other way to let students run the asylum, but that also allowed is the wanton destruction of property that makes alleged colleges look like abandoned tenement buildings.

Worse is the damage done to the many accomplished academics and professors struggling to actually teach critical thinking to students – half of whom never graduate – and in Blackboard Jungle-like conditions.

Athens Law School Professor Lena Divani gave up trying to teach law in a lawless atmosphere and quit, firing a vicious shot at school officials and included every government and whimpering Prime Minister until now.

She quit on Facebook, so apropos in the age of social media, quoting Yeats’ Second Coming as reminding her of what the so-called university had become, that “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
Yes, except for studying and so, as the poet said, “The center cannot hold,” and she didn’t want to be part of the widening gyre, the chaos that has descended on Greek universities that have become thoughtless centers of nothingness.

Her post had a photo of a university corridor, with hate slogans spray-painted on the walls, broken tables, rubbish and a locked, a dilapidated wooden double door that might as well open to hell – or maybe there are Eternal Students on the other side.

European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas, a New Democracy veteran who was a student at Aristotle University in the 1980s, lamented what Greek universities had become as Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he would  go after lawbreakers and students allowed to stay in school after damaging property.

“I would like Greek universities to draw attention for the quality of their educators, their students and their contribution in the areas of research,” Greece’s state-run Athens-Macedonian News Agency quoted Schinas as saying.

Schinas, whose duties include European Union educational policy, pointed to another graduate of Aristotle University, Pfizer pharmaceutical company CEO Albert Bourla, whose drive produced the first COVID vaccines, saving lives.

Bourla, whose parents were Sephardi Jews, was born in Thessaloniki and became a veterinarian. He headed Pfizer’s animal health division before going to the United States in 2001 and reached the pinnacle of his profession.

“I would like Greek universities to continue producing people like Albert Bourla, the President of Pfizer, for example, rather than people who destroy university equipment,” said Schinas.

Bourla got his doctorate in biotechnology from Aristotle, where occupiers built a squat in 1984 and were allowed to live there until Mitsotakis sent in the cops to boot them – over the protest of some students.

Bourla won the prestigious $1 million Genesis Prize for his efforts in leading the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, an honor given annually for professional achievements, contributions to humanity, and commitment to Jewish values.

Mitsotakis – who went to elite schools including the private Athens College and Harvard and Stanford – never had to be inside a Greek public university where chaos is a major subject apparently required of almost all.

But, as the saying goes, you don’t have to be a chicken to know a rotten egg when you see one, and after his government ended asylum on the college grounds, some 400 unarmed campus cops are now being trained.

They will be deployed to do what university officials didn’t want, have law and order and decorum, but you can count on likely violent protests against them, as has already been seen against even the idea of policing universities.

Mitsotakis said school rectors “have an obligation to the institutions they serve, to cooperate with the state so these phenomena end, once and for all.”

Don’t fight it fiercely.

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