I believe the time has come to rethink the purpose and social impact of Hellenic College. It was established by Archbishop Iakovos as a first-class independent undergraduate school that functioned in association with Holy Cross Seminary. My thoughts are not an implied criticism of the present or past leadership of the college. I simply wish to apply the realities of 2021 to an institution that has never met the expectations of its founders.
Iakovos imagined a college that would be an intellectual peer of the best American undergraduate colleges. Instead, more than fifty years since its founding with annual costs in the millions, Hellenic College has been chronically faced with losing its academic accreditation. The annual combined enrollment at Hellenic College and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology has averaged two hundred. That number is not likely to improve in quantity or quality.
A 2021 high school graduate with an interest in science, medicine, engineering or artificial intelligence or space technology will want to go to an elite college that will make getting into an appropriate graduate school more probable. A graduate seeking a career orientated in the humanities has excellent state colleges to choose from, a number of which offer Greek studies as a minor. Graduates with academic weaknesses can go to a two-year community college which has the resources to prepare them for junior and senior years at a state college. The needs of such potential students are not met by Hellenic College.
Given these existential realities, I propose closing Hellenic College and reconstituting it as The American Center of Hellenic Studies. Its twofold mission would be to promote scholars of Hellenism and to enhance the Hellenic sensibilities of Greek Americans and Phil-Hellenes. All projects of the center would be preserved on video, making the Center’s work available to the million plus Greeks in the United States rather than a few hundred students and those able to attend conferences.
The technology and sensibilities such a Center could provide are manifold. I will suggest a few, not as a program, but to foster thinking. A highly ambitious project could be composed of 1-1/2 hour lectures that begin with study of the ancients and chronologically continue to modern times. The series would likely take a year or more to complete, but once done, it would be the finest history available in English, invaluable to anyone researching a specific era’s Hellenic culture or Hellenic culture as a historical force
Hour long presentations by authors of new books and commentators on some current ongoing topic could augment the comprehensive history series. Topics could include music, dance, cinema, poetry, and the visual arts. Updates on books useful to children learning Greek, Greek cooking shows and discussion of Greek wines also have their place. Other topics could be exploring ethnic minorities in Greece such as Jews, gypsies, Vlachs, and Muslims. Another set of lectures would deal with topics as varied as sexuality, patriarchy, and authoritarianism.
In due course the Center could revive the annual book fairs that were so well-attended at the end of the last century. Even more ambitions would be to work with a bookseller to make all Greek-centered books easily available and perhaps give discounts for expensive hardback library additions and books published abroad.
The Center would hire a small group of scholars whose major responsivity, would be to mount at least one annual scholarly conference that could be open-ended or focus on a particular problem. Although the Modern Greek Studies Association mounts a conference biannually, no annual conference currently exists.
The Center scholars could present lectures and arrange for guest speakers. Scholars could be further aided by hour-long talks by editors of journals, and book publishers of Hellenic material about what they are looking for and their editorial criteria. There could also be presentation by scholars of other ethnic diasporas on the problems in their communities face. Productive joint projects might be initiated with scholars whose cultures significantly interacted with Greece. Italy is the most promising in that regard given the continued Greek presence in southeastern Italy and the influence of Venetian culture on Greek islands and select regions. Yet another area would be to hear from scholars working in diaspora communities in countries such as Australia, Canada and the UK.
My comments here refer only to Hellenic College, not Holy Cross seminary. I must restate that my purpose is to stimulate thinking on how to use the fabulous technology of our era to fulfill the original desire to establish a prized national educational institution espousing the Hellenic world view.
We Greek Americans tend to treat our culture as a museum piece and clutter its significance with self-serving mythology and stereotypes. We need to curb that habit and look forward rather than backward. An American Center for Hellenic Studies would be an invaluable mechanism to aid us to continue to thrive as a vital ethnic entity.