Antonios Tzanakopoulos, brother of former SYRIZA minister Dimitris, is an associate professor at Oxford University. He recently posted a few photos on social media accompanied by a sarcastic comment: “Here, you can see the university police on patrol at Oxford. Oh, you can’t see them? It’s because they do not exist,” he said. “And [here are] some photos of ‘vandalism’ and protests – [organized by] our union,” he added. (Facebook 15.01.2021)
Apart from Oxford’s emblematic university buildings, the photos feature a peaceful demonstration, without hooded protesters holding sticks. Meanwhile, by “vandalism” Tzanakopoulos meant a slogan that said “Refugees Welcome,” which was written with chalk on the sidewalk – a slogan that would wash away with the first drizzle.
His comment generated a barrage of responses (as is the case with social media, these were not always decent) and, after expressing his discontent over the verbal attacks, Tzanakopoulos sought to counter the criticism: “Several users, particularly on Twitter, responded with photos depicting guards in Oxford who are not police officers, who do not have the power to make arrests and so on… New Democracy is establishing a special university police force, partly basing [its decision] on the argument that such [forces] are common practice at foreign universities. This, of course, is not the case barring a few exceptions, mostly in the US. It certainly is not the case in Europe. This does not mean to say that universities are not protected: They are, either by guards who are civil servants or by guards who are university staff, or [private] security companies. This also applies to Greek universities which have security of that sort (whether it’s effective or not is not the case here).” (Facebook 16.01.2021)
This is exactly the case, however: the ineffectiveness of the models that have been tried in the past (university asylum law, security, “philotimo” and so on) and which have failed us. Oxford does not need a university police force because the slogans are written in chalk on the street and not with black paint on walls. And if some professor dares to reprimand the protesters, they will not react by beating him up like they here did with Angelos Syrigos. Also they will not invade a class to physically assault a professor just because they disagree with his criminology theories, like they did with Giannis Panousis in 2009.
As a rule, many universities have no police because they have no crime. Where there is crime, like the State University of New York or the Athens University of Business and Finance or the National Technical University of Athens, it makes sense for the state to respond with the means at its disposal: police.
It is not an ideal solution, but it’s the only thing left, particularly when groups of thugs use the campus as a launch pad to burn buses and trolley buses.
Published in eKathimerini.com 22.1.2021