Christiana Stilianidou
Legislation establishes continuous and permanent police presence in universities
26 • 02 • 2021

Legislation creates controversial `University Protection Teams,` special units assigned to universities under the jurisdiction of the Greek Police. The constitutionality, legality and necessity/effectiveness of these units was challenged at length due to the complex historical relationship of the police force with universities in Greece, whereby university premises were, until recently, zones of academic sanctuary where the police were only allowed to intervene at the request of administrators. Although the Legal Council of State ruled by a majority that the establishment of these units does not violate the principles of academic freedom and the full self-governance of higher education institutions (HEIs), the continuous and permanent presence of the police force (even in the form of these special units) within university premises seems to create more problems than it purports to solve.

Article 18 of Law 4777/2021 (as amended by Law 4937/2022) established ‘University Protection Teams,’ units composed of police personnel and special guards hired for this purpose, under the supervision of the Greek Police Force. Their mission according to paragraph 4 of the above article is the protection and safety of the people and infrastructure of HEIs. 

Whilst the government says the move is necessary to fight crime on campus, opponents say essential freedoms are at stake in a country where the presence of government forces in universities brings back bloody memories. In 1973, Greece’s military dictatorship violently ended a student occupation at Athens Polytechnic University, killing at least 26 people. When the junta fell, legislation was passed preventing police from entering universities  and establishing HEIs as a safe haven from political persecution until 2019, when this law was revoked. 

Critics argued that the establishment of these special units, which will be under the control of the Greek Police rather than the university administration and will have a permanent presence on university premises, charged with the general prevention of any criminal act rather than acting on reasonable suspicion of an impending specific  crime, may not be compatible with the autonomy of universities and the academic freedom provided for in article 16 of the Constitution. It was also argued that the legislation violates the principle of proportionality and is not an appropriate or effective way to satisfy the intended purpose (i.e. the fight against crime within the premises of HEIs, as stated in the explanatory statement of the law)  and may lead to extreme and (more) problematic situations, creating a permanent tension with Article 16 paragraph 1 of the Constitution [for more see the following articles by Greek academics and lawyers: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11]

The Legal Council of State has judged that the legislation does not violate the principles of academic freedom and full self-governance of HEIs.

However their judgment does not overturn or address the concerns created by the continuous presence of police units on university premises. This is partly because, in recent times, incidents of repression and police violence appear to be widespread (see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7), whilst the Hellenic Police are accused of lacking a culture of accountability and responsibility on this issue, with perpetrators of arbitrary violence seemingly not being aggressively pursued (see the press release from the Hellenic League for Human Rights). 

In conclusion, the provision and operation of special police units within universities on a permanent basis may create far more problems than it purports to solve, constituting an existential threat to academic freedom but also a source of tension which can only raise concerns about whether such a provision is in line with the ideal of the rule of law.

Christiana Stilianidou
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