University deans from all across Greece met in the northern city of Komotini last weekend to discuss the higher education bill. Fearful of an onslaught from leftist youth groups, they decided to convene at a local hotel rather than in any university boardroom. The usual scenes unfolded outside the hotel. Some hundred or more young protesters chanted slogans such as "We shall not succumb" and tried to smash through the police barricades.
Old news, so far. The only way for these groups to get any airtime on television is to put on a show that includes a clash with the riot police. What was out of the ordinary at the Komotini rally was that the leader of the mob accused the deans, on camera, of meeting outside the asylum area of university grounds.
Now this statement deserves some scrutiny. What exactly was this guy on about and where exactly is the sin in the deans meeting off campus?
For one thing, people are allowed to convene where and when they like. Whether it is within asylum areas or not, whether at a hotel or on a Himalayan peak. Of course, it is an embarrassment for Greece and its academic community that deans feel compelled to meet outside university grounds for fear of violence, but, unfortunately, this is something we have become accustomed to. The rule of law at universities comes from those who carry the wooden poles with the little red flags on top. The asylum of university grounds is being abused, as it is being used to undermine dean conferences and, in short, freedom of speech. All around the country, we are seeing such groups exercising their idea of the law, creating little pockets of lawlessness against a pseudo-ideological backdrop.
So here we are: Now the country's deans are being criticized for shunning the asylum enjoyed by these bullies. The latter are now in a position to lock the deans in if they should meet in a university hall or hold them hostage until they agree to the terms of the minority. It's like the gunslingers of Zoniana complaining about the Greek police choosing not to hold a conference in the mountains of Crete.
Violence from a minority of the student body is no longer the saddest thing about Greek universities. We are used to it. It is that we are witnessing the end of reason in the very bastions of reason. The revolutionary "reason" that presently dominates discourse at the country's universities makes dialogue impossible. Dialogue is being choked in the name of freedom of expression - either by violence or by sheer senselessness. And in the end, we no longer know which is worse.
KATHIMERINI English Edition, 05/03/2008