[Humanist] 24.618 What's going on in Italian universities

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sun Dec 26 16:53:41 CET 2010

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 618.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Fri, 24 Dec 2010 18:26:43 +0100
        From: Domenico Fiormonte <domenico.fiormonte at gmail.com>
        Subject: What's going in Italian universities?

Dear Willard,

My reflections for the past year concern the situation in Italian
universities. Although it is clear that much the same problems are affecting
many  educational, research and cultural institutions across Europe.

You may have gathered from the news that something is happening in Italian
universties. Students have filled the streets of our cities protesting
against a new reform bill (the third in ten years!) that undermines the
existence of one of the largest public higher educational and research
systems of the western world.

But the riots of Dec. 14th are not just the result of the students'
opposition to the reform and the associated cuts. The anger arises from the
sense of insecurity of an entire generation that rejects the social and
political decisions of the establishment. The most often heard slogan these
past months has been: "Noi la crisi non la paghiamo", "We are not going to
pay for this crisis".

Students and protesters have been accused by the media of being violent, and
led by the famous "black blocks". I was in the streets of Rome on Dec.
14th, and there were more than 100,000 students and researchers, not a
single one from the so-called black block. They were instigated by the
massive deployment of anti-riot squads who prevented them from reaching the
square in front of the Italian Parliament.

Italian universities have many problems, but this new bill does not tackle
them. Simply put, it is a mix of devastating financial cuts and
more than 500 new rules (more bureaucracy), many of which give absolute
power to the already powerful caste of full professors -- the very people
who created the problems in the first place.  Moreover the bill turns the
University system over to the Confederation of Italian Industry.  It
imposes enterprise-style governing bodies composed of 11 members (before,
there were about 20), 3 of whom will come form the private sector, in
particular from the ranks of the industrialists -- who thus get a seat *for
free* on the board and can decide on the creation (and the elimination) of
entire degree courses.  Without donating a cent, as do the corporate members
who sit on the Board of Trustees in other countries.

God knows if all this will improve the quality of our research and teaching,
as the Government argues.  What is certain is that it will reduce democracy
and freedom in our faculties. Even the Italian Rectors (who have been mostly
silent and frightened) have said that if the situation does not change in
2012 they will unable to pay our stipends. In fact, more than 90% of present
public funding goes to salaries.

I guess all this resembles what is happening in the UK and in other European
countries. Below you'll find the English translation of a
document written by a newly born Italian Association of Associate University
Professors (http://www.professoriassociati.it/).  As most
Italian media have ignored or deliberately manipulated the arguments against
the reform, the associate professors decided to collect money and buy an
entire page of a national newspaper (Corriere della Sera or Repubblica). The
appeal summarizes the arguments of the opponents of this counter-reform. We
will be very grateful if you will respond to their call for solidarity.

Unfortunately, after a stormy debate in Parliament, the bill was approved
last night. But the last word has not been spoken. There are still a number
of institutional steps, including the signature by the President of the
Republic, who received a group of students on the 22nd and who subsequently
leaked to the press his doubts (of a purely 'technical' and formal nature,
but doubts nonetheless) about the bill.  Thus we are thinking of writing an
appeal to the President, urging him not to sign the bill.

We will be very grateful if you could circulate among your colleagues all
this information. If we decide further actions, we will ask for the
support of the international community of scholars.  For it is clear that
these funding cuts, using the crisis as an excuse, are the result of the
same kind of political choices made in all of our countries.  This is a
global cultural crisis, and we need to build a common space of reflection
and resistance.

Perhaps our Associations could do something together on this. What about,
for instance, organizing something like an "cultural emergency panel" for
the next DH conference?  Politicians and companies have their own world
forums where they make their decisions against us; we have nothing similar
to oppose their plans.  We could benefit from a meeting place where we
could come up with an alternative vision and interprepation of the world.

As individual academics, many of us may think that we run no risks in the
immediate future. After all, no one and nothing is going to stop us from
doing our teaching and research as we see fit, right? But we might be wrong.
I think we risk being surprised at how quickly our lives can change...
unless we become proactive and begin planning counter initiatives now.

Merry Crisis and Happy New Fear!


The original document can be downloaded from here:



The government says that Italian Universities are not competitive
internationally.  Thus it has proposed a “reform” and further cuts in

WE KNOW, however, that the average of the scientific “production” of Italian
universities is superior to that of French, German or American universities
WE KNOW furthermore that Italy is seventh (tied with France) in the number
of universities rated among the top 500 worldwide (2).
WE KNOW, finally, that young Italian researchers are eagerly recruited by
universities everywhere... except in Italy, where funds to support
university research have  been drastically cut.

The government says its “reform” (the Gelmini bill) will reduce the
unchecked power of the caste of full professors (“baroni”).
WE OBSERVE, however, that the Gelmini bill actually gives this caste
exclusive control, as in the old feudal university system (3.).

The government says that this law will increase opportunities for higher
education for all.
We note, however, that the law ruthlessly cuts funding for scholarships and
student aid; what funds remain are allocated without taking into
consideration the financial hardship of the applicants.

The government says that it has listened to all stakeholders.
WE ASK: exactly when and where were our alternative proposals discussed?

The government says that the law must be passed immediately, with no further
discussion, to “hush up” possible social unrest.
WE CONTINUE to think that elected leaders should, instead, listen to that
unrest and take the time to reflect on the solution.

WE WHO TEACH AND CONDUCT RESEARCH in the Italian university system;
we who must get by with much fewer resources than our colleagues elsewhere
in the world, although we are just as qualified as they;
we who have sought to modernize the Italian university system from within,
though free, open, transparent, non-sectarian initiatives like CoNPAss (the
national association of associate professors, www.professoriassociati.it)
and the network of university researchers (www.rete29aprile.it);
we who want to be able to offer a future to our students;
we who have constantly opposed the university caste system;
we at last who have constantly (and peacefully) denounced the false Mrs
Gelmini “reform,” which only pretends to modernize the university system;

WE CALL for your solidarity.
1. Based on the total number of researchers and the total number of papers
published, in SCImago Journal & Country Rank, 2009; OECD Science, Technology
and Industry Outlook, OECD, 2006.
2. Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) , 2010,
3. Combined effect of zero turnover and accelerated retirements which puts
the governance of the university system in the hands of a small number of
influential full professors: other staff such as associate professors and
researchers will have no say in the tenure Commissions; indeed, researchers
(who also shoulder much of the teaching) will no longer have a stable
position in the university system as at present.

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