The ways in which you can support the continuation of Greek at La Trobe by 25 November:
The proposal to terminate Modern Greek language studies at La Trobe University, the only such programme of its type in Victoria, has caused disbelief in the Greek community of Melbourne.
More than 50 leaders from community groups attended an urgent meeting for the future of the programme on Monday night to decide the best way to move forward ahead of a meeting between a committee with La Trobe University’s leadership to take place this Friday. The meeting was attended by representatives from a cross-section of Greek community groups in Melbourne, including church leaders, members of NUGAS, the Pontian Genocide Committee, AHEPA, the Food for Thought Organisation, the Pan-Macedonian Association of Melbourne and Victoria, the Greek Australian Cultural League of Melbourne, FECCA, media groups and many more representatives as well as Kat Theophanous MP and newly-elected councillor Emily Dimitriadis.
The purpose of the gathering, chaired by Greek Community of Melbourne (GCM) President Bill Papastergiadis, was to work together – ‘όλοι μαζί’ – in a co-ordinated approach to convince the leadership of the university of the necessity of the programme and mobilise government to take action in keeping Greek studies alive at La Trobe University.
“How can we convince the dean that it has a broader relevance economically, socially and politically within Victoria?” Mr Papastergiadis asked.
“The Greek language industry contributes many millions of dollars annually and that is a matter we must stress. It improves our state, Australia and in education affects 10,000 primary and secondary students which is a 20 million dollar exercise. If the university talks about numbers and what Greek studies offer to wider society, then it is a multi-million dollar exercise,” Mr Papastergiadis said. “It provides a lot of services in our society from teaching, student operations, aged care, Fronditha, Agapi, Pronia, social services, translation… It’s not something we need just to learn our language but plays a huge role in our society and community. There is nothing on a par with it. The programme has a fantastic outreach through its engagement with various groups in the community.”
Furthermore, Mr Papastergiadis said that the committee created at Monday’s meeting would look at funding too though he does not think the university’s thoughts of ending the Greek language are just about funding despite a generic response sent by La Trobe to questions by Neos Kosmos on Friday which stated: “These changes are part of the University’s response to the profound financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the University. The University faces a significant revenue loss, largely caused by the significant drop in international student enrolment because of international border closures. The University’s two-year (2020 and 2021) revenue shortfall forecast is between $265m – $335m.”
Mr Papastergiadis disagrees. “From what I understand, there are grants covering at least half of what our programme needs,” he said, pointing instead to the decision being linked to “ideology” and the university’s vision for the future.
Dr Stephie Nikoloudis, the current coordinator of the programme, was present at the meeting and welcomed the solidarity shown by the entire Greek community which has rallied beside her since the announcement for the consultation process was made.
“We feel your support. I’ve never seen our community so united, and this gives us hope that something will be done,” she said.
“Over the past three years, we’ve actually seen an increase in our student numbers. In March 2018 we had 28 students, this increased to 40 students (in 2019) and 48 students at the beginning of this year. We also, very importantly, have post-graduate students. We have an honours student on the pathway to postgraduate studies. One masters looking at Greek language learning and teaching in Australia and a PhD working on Greek-Turkish relations.”
Dr Nikoloudis spoke of how the government gives money to institutions for their post-graduate students once their studies are complete, she spoke of the two external funds from Melbourne university and the Vasilogiannis bequest as well as the generosity of individuals in the community, such as the Fifis Honours Prize for excellence in Greek studies.
Greece’s Consul-General to Melbourne Dimitris Michalopoulos said that a seconded teacher from the Greek Ministry of Education is placed at the university. In addition to this, GCM Vice President Theo Markos said that in the past the Greek government had offered funds for the programme, and that should not be ignored.
Father Evmenios from the Greek Orthodox Church said “together we have more strength” and pointed to the consequences of the loss of the programme with huge implications for the Greek community.
George Zangalis, Vice President of the Fair Go For Pensioners Coalition, founding member for FECCA and ECCV, said that the deprivation of the language is a “form of racism”, and he pointed on the consequences which the termination of the programme would have and said giving the community only 15 days to make its case was also a form of “intimidation”.
The importance of taking action to show how important the programme is to our community was agreed to by all. Ms Theophanous pledged her “full support” in pushing for this issue and said she would do all she can to draw attention to the problems caused by the possible termination of the programme. “It is a non-brainer to me that having this language course at a tertiary level is of value to Melbourne and Victoria, not from a language perspective but from an opportunity perspective, from our linkages back to Greece and Cyprus and a whole range of economic reasons you’ve already outlined,” she said.
The first meeting of the committee created to coordinate efforts for the pushing of the Greek language will take place tomorrow and includes the following:
Dr Stephie Nikoloudis, coordinator of the Modern Greek Studies Programme
Greek Community of Melbourne representative
Sotiris Hatzimanolis, a representative of the media and Editor-in-Chief of Neos Kosmos
Dean Kalimniou, lawyer, parent and columnist for Neos Kosmos
Modern Greek Teachers Association representative
Peter Joasonides, head of the Pan-Macedonian Association of Melbourne and Victoria
Father Evmenios, a representative of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese
Food For Thought Greek Australian Women’s Network represented by Dr Maria Karidaki
La Trobe Students Association Representative
Coordinator from the Greek Consul General
Kat Theophanous, member for Northcote
Emily Dimitriadis from Darebin Council