"The Greek American" - June 27, 1998

Boston School Keeps Accreditation Despite Problems

   By George Sarrinikolaou

Hellenic College and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology will remain an accredited institution of higher learning despite findings that the school failed to meet several accreditation standards when it dismissed four professors last summer.

The two agencies that accredit the school, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) and the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), have made the decision after a year-long investigation prompted by a complaint they received in July 1997.

The complaint was filed by Valerie A. Karras, a professor whose position at the school also involved reporting to the accrediting agencies. In a letter to NEASC and ATS, she had outlined the dismissals of Rev. Dr. Alkiviadis Calivas, then the president of the school and a faculty member since 1978, Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Clapsis, an untenured professor who had taught at Holy Cross since 1985 and who was "reassigned" to parish work, the Rev. Dr. George Papademetriou, who was removed as director of the library after 16 years, but who remains an associate professor, and Rev. Dr. Theodore Stylianopoulos, a tenured professor also assigned to parish work.

"The justification of the Archbishop for these actions and others equally illegitimate," had written Dr. Karras, "is his demand for absolute and unquestioning obedience from his clergy, which makes all academic policies and procedures irrelevant and collides with the philosophical foundation of academic life..."

Now, both agencies have admonished the school, not for dismissing those faculty members, but for the way those personnel decisions were made. But rather than place the school on probation, NEASC and ATS have decided to review the case again in six months. Hellenic College and Holy Cross are expected to use the time to rework their governance policies and their implementation. "It must be noted," says a letter from NEASC, "that failure to effectively respond to our concerns will lead to an adverse action." In a similar decision, ATS, which accredits only Holy Cross, has placed the seminary in "warning." If "major inadequacies with regard to one or more standards" are not addressed, then ATS could place the school on probation. The two agencies ultimately have the power to revoke accreditation, a sanction that would severely damage the school's academic reputation. Hellenic College and Holy Cross, in Brookline, Mass., are the only Greek American institutions of higher learning.

Archbishop Spyridon, who exercises authority over the school, welcomed the decision to defer judgement. "We owe a debt of gratitude to both agencies for their professional standards of fairness and their willingness to cooperate with the School to improve our methodology of operation," said the Archbishop in a written statement.

For any improvements to be made, a new governing policy must be developed that defines the Archbishop's ecclesiastical authority over an institution that shares both religious and secular characteristics. For instance, the school employs faculty who are clergymen bound to obey the authority of the Archbishop. As faculty, however, those clergymen are also afforded the freedoms and protections of higher education. A new policy must now be developed to help the school deal with cases where the ecclesiastical and the institutional come into conflict.

That was the case last summer when the Archbishop dismissed the four professors, who were also members of the clergy. The dismissals came after those faculty members sought to investigate an alleged altercation between a priest and a student on campus. Although the Archbishop has declined to speak about his reasons for dismissing the professors, it is clear that their handling of the alleged incident displeased him. Exercising his ecclesiastical authority as well as his influence as head of the school's board of trustees, the Archbishop dismissed them.

The move created controversy and became a point of contention between the Archbishop and a number of influential lay Greek Americans who have served the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States. Later, some of those Greek Americans would form the Greek Orthodox American Leaders organization (GOAL), which has called for the removal of Archbishop Spyridon.

A year later, both NEASC and ATS agree that the school failed to implement its own guidelines in making those personnel decisions. But they have also found that the guidelines are "flawed" and open to various interpretations. Ultimately, say letters from the accrediting agencies, much of the difficulty stems from governing policies that fail to clarify how ecclesiastical authority figures in the administration of the school.

To comply with their accreditation standards, NEASC and ATS ask that the school clarify this point. "This is admittedly a difficult, but we believe not an impossible, task, given the need to preserve the institution as an instrument of the Greek Orthodox Church, which we recognize and accept, while also wishing to safeguard accepted values of American higher education," says the letter from NEASC.

Although the Archdiocese has accepted responsibility for clarifying this issue, it has also maintained that the vagueness of the current policy is something it inherited from the administration of the previous archbishop. In a written statement circulated in response to the accrediting agencies' findings, the Archdiocese characterizes the problems as "historical," while Archbishop Spyridon is quoted as saying that these issues "have been present for many years."

A spokesman for the Archdiocese, Fr. Mark Arey, argued that the school has undergone so many changes in administration (17 in 60 years) exactly because of the role of ecclesiastical authority over the institution has never been spelled out. Fr. Arey pointed to the dismissal of the school's president during the final years of the administration of Archbishop Iakovos. The president then was Bishop Methodios of Boston, who was fired from his post directly by the Patriarchate, according to Fr. Arey. The case of Bishop Methodios, suggested Fr. Arey, would have also raised concerns about ecclesiastical authority over an academic institution. But the difference between such cases and the dismissals last summer, he argued, is that no one complained to the accrediting agencies before. Fr. Arey also said the dismissals would have been justified no matter how clear the policy guidelines were.

The process to clarify and rewrite policy is expected to begin once the school has hired a new president, but must be completed by January 1999, the deadline set by ATS. Fr. Mark Arey said the guidelines would be developed by studying the policies of other seminaries in the United States. The process, he said, would be completed on time, assuring that Hellenic College and Holy Cross would maintain its accreditation.

[ EKKLISIA |  -  June 27, 1998 ]