The dean and the doily, a Greek farce

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Yale University President Richard Levin gave a very interesting interview to the Greek press on Tuesday, during which he explained the necessity for globalizing the education sector.

Levin said educational institutions must change their curricula to reflect the changes in the world today, while also increasing the number of students traveling abroad and encouraging scientific exchanges. The head of the prestigious university also said that students today have a much better sense of what is going on in the world.

Now, we don't know what students are doing in other countries, but here in Greece they spend their time counting the notice boards at the university and God forbid should one be missing. This mobilizes them. Drives them to lay siege to the dean's office and take hostages. One group of students responded to a decision by the dean of the Athens University of Economics and Business (AUEB) to ban notice boards bearing political posters by giving him a taste of his own medicine: They symbolically seized a computer printer and screen, a coffee pot, a vase, an ashtray and a doily from the dean's office. While the AUEB students were making a point by stealing their dean's doily, Levin was explaining how he succeeded in securing funding worth $1.7 billion and investing $2 billion in the university's infrastructure. He was talking about Yale University's international scholarship program, which is responsible for training future executives from every corner of the globe. He explained that new technologies such as video links allowed students from China and Greece to attend classes at the renowned university. Young Greeks can therefore study at universities abroad without having to move, but meanwhile in Greece we will still be debating whether or not to change Article 16. And if someone were to suggest change, then the students can teach him/her a lesson or two by pinching their vase.

Levin went on to say that every 10 years American universities bring in experts to assess their curricula in detail. Their findings serve as a basis for their further development, he said, adding that state universities need to seek private funding.

This is the advice of the president of a university that has been among the top 10 in the world for years. Our university - widely regarded as one of the country's finest - is not focusing on adapting to changing conditions because its dean is too busy guarding his office. Instead of trying to secure research grants, he is looking for his computer screen and printer.

There is only one conclusion to be drawn from the AUEB farce. University asylum does not protect the free movement of ideas within university walls. It is more like the asylum is protecting universities from the threat of new ideas finding their way in.

KATHIMERINI English Edition, 09/05/2008