La Trobe University’s (LTU) proposal to scrap the Greek Studies program from 2022 as part of efforts to reduce a dozen disciplines in the arts and education has mobilised the Greek community of Melbourne, Australia and beyond with the main Greek opposition party’s involvement in the drive to keep the program in tact.
Letters, a petition with almost 6,000 signatures on Friday, and meetings have been part of efforts to help overturn a decision which was due, after a two-week consultation process, on the 25 November but has been delayed.
An initial meeting on Friday, 20 November, resulted in the postponement of a decision for the termination of the program. Yesterday afternoon, Greek Community of Melbourne President Bill Papastergiadis met with Professor John Dewar, the Vice Chancellor of LTU along with an entourage which includes three state Labor MPs: Kat Theophanos, Nick Staikos and Steve Dimopoulos. A further meeting is scheduled for this coming Tuesday.
The reason LTU’s administration has given for the scrapping of the discipline is the belief that it is no longer financially viable to teach these subjects following the revenue downturn in the hundreds of millions of dollars due to the coronavirus pandemic. During the last meeting with community members, the university’s administration said that current numbers (40 students in language, 48 in political studies course) would need to be tripled for the program to be viable.
In a letter by Professor Dewar to Tassos Douvartzidis, the President of Greek Community Languages Victoria, the Vice Chancellor acknowledged the importance of supporting language learning and the benefits for our society in response to a proposal for a collaboration to help make the program viable for the university. Mr Douvartzidis had suggested discussing ways to fund the Modern Greek Studies program to further fortify the bequests and income that the University already receives.
“I have noted your suggestions regarding potential options for collaboration, and we will consider these when reviewing the feedback we have received on the current proposal,” Professor Dewar wrote.
“We are currently in the financial recovery phase of our new 10-year Strategic Plan and, as we clearly outline in the Plan, the financial impact of COVID-19 means that, regrettably, some courses and subjects which are not sustainable may close.”
The professor wrote that “demand and student enrolments have been consistently low in recent years” and said that the university “will continue to support students who wish to enrol in our degrees and study languages that we don’t offer through cross-institutional enrolment, and all current students doing a Greek Studies major will be able to complete their degrees” should the proposal to cease Greek Studies proceed following the consultation.
Guy Matthew, member for Bulleen, spoke on Thursday night in Victoria’s Parliament in the hope that there would be government intervention to keep Greek and Hindi alive at La Trobe because “they are so important for our multicultural communities and so important to make sure that students in the future can have a chance to learn them”.
“I am asking the minister if he would write to and seek advice from La Trobe University as to what will be needed to keep those programs open,” he said. “I think it is very important that La Trobe University – our northern suburban university, an area that I have represented for eight years in this Parliament- which is an area with such a strong population of Greek Australians, Greek Victorians, maintains a Greek language program.”
As a former minister for multicultural affairs, he said he can “attest to the strength of the Greek community in this state but most importantly the central importance place on teaching Greek”.
Mr Matthew’s voice is just one of many, with former Labor party leader Bill Shorten also taking a stand. “Cutting these courses is a deep disappointment to the Greek community within Australia who want their children and others to have the opportunity to study their desired course,” he said.
“Cutting these courses is a deep disappointment to the Greek community within Australia who want their children and others to have the opportunity to study one of their first languages.”
Three Federal Labor Ministers urged the LTU and Australia’s Education Minister Dan Tehan to keep the program active, while CCing David Coleman, Minister of Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, who is on personal leave. Peter Khalil, Ged Kearney and Maria Vamvakinou stressed their opposition towards the termination of the Greek studies program after 38 years.
“We know that you care about giving opportunities to students to study languages and you have spoken about your own regret that you did not study a language at university,” they wrote. while showcasing the program’s benefits which is offered at a tertiary level from beginners’ level to PhD. “We are sure you would agree that our multicultural nation is made stronger when second and third generation Australians have the full opportunity to remain strongly connected to their language and culture and to also deepen their learning and their language skills.”
The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) sent a letter of support for the program, stating that the axing will have “massive negative impact on our communities”.
Archbishop Makarios of Australia arrived in Melbourne to further discuss action to be taken to ensure the continuation of the program.
The Coalition in Support of the Retention of Greek Studies at La Trobe University also wrote to Professor Dewar to offer the group’s full support for the program and offer assistance where it is required. The coalition consists of the Greek Community of Melbourne, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia, Modern Greek Teachers’ Association of Victoria, the Panepirotic Federation of Australia, the Pan Macedonian Association, the National Union of Greek Australian Students, La Trobe University Greek Society, the Food for Thought Network, Speak Greek in March, Neos Kosmos, and The Greek Media Group.
SYRIZA submits a question to Greek Parliament
The Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA), Greece’s main opposition party, submitted a question in Greek Parliament concerning the Greek Studies Program at La Trobe University in Victoria.
The question directed to Greece’s Education Minister Niki Kerameus asked what the Greek government was planning to do to ensure the program’s survival.
Specifically the deputies stated that the closure of the program resulted in “upheaval” within the Greek community of Melbourne, whose members have been active in Australia for the last 120 years.
The deputies state that in 1979, an educational agreement was signed between Greece and Australia, and they stressed the importance of this to be preserved.
Ms Keremeus was urged to take action