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"The Greek American" - May 16, 1998

Complaint Brings Boston School Under Review

   By George Sarrinikolaou

NEW YORK - The accreditation of the Greek American community's only institution of higher learning is coming under scrutiny after a shake up of the school's administration last summer.

A delegation from two accrediting agencies, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) and the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), is planning a fact-finding visit to Hellenic College/Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology on May 19. If the agencies determine the college has not adhered to their standards, they could revoke Hellenic College/Holy Cross's accreditation, a move that would damage the school's academic reputation.

Hellenic College and Holy Cross offer undergraduate and graduate education. Holy Cross is the seminary for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and graduates the majority of priests who serve in Greek Orthodox parishes in this country. Holy Cross was founded in 1937 and expanded in 1966 to include Hellenic College. The board of trustees, headed by Archbishop Spyridon, exercises authority over the school.

A complaint filed against the Hellenic College/Holy Cross has triggered the visit, according to Nancy Merrill, director of communications of the Association of Theological Schools. Officials at both accrediting organizations refused to comment about the complaint. But Dr. Valerie A. Karras said she filed it with both the NEASC and ATS last July when she was assistant director of Institutional Planning and Special Projects at Hellenic College/Holy Cross.

The complaint, a copy of which The GreekAmerican has obtained, alleges the trustees violated the school's bylaws and the accrediting agencies' standards when they "fired" several faculty members last July. According to Dr. Karras, her duties at the time involved overseeing the school's relations with the two accrediting agencies.

The complaint outlines a series of administrative decisions that resulted in the dismissal of several staff members, including Rev. Dr. Alkiviadis C. Calivas, the school's president. The dismissals followed the decisions of a school disciplinary committee to expel a Greek priest and place a student on probation following an alleged altercation between the two. The incident was said to have occurred when the priest allegedly made improper gestures of a sexual nature toward the student. The school's dean, Rev. George Dragas, later overruled the committee's decisions. The school's board of trustees, headed by the Archbishop, subsequently dismissed Rev. Calivas and two other priests who served on the disciplinary committee.

A controversy has ensued in which some say the staff members were fired for their refusal to go along with a cover up of the alleged incident, while others say they were reassigned in order to repair what the Archdiocese termed "long-standing administrative instability." Between them, the dismissed staff members had served the school for several decades.

Although representatives of the two accrediting organizations would not comment on what aspects of the school they would be reviewing, both have standards that apply to the treatment of faculty and the role of the trustees. "We would be concerned if a dismissal of a faculty member denied that member's contractual security and the freedom to talk about whatever a faculty member wants," said Dr. Charles M. Cook, commissioner of the Institutions on Higher Education at the NEASC.

The events at Hellenic College/Holy Cross present an especially complex case for the accrediting organizations, as the school shares characteristics of both an academic institution and a religious entity. As a place of learning, Hellenic College/Holy Cross must adhere to academic standards. But as a seminary, many of its faculty members are priests who must obey the Archbishop.

Mr. Cook said this is not an "unusual" case for the NEASC. Although his organization's standards do not specifically address the dual character of the school, Mr. Cook said that in such cases a decision is made "subjectively" based on a variety of factors, including the role of the school in the community.

But for Dr. Karras, whose complaint initiated this review, "it's not a question of giving some secular body control over our hierarchy, but about giving our word that we are abiding by certain standards, and that we hold ourselves to that as Orthodox Christians."

A telephone call to Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver, president of Hellenic College/Holy Cross, requesting comment went unanswered by the time this edition went to press.

Following its review, the NEASC could either dismiss the complaint, seek more information, place the school on probation for up to two years, or revoke its accreditation. According to the NEASC's literature, the process "provides public assurance about the educational quality of those schools and colleges that seek or wish to maintain membership [in the NEASC], which is synonymous with accreditation." The ATS could take similar measures.

The planned fact-finding visit stands clearly outside the customary review process. The accreditation of Holy Cross/Hellenic College is normally reviewed every 10 years, although the NEASC conducts an interim review after the first five years. Dr. Karras said she prepared the school's report for the fifth year interim review, which the NEASC approved in April 1997. If it were not for her complaint, the school's accreditation would not have come up for review until the next century.

[ EKKLISIA | www.ekklisia.org/etyp-5-16.htm  -  May 16, 1998 ]