February 21, 2011

Lecturer Offers to Teach Modern Greek for Free

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A handful of students gathered more than 140 signatures Monday in an online petition protesting the College of Arts and Science’s decision to terminate its Modern Greek language program next year, as the instructor of the classes said she was willing to forgo compensation in order to save the classes.

Matoula Halkiopoulos, the University’s sole Modern Greek language lecturer, said that she was willing to teach Greek without being paid her current salary of $7,000 per semester “for the benefit of the students.”

“I don’t want any money,” Halkiopoulos said. “I don’t do this for the money. I do this because I feel that if there is interest — any interest — in my language in the young population of Cornell, I want to help [them] learn my language.”

Halkiopoulos, whose main source of income comes from the property she owns in Collegetown, said she would be willing to teach Greek at Cornell without compensation for the foreseeable future.

“As long as [Cornell] can give us a classroom, a blackboard and some chalk, then the rest will take care of itself,” she said. “We don’t need anything more.”

University officials, however, said Monday that such a scenario would not be allowed.

“College policy doesn’t allow volunteers to teach courses that carry credit,” Susan Robertson, director of communications for the College of Arts and Sciences, stated in an e-mail. “We rely on our teaching contracts to provide an assurance of accountability and integration with the goals and standards of the college and its departments.”

Robertson reaffirmed the College’s decision to cut the Modern Greek program, citing its low enrollment of 17 students in 2010 and its “very limited impact on graduate students and research.”

Vice President for Human Relations Mary Opperman declined to comment on the specific personnel issues surrounding the Modern Greek language program, but said that even if someone is willing to teach a course for free, the University’s budget realities still exist.

“The overarching concern I have is that our financial realities are long term and it is not a long term solution to have a volunteer teach this course,” she said. “Additionally, the person must be associated with the university in some formal way in order for the work to be overseen and evaluated.”

Though it appears that the handful of students mobilizing in support of the Greek language program face an uphill battle in trying to keep Greek classes at Cornell, one student organizer, Alex Orfanos ’13, said that he feels strongly that there are students who are interested in studying Greek.

Orfanos said that while the Hellenic Students Association is looking into the possibility of outside funding for Greek courses, he also hopes students interested in taking Greek would contact him so that the group can start compiling a list of students committed to taking Greek next semester.

He noted that many of the people who signed HSA’s online petition — more than 140 by Monday night — were expressing only general support for Greek language instruction.

“We’re not going to push the school until we see what the actual numbers are like,” Orfanos said. “However, we feel strongly that there are kids out there who want this program.”

Orfanos also speculated that the University’s inconsistent course offerings in Greek over the past few years have affected the apparent level of demand for the program.

“The reason the school is perceiving that there really isn’t much interest is because the course offerings have been sporadic over the past few years,” he said. “There has been uncertainty for people finishing the track or people not knowing that Greek is being offered at all.”

Though students, like Orfanos, who support Greek have only weeks before pre-enroll starts to convince the University to reverse its decision, Orfanos said that he was inspired by the offer of Halkiopoulos, the Greek lecturer, to teach classes for free.

“This is almost like a personal duty for her,” he said. “It’s very inspiring to hear her talk about her love of Greek in person.”

Original Author: Michael Stratford