A group of five well-known academics and politicians have written an open letter calling for the end of university asylum, which New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis – who all polls indicate will win the 7 July general election by a large margin – has said he will abolish anyway.
The letter is signed by Sorbonne Professor Emerita of Byzantine History and ex-Paris 1 rector Helene Ahrweiler, University of Athens Professor Emeritus of Political History Thanos Veremis, former education ministers Anna Diamantopoulou (Pasok) and Marietta Giannakou (New Democracy), and Nikiforos Diamantouros, a political scientist who was a two-term European Ombudsman and is a member of the Academy of Athens.
The university asylum system was first passed into law in 1982 under Andreas Papandreou and was intended to ensure academic freedom from state or other interventions after the junta, which in 1973 sent to the Athens Polytechnic an army tank that smashed through the steel gate to stamp out a student uprising. There were many dead in the junta crackdown.
The current asylum law forbids police or other organs of the state from entering campuses without the express permission of rectors and university assemblies.
Critics charge that the law has been exploited by groups of students and anarchists who use campuses as an operational base to make Molotov cocktails to be used against police during anarchist forays.
They also point to physical attacks against professors, the destruction of university property, and the fact that drug dealers on campuses also use the law as a shield for lawlessness.
The letter appears intended to prepare the public for Mitsotakis’ abolition of the asylum institution, which he has said he will do at the start of his administration.
The full text of the open letter is as follows:
“Tolerance has become guilt. It is impermissible for a well-governed state to tolerate violence, arbitrary actions, and threats unleashed and followed up on by unimpeded students, assisted by extra-university anarchists, against professors and teaching staff.
As the very least we shall remind you of the cowardly attack against Panteion University Professor Angelos Syrigos and more recently against Capodistrian University of Athens Professor Maria Efthimiou.
It is also well known that there have been many unprecedented and unacceptable incidents of impeding academic institutions and of unabashed destruction of scientific equipment.
This sorry state has been experienced by almost all tertiary education institutions in the country without any effective official reaction [by authorities,” the letter states.
Those breaking the law are ignorant of the fact that the privilege of university asylum which they invoke to cover every violation of the law does not pertain to university students, nor does it protect improper behaviour on university campuses.
Asylum was instituted at the beginning of the Renaissance in order to allow professors absolute freedom in choosing the curriculum and to preclude any ecclesiastical or political intervention and involvement.”
“It is time to abolish today’s improperly understood asylum in order for our universities to find their pace toward the unhindered dissemination of knowledge and the conducting of research.
In our day, civilisation is measured by the quality of each country’s universities, and that quality presupposes respect and good relations with the society that creates and sustains them. The greatest wealth is to share knowledge, just as one shares one’s bread. Whoever hinders the creation and sharing of the knowledge produced in universities is a dangerous enemy of civilisation,” the letter concludes.