1997 - George Metakides

Public Orator's speech for George Metakides

Mr Chancellor,

Many academics are envious of those who combine outstanding scholarly gifts with the judicious deployment of political skills. Certainly, there are few academics who rival Professor George Metakides' ability to take bold initiatives in academic research while shrewdly turning even the most forbidding political prospect into an advantage.

At an early age, George Metakides was reluctant to accept a negative answer from those who claimed to be in authority over him. While still a primary schoolboy his response to the cancellation of a planned school picnic was to march his fellow pupils to a local football pitch where they duly enjoyed the picnic. It is said that this act of defiance led to his expulsion from that school, but whether the ultimate sanction was applied or not George Metakides is a born leader and it is as an inspiring leader, not only in the field of mathematical logic - he holds the Chair of Logic at the University of Patras in his native Greece - but as Director of ESPRIT, the European Union-funded Information Technology research programme that we honour him today.

His achievements have been remarkable, particularly since from the start he had to fight hard to achieve the resources he believed necessary in order to achieve his purposes. It was against strong opposition that he won an allocation of five percent of the ESPRIT budget towards academic research. Through his powers of persistent and intelligent persuasion this sum rose within a few years to ten per cent and the sums of money involved are far from trivial. The annual ESPRIT budget for long term research is now something like fifty million pounds.

Professor Metakides has also been responsible for building up an impressive team of officers and research workers. As is appropriate for someone who loves fishing as a recreation he has been an astute fisher of men. He is a shrewd judge of character, and his capacity to woo a potential colleague is legendary. Once convinced that someone will add the right blend of qualities to the team he uses every legitimate form of inducement to ensure that persons of ability and promise are appointed to the post most suitable for the deployment of their skills. Even the choice of a speaker at a formal dinner is known to have been exploited by Professor Metakides for the attainment of a particular and necessary end. When his masters in Brussels were hesitant about the virtues of networking he invited a speaker from the Computing Department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to address the ESPRIT Dinner. It was of course purely coincidental that the speaker extolled the virtues of networking, and that what Professor Metakides had desired duly came to pass. On such occasion a wistful but contented smile is known to cross his face.

But while he's astute in promoting his own research activities and in making sure that the research with which he is specially identified is properly resourced, he has also been active in doing everything possible to facilitate the research of those less happily placed. He is concerned for the wellbeing of the entire European scientific community, and he has been particularly eager to help those in the former Communist bloc who lack the advantages of their colleagues in the West and who have faced immense problems since the breakdown of the former system in the East. Not only has Professor Metakides created a research funding scheme on the model of the National Science Foundation in the United States of America, he has also provided effective support for scientists in Eastern Europe, taking particular care with regard to the provision of equipment and the enhancement of academic salaries, and doing this only when scientists in Eastern Europe have been properly and fully consulted about their real needs and urgent requirements.

It is evident therefore that George Metakides has a broad and imaginative vision of what scientific research entails and how it should be supported. But he is just as eager to relate research to the needs of industry. Through his efforts, many leading European information technology research groups have become partners in the industry-related ESPRIT Programme, so that the findings of academic research may be speedily and effectively applied to the needs of industry. Professor Metakides has had a strong influence on thinking in Brussels about the future information society. He is now in charge of ESPRIT as a whole, covering much more than information technology, and he master-minded the G7 Summit Meeting at Corfu at which the Information Society Initiative first received international political support from Heads of State.

Within the European Community and throughout Europe few men have contributed so much as Professor Metakides to the advancement of knowledge, the application of knowledge to contemporary needs, and the thoughtful review of future developments. Part of the secret of his success is his resourcefulness in evading the technicalities and delays of the Brussels bureaucracy. When ESPRIT badly needed additional accommodation he was told that if he acted through normal procedures he would have to wait for two years. Professor Metakides listened attentively, but acting on his own initiative arranged for the service contract rental of an entire building and in so doing got his extra space. When the internal auditors called for an explanation Professor Metakides just happened to be away on holiday. He got his building and he escaped censure.

Professor Metakides is the product of a broad education. A Greek by birth, he received his M.Sc. in electrical engineering and his Ph.D. in mathematical logic from Cornell University in the United States. After holding posts at Rochester University, Cornell and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology he took up the Chair of Mathematical Logic at Patras in 1978. He has found time to indulge his love of his subject by co-authoring a recently published book on mathematical logic. George Metakides views large issues within a far ranging perspective. He is a man of immense vision. I therefore ask you Mr Chancellor to confer upon him the degree of Doctor of Science, Honoris Causa.

Professor J.W. Derry