‘The Community Will Deliver A Clear Mandate’ for future of Macquarie University Greek Studies Foundation: George Mpliokas speaks to Kosmos

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On 3 December, in the name of the Macquarie University Greek Studies Foundation an open meeting has been called with regards to future of the Greek Studies program. In the media, we’ve seen a second release signed by Macquarie Greek Studies Foundation.

Yes. There is the existing Foundation that has represented the community to the University for decades, and there is a new company with a different name, Macquarie Greek Studies Foundation Limited, which was registered earlier this year. Both organisations are open and registered. The separate notices in the media refer to these two separate entities, with different ABN/ACNs.

When and why did this second company open? Are you aware?

The conversation began more than two years ago, when the Foundation Committee agreed to hold an AGM, with financials and elections. There are minutes of meetings that prove this was discussed, passed and supported by the Chair, with dates scheduled for November 2018 and February 2020.

When the President of the Foundation, Theophilus Premetis wrote to me in June 2020, advising that I had been removed from the Foundation, they wrote that a new company had been opened and that I would be invited to participate within 6 weeks. I wrote a reply to Mr Premetis to state that I did not accept this removal, and that I would continue to work in the best interests of the Foundation and the community. Nearly 6 months has passed without any acknowledgement or notice.

Why are you still involved in the Foundation and how? What is your position on the Foundation?

After my year as President of the Greek student association, MUGA, I was asked to be the Foundation Secretary, which I accepted. My duties were to prepare documents, take minutes of meetings, and issue notices of meetings.

When I received the letter from Premetis, I asked when and how the decision was made. It turned out that the was made at a Committee meeting held on the same night as MUGA’s AGM, 18 March, a meeting which I was invited to and attended.

Speaking to other Foundation Committee members, they confirmed that they were also not present, and as such the meeting did not have the power to make decisions. MUGA requested to change the date to the meeting due to the clash with its own AGM, but they did not receive a response from Mr Premetis. As it turned out, he had sent the same letter to other members of the Foundation Committee, including George Psihoyios and George Lianos.

What’s the position of the Greek Studies program now?

There exists the agreement in perpetuity from 1997, which is at risk. The University funds the Lecturer’s position, and there are minimum requirements on the number of students enrolled in the program. However, until recently, just one subject exceeded the required number. This was convened by then-Head Dr Elizabeth Kefallinou and in conjunction with the Ancient History department, but was removed in 2018, without proper advocacy from the Foundation.

Now, the University has issued a notice to Staff that Modern Greek will act as a Minor only from 2021. There has not been any public statement on this, however the university has been updating its website to reflect the change. This means that, in the space of just a few years, Modern Greek / Hellenic Studies has been downgraded from a full Degree, to a Major, and now to a Minor only.

Why was this position not addressed in time?

I can only speak about my experience from when I became MUGA President and first joined the Foundation in 2017. Whenever issues arose with the Greek Studies program, the Committee would meet and agree to courses of action, such as writing to the Dean of Arts requesting clarifications and offering to help. However, many of these decisions were not respected by the Chair, who would call separate meetings without inviting all the members of the Committee, to enact the opposite to which was agreed. This included the motion to hold elections and audit the accounts.

What drove you to this course of action, as Mr Premetis says that the Foundation is actively negotiating with the University?

In more than 3 years on the Foundation, including as Secretary, I have not once seen any correspondence from the University with regards to any changes to the program or negotiations on its future. When I asked other members of the Committee, they responded the same. When I asked Mr Premetis, he would say that these negotiations were taking place only over the phone and in person. This lack of transparency and due process damages our ability to negotiate effectively and puts the future of the program at risk.

Three weeks ago, other sources brought to our attention for the first time – both members of the Foundation Committee and the Committee of MUGA – that a new company had been opened and a new Constitution had been adopted. We had been excluded from this process entirely despite the written promises of Mr Premetis.

It was also addressed that a new agreement for 5 years would potentially replace the agreement since 1997, which would mean the agreement would no longer be in effect in perpetuity. This was very troubling.

The Constitution of this new company listed the Archbishop as the Patron and implied his explicit support of the changes. I met with His Eminence and discussed this on several occasions, both before and after seeing this Constitution for the first time. He confirmed that he had only briefly met Mr Premetis several months ago, and had offered to help only out of good will, but that he would now be writing to Mr Premetis, advising that he now withdrew his support for their plans, as well as requesting that all references to the Archbishop or Archdiocese be removed from their Constitution and any other documents. I received a copy of this letter.

Now, we are in a position where the Chair of the Foundation repeatedly does not respect decisions of his own Committee, calls non-members to make decisions, reneges on promises to hold an AGM, and creates a separate company in secret – all this while not disclosing or explaining the nature of any negotiations with the university.

Under which terms will you be satisfied?

When these facts were established, members of the Foundation Committee agreed to circulate the petition that called for the whole Foundation Committee to stand down, for a meeting to be held and for a new Committee to be elected. I signed this petition to sack myself, so that our community could be made aware of the situation and make informed decisions moving forward. It is the whole of the community that helped raise these funds over many years and has now been kept in the dark. More than 100 people and more than 30 organisations have signed this petition to date.

I will be satisfied only with the best position for the Foundation to advocate for the Greek Studies program and negotiate with the University. From the meeting, there will be a clear mandate for a new Committee, to operate in the best interests of the program and the community, with transparency and honesty. This has not existed for some time. Mr Premetis called me last week and said he is trying to step down but that we won’t let him. I told him that the petition clearly asks for the whole of the Committee to step down and that, if he liked, nobody would stop him from tendering his resignation in writing so that it could be shared at the meeting. My promise to Mr Premetis, and to many people across the community over the last few weeks, is that I will not seek election to the Presidency, so that there could be no suggestions of power grabbing.

Do you believe there is still time for a common effort, both sides working together, and on which terms?

Any effort will require honesty and transparency. A Foundation that is a stage for a proxy war will not solve anything. As someone who studied Modern Greek at Macquarie, who was President of MUGA and made a Life Member, and who is Secretary of the Foundation, I know that success is shared and hard-earned. To support the Greek Studies program, both at Macquarie and elsewhere, people in our community have to believe that these Foundations are being run openly and honestly. This can only be achieved through positive actions in good faith. I am just one person, willing to listen and to compromise, but I am not prepared to ignore my conscience and act dishonestly. I know the community agrees; this is why so many people and organisations have bravely shown their support.

(Interview: Yiannis Dramitinos-photo: provided)

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