Decades of financial mismanagement, lavish government spending and cronyism have finally crashed the University of Athens, which may have to close.
Greece’s ruinous financial state has forced international institutions like the European Central Bank to crack down on the country’s government spending. But even a moderate dose of austerity is too much for Greece’s sickly higher education system to swallow.
“With great angst we have ascertained that with the government’s decision to place specialist and much valued administrative staff into the mobility scheme our universities are at risk of collapse,” wrote Stathis Efstathopoulos, a teachers union president, in a statement to The Guardian. “Even if we accept that we have a surplus of personnel we cannot, from one day to the next, operate with 40% less staff.”
For years, Greek law guaranteed that public employees could never lose their jobs, and universities became cesspools of administrative bloat and nepotism. Ta Nea, an Athenian newspaper, reports that the university awarded only a fraction of jobs to employees based on merit. In one example of the university’s penchant for waste, the business school continued to employ a lifeguard even after it permanently closed the pool.
Libraries and museums — which employ thousands and thousands of public employees — deserve a large share of the blame.
U.S. schools are also afflicted with chronic administrative bloat. The K-12 system has increased administrative costs by 700 percent since 1950, according to some measures. (Study: School administrative bloat increased 700 percent since 1950)
U.S. higher education is plagued by similar problems. Public universities continue to spend lavishly on top faculty and administrators, even as states struggle to raise revenue for higher education and the cost continues to skyrocket for most students.
Whether — and when — American universities will “go Greek” remains to be seen.