By Panagiotis Sotiris | Greek Left Review
Linda Katehi has come under the spotlight because of her role as Chancellor of UC Davis, her support of an openly corporate Higher Education and her stance regarding brutal police tactics against peaceful demonstrators at UC Davis. However, there is also another aspect of Linda Katehi’s politics that must be brought forward, namely her role in implementing neoliberal reforms in Greek Higher Education.
In September 2010 the Greek government announced the formation of an International Committee to asses the organization of Greek Universities. This was part of a broader attempt to reform Higher Education in Greece. Linda Katehi was put in charge of coordinating the committee. A subset of the committee including Chancellor Katehi, President Sexton, President Naylor, President Hernes and President Ritzen met in Greece on December 17, 2010 and participated in discussions with Minister Diamantopoulou, Deputy Minister Panaretos, Rectors and Vice Rectors of various Greek Universities, and representatives of political parties. The result was a Report that was made public in April 2011. In the summer of 2011 the Greek government proposed a new legislative framework for Higher Education, which was passed through parliament in late August, despite fierce opposition by students and Academics, including a strong condemnation by almost all Greek University Senates and the Council of Greek University Rectors.
The Committee was obviously dominated by academics who not only have openly endorsed the strategy of a neoliberal corporate University but also have been more than active in designing and implementing such strategies and corporate academic management practices. That is why the report states ‘entrepreneurship’ as a core value for Higher Education today.
The text of the Report itself reveals that the members of the Committee lack actual knowledge of Greek social and educational situation. In an almost neocolonial manner they simply repeat in their assessments the mythology of a backward Greece and they offer simplistic generalizations such as their opinion that ‘the Greek system of higher education is mired in the past – with structures and procedures that hamper the development of skill and talent’.
It is also interesting which problems of Greek Higher Education they choose to highlight. They strongly oppose student participation in University Senates and other governing bodies. For them this form of democratic student participation leads to ‘an imbalance of power and control on academic issues and decisions’. Moreover, they insist that ‘the politicization of the campuses – and specifically the politicization of students – represents a beyond-reasonable involvement in the political process.’ It is obvious that they endorse an authoritarian form of Higher Education without democratic procedure and participation and without strong and politicized student and faculty movements. This also evident in the way they treat the ‘university asylum’, the ban against forces of order to enter University buildings and campuses without prior invitation by University authorities. They state that Greek Universities ‘are not secure’, because of the actions of ‘elements that seek political instability’. It is obvious that this refers to radical student and social movements, which are being presented as a security threat.
Regarding the quality of Greek Higher Education the committee states problems such as high unemployment rate for university graduates, low graduation rates and an inability to have quantitative indicators for goals achieved. However, there is no reference to the problem of chronic lack of funding and infrastructure, or to the fact that high unemployment is not the result of low quality, but of the very strategy of a flexible labor markets and precarization of labor, a strategy that is now combined with economic recession that has led to the extreme rise in youth unemployment rates.
The suggestions and proposals of the Committee represent the basic aspects of the current neoliberal and corporate agenda for Higher Education. They insist on dismantling all forms of democratic participation and propose the full introduction of academic management practices. For them a University should be ‘managed and overseen by an appointed, independent Board of Overseers’. University rectors, vice-rectors, department heads and other academic administrators should not be democratically elected by all members of the academic community (faculty members, students, administrative and technical staff) but ‘chosen by dedicated search committees’. Faculty appointments and promotions should not be the result of collective decisions at the department level, but should be put under the ‘review and final approval by the President (Rector)’. Universities must fully endorse the logic of ‘measuring performance’ and ‘should acquire information technology tools and develop policies and processes which allow them to annually measure the output parameters and assess the effectiveness of their operation.’ It is worth noting that this conception of quantifiable performance indicators can only lead to the chronic lack of funding for theoretical sciences, humanities and social sciences and to the full hegemony of a business culture within Universities.
University degrees ‘should be accredited by an appropriate accreditation board regularly’, in line with the broader ‘Bologna Process’ policies in Europe that insist that university degrees should be accredited by external boards, based upon their academic ‘competitiveness’. Contrary to the strong support in Greece in favor of a Public Higher Education, funded by public funds and not tuition fees, they propose that in the name of ‘University autonomy’ Universities must be able to seek private funding or introduce tuition fees even at undergraduate level (till now only some post-graduate courses require tuition): ‘Each institution must be able to manage and support its choices and identify additional resources that will help the institution in achieving its goals.’ Finally, they propose the introduction of two-year Regional Colleges, as vocational institutions, according to the example of Community Colleges in the US. What is important is that they want these to replace a large number of departments in Universities and Technical Higher Education Institutions that offer full academic courses and degrees.
Although the committee was initially presented as highly instrumental in the whole process of reforming Higher Education in Greece, it mainly acted as an ideological pressure to offer extra ‘international’ legitimacy to policies that were already underway in Greece. A group of academics and ‘advisors’ within the Greek Ministry of Education had already started preparing draft proposals for the new Law, which were first presented in autumn 2010. However, the final text of the Law passed in August 2011 reflects the proposals by the Committee. The university asylum has been fully abolished and we have already had the first cases of riot police storming university premises. Although University Senates remain in place, the main ruling body in every Greek University is going to be a ‘Directing Board’ comprised by academics but also external members and representatives of the world of business. This board is going to be responsible for all major policy decisions, including the selection of potential Rectors and Deans. Student and academic participation is drastically limited. Many university departments face closure in what is described as a process of ‘reorganization’ of Higher Education, but also in the name of budget cuts and austerity policies. Faculty promotion and tenure is going to become more difficult.
Student unions, faculty unions and even the Council of University Rectors, a traditionally conservative organization, have condemned the new law, considering it an authoritarian undermining of university autonomy and democratic participation and an attempt at dismantling public higher education.
Currently the battle against the implementation of the new Law is still being waged within Greek Universities. There was a wave of student occupations faculty strikes in September and we are at the moment trying to make sure that elections for the new ‘Directing Boards’ do not take place. Contrary to what Linda Katehi and the other members of the committee think, and contrary to the dominant policies in Greece and the EU, Higher Education is still considered a public good in Greece and there is strong support of public, democratic universities oriented towards the needs of society and not corporations and private businesses.
For anyone familiar with the debate regarding Greek Higher Education Reform, the authoritarian turn seems only natural. Neoliberal supporters of the entrepreneurial university always considered the strong radical and militant tradition of the student movement in Greece the main challenge to their plans. That is why they tend to endorse disciplinary practices and police brutality. The ideal of a truly public university includes the right to collective action and the need for strong social movements, both inside and outside academia. On the contrary, within the Entrepreneurial Higher Education, the pepper-spraying of peaceful protestors is not going to be the exemption but the rule. However, collective action, solidarity and mass mobilization can always change things. This has been the lesson and experience of student and university movements in Greece and we will do whatever is necessary to make sure that in the end we will be able to defend public Higher Education, against Linda Katehi and her colleagues’ vision of an authoritarian entrepreneurial university.
Panayiotis Sotiris is a professor at the department of Sociology – University of the Aegean