#Debate: University Asylum: Should it be a thing?
#Yes: Who’s Afraid of University Asylum?
Lately, the pulp fiction attempting to give university asylum responsibility for almost every criminal offense that occurs in Greece, has been brought into the spotlight by both the media and parliamentary parties. Articles that spread fear and warn about drug trafficking, violence and even rape, which are all linked to university asylum. But where does the currently-under-fire statute of university asylum originate from?
Asylum means a sacred and inviolable place where the prosecuted can be safe. Academic asylum was first introduced legally in 1158 from the first university of the western world (still operating as such) in Bologna, Italy. There, it is recorded in the legal text called Authentica Habita (or Constitutio Habita) and becomes law by Frederick – the first – Barbarossa to protect the university from interference by state and religious authority.
In Greece, much to the surprise of public knowledge, the asylum, in the sense of barring the police from entering universities, has been customary law since the 19th century. In the so-called Galvanics in 1897 we have the first occupation of a university building in Athens by armed students who invoke the notion of asylum. The ban on police entry without the permission of any rector was generally respected by the Greek state until the junta intervened in the occupations of the Law School and Technical University. That is why asylum is considered by many constitutionalists to be a constitutional custom that cannot be abolished by law.
Asylum was explicitly enacted by law in 1982, later on limited in 2007 by M. Yiannakou’s framework law that sparked a large student resistance movement, then deleted as a reference from the 2011 Diamantopoulou Act, and is reintroduced as an explicit reference in the 2017 law. However, while the 1982 law stipulated that the intervention of the police required the unanimous opinion of a tripartite committee composed of representatives of the Rectorate authorities, students and administrators, now just the approval of the majority of the Rector’s Council is sufficient. This applies to misdemeanors as in cases of crimes, especially life-threatening crimes, the police can intervene without the need for any permission.
The following conclusions emerge: Drug trafficking, rape and other offenses for which some journalists point out that asylum is to blame are crimes and have never been protected by asylum. The police could intervene at any time without any permission being required. So look elsewhere for excuses to facilitate its abolition. Really, is there asylum around the actual areas where drug trafficking takes place?
There is no asylum in schools but the state does not suppress student’s occupations using the police because political/social cost comes into play. Violent clashes with protesters which some also claim are a result of the university asylum are not protected by the asylum law and do not occur solely or mainly within universities. Historically within the social movements there have always been individuals who have chosen violent conflict as a means of protest. It can be seen today in the extremely violent clashes between the “yellow vests” and the French police where not only is there no asylum but the country is in a state of emergency and protests are banned by law.
Both the law and the ways in which it is applied is always related to the association of forces between the various social groups, strata and classes that clash within each society. The only change that the legal abolition of asylum will bring about is not the magical disappearance of “lawlessness”, but the opening of new “business opportunities” with the entry of private security companies into schools. But there is another change to the formal abolition of asylum, that even its most honest supporters admit: the change in symbolic level. University asylum symbolizes resistance to state power. Those who want to abolish it want to send a message of zero tolerance to student and non-student social movements. But as long as there is power there will be resistance. With or without asylum.
#No: Democratic Conquest… or Abuse of Rights?
By “university asylum” we mean the established protection of free thinking, learning and sharing of ideas within the premises of universities. This, in accordance with Section 3 of Law 3549/2007, means that public power authorities may only enter universities in cases of offenses on crime level and life-threatening crimes. In any other case,both the approval of the Rector’s Council as well as the accompaniment of a judicial body is required.
And while the above legislation was created to safeguard the rights of the free mind, in reality, the situation is reminiscent of the saying “When the cat’s away, the mice will play”. Vandalism, acquaintances telling you to keep an eye on your bag, your cellphone, not to walk alone at night… All of this begs the question: Why is there asylum in Universities in the first place? And more importantly who does it serve?
It would be exaggeration and cynicism to say that it does not protect anyone. From a more critical point of view, however, University asylum does, in fact, seem to be superfluous. Freedom of speech, and in particular the freedom to seek, receive and share ideas, is an inviolable right, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is therefore foolish to believe that the abolition of asylum entails the abolition of liberty. We almost reach a contradiction: If the Public Authority does not protect the basic rights of its citizens, then who will?
When we hear about abuses at universities, our minds usually go back to the dictatorship of 1970. But it’s important to think that this situation no longer exists and Greece enjoys 44 years of democracy. In essence, then, there is no longer an “enemy” who threatens the freedoms of higher education. On the other hand, asylum itself poses security problems for the campus community and members.
It is also noteworthy that the idea of University asylum is purely an original greek statute. Around the world, all Universities, both public and private, have security. In some areas, even the term “asylum” is not about inviolability of Universities, but rather Sanctuary Campuses, Universities that ensure safe study of undocumented immigrants. We see, therefore, that the issue of safe and undisturbed education is a priority and also a responsibility of foreign institutions.
In ancient times, but also nowadays, the word asylum signifies the inviolability of sacred places by the Authorities. If, therefore, we regard the Universities as well as all that they profess as sacred, then we have to ask ourselves whether the present situation really fits the description of a sacred space. The answer, of course, is no. The practical side of the legislation, however, is just the tip of the iceberg. What needs to change is not only the law but our temperament as well; the belief that policing means oppression and arbitrariness means freedom.
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