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La Trobe's intentions over modern Greek in doubt

Almost 12 months since the head of the Modern Greek Studies Program Dr Maria Herodotou announced her impending retirement, the position remains vacant and unadvertised, calling into question La Trobe University's plans for the future of the program

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Maria Herodotou.

08 December 2017

Sources at La Trobe University have revealed the Modern Greek Studies Program may once again be in a precarious position, similar to that of 2011 - a particularly worrying prospect given it is the only complete university-level degree program left in Victoria.
With the academic year having drawn to a close, significantly adding to the unease is the unresolved matter of finding a replacement for the retiring head of the program, Dr Maria Herodotou.

In October, head of the Department of Languages and Linguistics Professor James Walker told Neos Kosmos that the university had decided to employee a full-time staff member but were waiting on approval to start the recruitment process, which he said would be commencing in two to three weeks' time.

Some six weeks on however, and with little time left for a new employee responsible for the program to be appointed, sources who requested to remain anonymous told Neos Kosmos that the university had put a hold on the recruitment of 'new positions' and that their intention was more than likely for the position to become part-time.

It is clear that the position of Dr Herodotou is not a new one, so the freeze should not apply in this case.
In a recent meeting between Pro Vice-Chancellor (Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce) Professor Anthony McGrew and the board of the Greek Community of Melbourne, circulating rumours gained even more ground. The Vice-Chancellor appeared cautiously optimistic that Dr Herodotou's position would eventually be advertised and said that he could not commit to a particular time frame as there was uncertainty regarding university funding.

Meanwhile considering the position is the only full-time role in the department since 2011 when La Trobe made cuts, and that in 2017 there were a total of 140 undergraduate and post-graduate students enrolled in Modern Greek, if the hours of the position are reduced, there is no denying it would have dire consequences.

Already understaffed, denying the program the staffing required to ensure its progress would no doubt see the failure of its growth and continued success into the future.

In order to find out once again what the university plans for the program and to clarify if the rumours are true we tried to speak to the people in the decision-making process.

It is interesting to note that while staff had up until recently been willing to communicate directly with Neos Kosmos, when we attempted to make contact with Professor McGrew – who was preparing to travel abroad – and the university's Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Higher Education, Professor Kerri-Lee Krause, who is one of the executives involved in decision-making, we were referred to the university's media officers.
They responded to our questions as follows:

"When Professor Tony McGrew last spoke to representatives of the Greek Community in October he made it clear that staffing decisions would not be made until January. That remains the case," said La Trobe's director of Media and Communications Tim Mitchell.

"La Trobe University remains committed to teaching Modern Greek. There are currently 11 subjects offered here at La Trobe University. Modern Greek is offered in a minor in the BA.

"We will recruit staff to teach students in 2018, using funds allocated for this purpose.

There's currently low interest in the modern Greek program. There are 17 EFTSL enrolments (EFSTL stands for effective full-time student load, a bit like full-time equivalent - FTE).

"We're committed to working with the community to find ways to help make that grow, but can only enrol those who apply."

While 17 EFTSL enrolments (which means 50 in reality) is certainly a small number, it does not give a complete picture of the total number of students participating in the program given that it does not include first-year student enrolments from La Trobe or that of students from other Melbourne universities choosing to take up the elective, which will be submitted in January.

By failing to take such considerations into account in their response, it comes as little surprise that the university is choosing to present the program as being no longer economically viable – a fractured argument at present given that for some years now the Vasilogiannakopoulos bequest has donated approximately $1.3 million exclusively towards La Trobe's Modern Greek Studies Program, capital that remain untouched in the university's coffers.
Despite being asked about whether these funds would be invested into filling Dr Herodotou's position, and if not, what they planned to do with the money, they failed to respond.

As for the cooperation between La Trobe and the Greek community, we sincerely hope that this collaboration will become a feasible and meaningful one that goes beyond the meeting phase. However this will require transparency from all sides and the pursuit of a common goal. Until this is achieved - and we hope it will be soon - we will continue to ask for answers to the difficult questions and expect the return of Professor McGrew to Australia, who will hopefully be willing to shed more light on the university's plans. Monash University and RMIT University also offer Modern Greek units in Melbourne.

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