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Articles by: Anthony julian Tamburri

  • Op-Eds

    Things that make you go hmmm...

     Yes, just when you think it's safe to go back in the water, a nasty shark-like creature appears, and it's back to the shoreline. Or, just when you think people have finally understood the line between sensitivity and insensitivity, you realize that the abyss that existed before still needs to be bridged.

    This morning, when I came to the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute, I was shown the trailer of 61 seconds for the PBS special "Italian Americans," which will be broadcast in England at the beginning of the new year. What is absolutley amazing (I use this term in the etymological sense, and thus NOT with any positive spin) is that the entire trailer smacks of the message that Italian Americans are, first and foremost, gansgters and criminals.

    There is no other way this can be read. One can make all the semiotic and hermeneutical (include, also, deconstructive) arguments one wishes, but the primary message is what it is: a charcateristic that is violent and, let us also add, sociopathic, undergirds this minute and one second. I shall stop here, as there is no need to burden you with other thoughts on the matter. It should all be evident. 

    Indeed, for some, I can only assume, we remain on the marings of society...

    I have embedded the video here. if you cannot access it, most likely PBS has blocked it. You might be able to access it on YouTube: Buona visione! <<< .

  • Op-Eds

    Bill De Blasio’s Transformative Election

    The election of Bill de Blasio as mayor of New York City completes what one can call an Italian/American trifecta. He is the third of Italian/American elected officials in the state of New York who hold significant positions of power, authority, and influence. 

    Andrew Cuomo is our governor; Tom Di Napoli is our comptroller; and, now, as of January 1, Bill de Blasio will be our mayor.

    Of course, as Italian Americans we cannot — and indeed, should not — expect special treatment. But what we can expect, for sure, is that our Italian heritage is well represented at both the state and local levels of government in three of the most powerful positions in the state of New York. All three individuals have proven to be most able politicos who have and continue to discharge their duties for the benefit of all. There may be those who do not always agree with their philosophies, but we must all recognize their dedication to propriety. This much, for sure, is a net positive.

    What we can thus hope for is a more articulated sense of their Italian-ness precisely because they are the upstanding individuals they have proven to be. Let us indeed hope that in October of 2014, during the month of Italian Heritage and Culture, we have a series of events that include our Italian/American leaders.

    With regard to Bill de Blasio and his latest victory, we can hope for something further. As we might look to him for his progressive politics, we can also look to him and his family as that model of a future engagement with regard to ethnic politics and, more important, with regard to a truly transgressive ethnic combinatio nova that transcends not only national origin but indeed race.
     
    Bill de Blasio himself is a child of mixed raciality if indeed we consider Italians as part of a non-white category that is olive based, as the poet Rose Romano and others have steadfastly contended. With his family of Chirlane, Dante, and Chiara, de Blasio has taken the combinatio nova one step further in the melding of olive with black, offering up to society what portends to be one of the newer forms of the American family of the future, one that is truly a rainbow reflection of US society.
     
    But I would like to think that the de Blasios who will inhabit Gracie Mansion constitute a model in other ways and for other people. In other ways in so far as they demonstrate that the so-called power positions of a place like New York City can indeed be held not only by the white or the black, but indeed even by those of the combinatio nova. For other people, precisely because of de Blasio’s Italian heritage, he and his family can be a model for those in Italy who continue to look to the US; for in spite of what some Italians might think, Italy is no longer the monochromatic country they believe it to be. With its new immigration of the past three decades for sure, Italy is more than ripe for it own wave of combinatio nova.

  • Elected Officials and The College Professor: Perspectives on Questions of Human Values


    The following statement is attributed to Chris Christie, the sitting governor of New Jersey, at a meeting with the national RNC, which was closed to the press at the request of Christie himself. It was then reported once again, a few days later, in Maureen Dowd’s NY Times column, entitled “Less Bully, More Pulpit” (August 27, 2013).

     

    “I think we have some folks who believe that our job is to be college professors,” he said. “Now college professors are fine I guess. Being a college professor, they basically spout out ideas that nobody does anything about. For our ideas to matter we have to win. Because if we don’t win, we don’t govern. And if we don’t govern all we do is shout to the wind. And so I am going to do anything I need to do to win.”

     

    The issues that arise from an elected official making such declarations are problematic for a series of reasons. What complicates the matter for us is that Christie is — when it seems to be convenient for him, as far as I can understand — Italian American. Hence, at first blush there are few items to note. First, the not-too-implicit negation of production that he believes does not come forth from the professoriate (“they basically spout out ideas that nobody does anything about”). Second, Christie is openly Italian American when beneficial, as I said above, and as such, carries weight within the Italian/American community when he speaks. This is especially true with regard to the conservative sector of our community. Third, since he did not pen his statement to paper, I shall forego any comments on punctuation, but I will point out his ending a sentence with a preposition. I make this last observation regardless of the fact that he was speaking in private and to a closed group…

     
    Let’s begin with “college professors”; after all, together with K-12 teachers they seem to be the main target today of certain elected officials and some members of the conservative media. What first stands out here is Christie’s actual ambivalence to the value of that category of teachers he calls college professors. What else can we grasp from the following statement? “Now college professors are fine I guess.” The adjective “fine” limits, to be sure, the value of the college professor. “Fine” is a desirable adjective, let us be clear. Nonetheless it is not a true superlative as are other adjectives such as excellent, outstanding, magnificent, etc. Further still, we read that Christie is not convinced of the fineness of professors; for he ends the sentence with the qualifier “I guess.”

     
    A second point concerning college professors in Christie’s statement is his notion of the relevancy of what college professors do. In his opinion, “they basically spout out ideas that nobody does anything about.” This declaration is so problematic, that there truly is not enough room to discuss as much in any forum short of a book. But let us try. First of all, there is no unique creature as the “college professor”; there are, instead, various types of college professors insofar as there are different disciplines that are taught in college. These disciplines range from the natural sciences to the social sciences, and from the humanities to fine arts. The spectrum is obviously broad and most varied. That Christie then paints the entire professoriate with one brush would be a mortal sin in the political world that he inhabits. Why would he then do so with regard to the teaching profession at the college level? Let us be frank, it is facile and puerile; it demonstrates either ignorance of the profession or a total disregard for the profession. Either way, it is an unacceptable and, we might say in street parlance, cheap move.
     
    What do college professors do? Well, in the natural sciences they research all sorts of phenomena that make our physical life more comfortable; from cancer research in general to more specific issues such as neurological and organ research. What do the social scientists do? Some study behavioral patterns of humanity, why and how; others study economic patterns and how and why they occur. Humanists guide us through all of these phenomena, enlighten us as to their existence, and teach us how to negotiate such matters. Finally, those in the fine arts provide us with the visual and literary pleasures that complement and, dare I say, complete the entire set of natural and epistemological matter that make up our existence in this world. In this sense, then, college is clearly much more constitutive than Christie obviously is incapable of recognizing.

     
    With regard to Christie’s Italian American-ness, there is not much to say, except that we can only assume — yes, this is the same modus operandi Christie seems to adopt — that his notion of Italian-American culture is limited to the vision of grandparents, Sunday afternoon dinners of the past, and food in the present. For many, their Italian American-ness is relegated to a nostalgic vision of Italy and what is on the table today in front of them. This type of attitude, which cannot comprehend the notion of an evolving Italian American-ness or that of some form of philanthropy to support such a culture, is foreign to many of Christie’s ilk, those individuals who see a college education as a vocational license and nothing more. The fact that college is a life-changing experience that opens up the individual to new forms of knowledge and thus broadens his/her horizons remains foreign, as seems the case, to Christie, which, instead, is what many see as an integral part of the college experience.

     
    What does this have to do with Christie’s Italian American-ness? If there is one thing many have discussed these days it is the notion that Italian-American Studies should be a part of the college curriculum. If one sees the college professor as someone who basically does nothing, as Christie’s statement clearly implies, and if college is a vocational experience only, then what good would Italian-American Studies have for those who think like Christie. Of course, we know that the greater informed we are of other people’s cultures, the more we understand them. As a consequence, we become members of a more integral society insofar as prejudices — those notions that are the results of ignorance and fear — fall by the wayside, and greater comprehension of ethnicities is one of the results.

     
    But there is another drawback to the notions brought forth by the likes of Christie and company. If we were to speak in terms of cultural philanthropy, one who thinks that college professors do nothing and — the logical consequence — have no real social value, then why would they contribute to any of the many programs, especially those within the humanities? Some have stated ad nauseam that in order for the Italian in America to be understood better and not be the subject of negative portrayals in the media, courses on Italian-American culture are necessary at the college level. Thought processes such as Christie’s, instead, leave no rationale for the cultural philanthropy that would help fund such courses or the actual rationale for the ragion d’essere (i.e., “razon d’étre”) of such courses.


    In this regard, finally, we need to interrogate, if ever so briefly, how Christie’s Italian American-ness is in such contrast to the history of Italy’s philosophical and conceptual thought processes throughout the centuries. This, I need to underscore, is not unique to Christie. Italy, and here I mean that geo-cultural area that dates back to the 1200s — not the Roman Empire — is truly a bastion of innovative thought processes and philosophies that are second to none. Such a rich history of Italy and what it has contributed to the western world over the centuries prove to be second to none, I would contend. With regard to philosophy, we have the likes of St. Thomas Aquinas, Leon Battista Alberti, Laura Cereta, Nicolò Machiavelli, Baldassare Castiglione, Philip Mazzei, Giambattista Vico, Benedetto Croce, and Gianni Vattimo. As for law specficially, Cesare Becaria comes to mind. Language theory and linguistics, of course, reminds us of Mario Pei, Maria Corti, Umberto Eco, and Cesare Segre. But all of this listing of names means nothing if access to knowledge of these and other significant figures throughout Italy’s history is not studied.

     
    Let me close with something another person from New Jersey stated more than sixty years ago, another person of Italian origin. In speaking to the figure of the “reader of general culture” in the foreward to his third book of poetry, John Ciardi stated:

     
    He is aware that ideas have histories…. He knows that other societies have come before his and others will come after his and that none have been absolute and that none will be, but that some common dynamics of the human spirit has shone through them all, and that the best name anyone has found to give to that dynamics is Art. He entertains ideas and seeks to place them in perspective.
    [H]e is, if you prefer…, as well educated as the poet, but not in a literary specialty…. Education does not occur except where questions of human value are invoked.
    “Foreward to the Reader of (Some) General Culture” in Live Another Day [New York: Twayne, 1949) i-ii

     
    I close with Ciardi’s last statement quoted above, that “Education does not occur except where questions of human value are invoked.” This is indeed what results from what professors do well; they indeed provoke in their students “questions of human value,” so that when those very students move forward into adulthood and occupy positions of influence and power in society, they will wield such authority with the knowledge and coincidental responsibility that have their origins, for sure, in Ciardi’s “questions of human value.”


     

  • Congratulations to Dr. William A. Covino!

    Cal State University Los Angeles has its first new president in 33 years. And he is an Italian American! The University’s Board of Trustees has named Dr. William A. Covino, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs of California State University, Fresno, as President of California State University, Los Angeles.



    Covino replaces James Rosser, who is retires this coming June, after a long and distinguished career.



    “I am honored to join a university as outstanding as Cal State L.A. and look forward to engaging with students, faculty, alumni and the community to build on its strengths and create opportunities for the future. […] The university is uniquely positioned in a global center for the arts, technology and the economy and it boasts a student population as diverse as the city it serves. Cal State L.A. truly reflects the changing face of California in the 21st century.”

    Covino served as Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Fresno State since 2009. Before joining Fresno State, Covino spent eight years at Florida Atlantic University, where he chaired the Department of English and was Dean of the College of Arts and Letters. As Dean at FAU, its College of Arts and Letters grew impressively, one unit being the Ph.D. Program in Comparative Studies, which, at his departure, had close to one hundred students enrolled half of which were funded.



    Covino is no stranger to Italian Americana. His support of the field was amply demonstrated when he was dean at FAU. The Ph.D. in Comparative Studies graduated as many as four students in Italian diasporic studies during his tenure as dean; and there were more to follow. 



    Covino has also held faculty positions at the University of Illinois at Chicago and San Diego State University. He earned his B.A. in English from the University of California, Los Angeles; his holds two M.A. degrees from CSU Northridge and the University of Southern California; and he earned his Ph.D. in English from USC in 1981. 

    I had the pleasure of working with him as both Chair of the Department of Languages and Liniguistics and as Associate Dean for Research, Graduate, and Interdisciplinary Studies under his deanship.

  • Italy's PM recognizes historical discrimination against Italian immigrant in the US!


    I am posting this here so others will see it. If you do not know Italian, it says, basically, that the Italian Prime Minister, Enrico Letta, read from a 1912 US Congressional report about Italian immigrants in the United States. The report contains the following:
     
    “Generally they are short and dark-skinned. Many stink because they wear the same clothes for weeks. They construct shacks to live in on the outskirts. When they aspire to live in the city centre they rent ugly, run-down apartments; they appear at first, two of them looking for a room and a kitchen, and soon after a few days there are four of them, then six, eight, 10 and what have you.
     
    They speak a language unintelligible, perhaps ancient dialects. Their children they use to beg with, while in front of the churches women and the old ask for pity in whimpering and irritating tones. They produce lots of children, struggling to keep them, while remaining strongly united among themselves.
     
    It is said they are dedicated to thieving and, if confronted, violent. Our women ignore them because they are savage and repellent and it’s common knowledge that rape is widespread among [them].
     
    The authorities have opened the frontiers of the country too easily and at the same time they have failed to identify those who come to work from those who intend to live either by expedients or crime.”

     
    Report of the Inspector for Italian Immigration to the American Congress, 1912
     
     
    This is what Letta read. You can see a keen report on this at the url below.
     

    Indeed, the entire subject needs to be examined even further than it has been to date. We will see where this goes and reivist it at the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute with those who are in the know and have had direct experiences with this. So keep your eyes posted here and on the Institute's website for future details. 


  • Life & People

    Is Francesco an Italian American Pope?

    With the election of the Italian Argentine Jorge (“Giorgio”) Mario Bergoglio as pope, who humbly chose the name Francesco, a number of groups were able to claim victory, if “victory,” in fact, is the proper term we wish to use.

    I use this term only because during the years of the previous two non-Italian popes, there was always a murmur or two about them not being Italian. Before John Paul II (1978- 2005) and Benedict XVI (2005-2013), the last non-Italian elected was Adrian VI, a Netherlander, who served from January 1522 to September 1523. And let’s be honest, 455 years can make people believe that an Italian pope is only natural, and anything different, well, is not.

    That notwithstanding, the groups I have in mind that might run a victory lap are: Latinos, Italians, and Italian Americans (in the greatest sense of the term). Latinos, of course, because Pope Francesco
is Argentinian, therefore from Latin America, and, then again, we presume, a “Latino”; Italians, of course, because he is “Giorgio” Mario Bergoglio, son of Italian immigrants, and thus one of their progeny; Italian Americans (we usually associate this adjective with North Americans, here I am thinking more broadly), because he is, after all, someone from the Americas and, equally important, the son of Italian immigrants.

    The coverage of this has been fascinating to say the least. There is no regular changing of the guard vis-à-vis the papacy; it is not like the president of any sovereign government with term limits on its leaders. Further still, we were dealing with the election of a new pope after a resignation of a sitting pope, something that hasn’t happened since 1415, when Pope Gregory XII resigned. So it was then that one of the first articles spoke of Pope Francesco as a “humble and outspoken man, and technically also Italian.”(1) It also had an embedded article about how Latinos were hopeful with a new pope from Latin America. (2)

    So there 
it was, Argentina, Italian parents, and Latin America, all to add up to a nicely combined “mestizo” of different heritages, Europe and the Americas, as Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo nicely put it: “Like the title ‘Latin America,’ his name resonates with two heritages: Europe and the New World.”(3)
    Yet this somewhat pollyannish, ethnic triad outlined above is not really the case. As Jesse Washington reported for NBC Latino(4), there is skepticism as to whether Pope Francesco is a true Latino.

    For example: Must a Latino have indigenous blood? If so, then his Italian heritage cancels out any Latino status; for some, the definition of Latino must rely on “Spanish, African and Indian descent.” But Washington goes on to make some significant observations: “The conversation about Pope Francesco’ ethnicity is rooted in history and geography. Latin America is a complex region of deep racial and class narratives. The elites tend to be whites of European ancestry; the poor are often dark-skinned descendants of indigenous or African people. [...] So debates were bound to happen with the elevation of a fair- skinned son of Italians born in South America’s most European city, a place that has always identified more with Rome and Madrid than Caracas or Mexico City.”

    And the geographical question continues, as Washington cites Yale history professor Stephen Pitti, director of the “Latino/a History Project” (I see the irony here.), who sees a difference between “Latino” and “Latino American,” this second term, Pitti recounts, coined by the French in 1860 around the invasion of Mexico. That said, then, according to Pitti and others, the former is used to “describe people of Latin American descent in the United States”; the latter used to describe people from the various countries that make up Latin America. Further still, as Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda, professor at UCLA’s Cesar E. Chavez Department of Chicana/o Studies, pointed out: were the test of indigenous blood applied, people such as Selma Hayek and Carlos Slim could not be considered Latinos(5).

    So where are we then with Pope Francesco? Is he a Latino? Can we, geographically in the United States, decide to share our “American” adjective (as I have suggested above) and apply it also 
to Pope Francesco? If so, then he surely is an “American” of Italian descent. At the very least, he is an Italian Argentinian. And for some, that might be Italian American enough. Enrique Polick, 52, a Cuban-American who went to Rome for the conclave, said: “It’s a victory for the Americas, both North and South”(6). Then again, if we were to follow that more generic notion of thinking, which tells us to look at the person not at the label, we might align ourselves with those who feel “that the only label that really matters is the one we all share: human”(7). Whatever the verdict may be — I suspect it shall remain out for some time to come — for those of us of Italian descent, he is our paesano, that’s for sure!

    Notes:
    1) http://nbclatino.com/2013/03/14/pope- francis-a-humble-and-outspoken-man-and- technically-also-italian


    2) http://nbclatino.com/2013/03/13/latino- religious-leaders-react-to-the-new-pope

    3) http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013- 03-17/national/37795526_1_jesuits-social- justice-pius-xii

    4) http://nbclatino.com/2013/03/25/new- pope-revives-question-what-is-a-latino

    5) quoted in Dennis Romero’s http://blogs. laweekly.com/informer/2013/03/jorge_mario_ bergoglio_new_pope_latino_spanish.php

    6) www.nytimes.com/2013/03/14/world/ europe/pope-francis-bowing-to-crowds-wins- hearts.html

    7) http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/ opinion/2013/03/26/does-it-really-matter-if- pope-francis-is-latino

  • The Language Requirement. "Ciao, Italiano, a Brooklyn College"


    In the United States, the requirement (a.k.a. "foreign language requirement") to study a language other than English  (LOTE) has always been a hotly contested issue among the mono-linguists, those who believe that everyone (around the world) should speak English.


    There is much that has already been said in this regard, a plethora of material available now on the web for those interested. I, in turn, have discussed it here on a previous blog, which you can find below.


    Of course, when there is a sudden rise in a country's political notoriety or economic power, these same above-mentioned mono-linguists somehow transform their thinking and decide it is a good idea to study said country's language. As a result, then, all other languages suffer budget cuts so the langue de jour can be offered. Of course, we all know that within the two worlds of economics and politics, English has become the lingua franca (Pardon me for not translating!).


    What many do not know is that our founding fathers, as we know them, were proficient in LOTEs. Thomas Jefferson, in fact, can be readily considered one of our country's first Italophiles, given his knowledge of Italian and his close friends from Italy, two of whom are the famous Philip (Filippo) Mazzei and the not too well known Carlo Bellini, whom Jefferson appointed to teach Italian at the College of William and Mary—Indeed, the first professor of Italian in the United States. Jeffereson, in fact, was well aware of the importance of knowing profoundly another langauge, as he once stated to Mazzei: "You have a way of expressing yourself in your own tongue, which I cannot translate without lossing the effect" (Kevin J. Hayes, The Road to Monticello, p. 149). Jefferson, we see, understood the importance of nuance and subtleties, which, with regard to one's knowledge of the language in question, could readily communicate differently given certain situations. 


    What follows is a communiqué sent by Brookly College's chapter of the PSC (CUNY's faculty and staff union), announcing the intention of Brooklyn College to eliminate the language requirement. All of this, of course, can be readily seen as a further devaluation of the humanities today across the United States.



    • • • • •

     

    Provost Unilaterally Eliminates Language Requirement at Brooklyn College

    Last month the Provost unilaterally ended the college’s foreign language requirement. This was done as part of the Provost’s implementation of the Chancellor’s Pathways initiative. Pathways gives colleges the option of requiring foreign languages, but only for students admitted as freshman or possibly those transfer students without an associates degree. This is known as the College Option.

    The Provost did not include that requirement in the Pathways framework that he developed. Instead, foreign language courses are given as an optional choice.

    The Provost changed the requirement despite the explicit rejection of the Pathways framework by Faculty Council. In fact, it directly contravenes a Faculty Council resolution passed in May of 2012 that established a framework for implementing Pathways in the event that it went forward despite faculty opposition. That resolution called for the implementation of a language requirement for all direct admit and non-Associate degree transfer students.

    Other colleges, such as Hunter, used this option to maintain their language requirement, which was the clear will of Faculty Council. The Provost has argued that this would compromise his desire to preserve other upper tier Core courses. Herein lies the ultimate problem. Pathways is a failed system that is reducing standards and creating a one-size-fits-all curriculum at the lowest common denominator.

    The Provost’s decision was taken without consultation with Faculty Council or the departments affected by this change, which are Classics, Judaic Studies, and Modern Languages. [...]

  • Op-Eds

    Behind the Closed Doors of the "Professoriate"


    What college / university students do not necessarily know is what goes on behind the closed doors of the world of professors and administrators. It is here that we find a series of issues that (1) may create conflict, (2) may threaten the actual curriculum of which the institution purports to be most proud, (3) may threaten the quality of the teaching, and, definitely not last in any list of this type, (4) may, as a consequence of the previous three phenomena, threaten the morale and, to be sure, the livelihood of those most qualified professors precisely because of the abused adoption of lecturers and adjuncts — as opposed to tenure-track positions — who often deliver the curricula that the very colleges and universities publicize as their strong point!

     

    The case below is an example par excellence of what takes place in the world of United States colleges and universities. Full-time lecturers and part-time adjuncts do in fact deliver a good deal of the curricula in many institutions of higher education; the average of such individuals may often reach 40-45% of the teaching staff. This, I believe, is especially true with regard to those so-called “small” programs, those seemingly exotic curricula (of which Italian is sometimes considered) that, according to those traditional thinkers, for whom college is supposed to provide you with job “qualifications.” As such, this is the situation — and this is not supposition — with numerous Italian programs nation-wide. Regardless of the demand by the students or, better still, the significance of the curricula within Western Civilization, these courses are often delivered by the full-time lecturers and part-time adjuncts.


    Before offering up to you the letter that Dr. Van Watson sent to his/my colleagues in Italian Studies, I would simply state that — while this is not the place to debate the issue; indeed, much more needs to be said — colleges and universities have grown exponentially their administrations, while the professoriate (full-time, tenure track) has shrunken.

     

    Finally, once you have read the letter below, should you feel moved to express your support, you might write to any and all of the following: Provost Andrew C. Comrie <[email protected]>; Dean, Mary Wildner-Bassett <[email protected]>; Department Chair, Fabian Alfie <[email protected]>.

     

    You may also sign the petition included in the letter below from Professor Nathalie Hester. By the way, the April 30th deadline is not a fixed one; you can still sign the petition.


    From: van watson <[email protected]>

    Date: Monday, April 15, 2013 10:34 PM

    To: [Sent to numerous senior professors in Italian Studies]

    Subject: after 13 years, non-renewal

     As some of you may already know, after 13 years at the University of Arizona, two weeks ago I informed that my year-by-year renewable contract here will not be renewed for next year. We currently have 98 majors, perhaps the largest Italian undergraduate program in the country. While my colleagues have had a teaching load of 2/2, my load has been 3/3, plus I teach a disproportional share of the larger courses, while still teaching 400-level courses on Pirandello, on Goldoni, and on Pasolini taught in Italian. I have also taught all levels of language here. In other words, I have taught more courses and far more students than anyone else here in what is, by any measure, a truly successful program. I was the first person at the university to be promoted from Adjunct Assistant to Adjunct Associate Professor, which was good, inasmuch as it was a promotion, but also bad, inasmuch as it avoided the tenure issue. My position here has had a service and research requirement, just as if I were a tenure track professor, but without the support for research that such a professor would otherwise receive. My research for publication suffered considerably as I have been assigned courses completely outside my area of expertise--ancient Rome, and medieval and Renaissance Italian--as no one else wanted to teach them.  When I originally came here, it was solely as a Modernist with theatre and film specializations. As a teacher, I have been nominated for the Distinguished Teaching Award here about five years ago, and a number of my students inform me that this is currently happening again, although this nomination has not yet been officially announced.  If this is so, I will be the only faculty member in my department to have been nominated for this award twice in the 13 years that I have been here. I have had three Fulbright winners from our program who have taken four courses with me; no other instructor here can make such a claim. In any case, on my Annual Performance Reviews I have always scored "Highest Merit," the highest category we have at this university.  As a member of a French and Italian Department, wherein French professors outnumber the Italians 3-to-1, I have been passed over more than once during my time here for French positions, and twice I have been passed over for spousal accommodations in Italian. In short, by no objective measure is my non-renewal a good decision for our program. In meetings with my chair and dean, they confirmed that no job performance issue or incident has served as a basis for this decision. How could there be? 12 of my 15 colleagues have written a letter of protest regarding the decision to my chair and dean, the latter refusing to meet with them. (My three colleagues in our Second Language Acquisition Training program have officially remained silent, though none of them supports my chair in this, and one has voiced his personal and open hostility against my chair.)  Nathalie Hester of the University of Oregon has kindly offered to organize a letter of protest from my colleagues at other institutions against my non-renewal through the AAIS listserv. I am sending you this mass email because you may not belong to the AAIS this year, but have in the past. In addition, if you could please disseminate this information to anyone of your colleagues who might know me from conferences, publications, or other venues, such as film or theatre conferences, I would very much appreciate any support you can give.

    Grazie mille,William Van Watson



    ----- Forwarded Message -----

    From: Nathalie Hester

    To: Nathalie Hester

    Sent: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 12:23 AM

    Subject: Letter of support for William Van Watson, U. of Arizona Italian Studies

    Dear colleagues,

    As some of you may know, last month the Department of French and Italian at the University of Arizona decided not to renew the contract of Professor William Van Watson, Adjunct Associate Professor of Italian.  After 13 years at the University of Arizona, he was told on March 21 that his contract would end on May 19, 2013.

    This decision was made without explanation (the number of Italian majors is a healthy 98), despite Van Watson’s stellar annual performance reviews, significant contributions to the field of Cinema Studies, and strong support from faculty members in his department.

    I hope you will consider signing a letter of concern addressed to the Chair of the Department of French and Italian at the University of Arizona. The action taken by this department affects not just an esteemed colleague, but also the state of Italian Studies, as it erodes job security for those non-tenure-track faculty members with a proven record of successful teaching.

    To sign the letter, please go to http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/van-watson/. Also, please consider sending this link to colleagues. We need to collect as many signatures as possibly by April 30, 2013.

    Sincerely yours,

    Nathalie Hester

    Associate Professor

    Dept. of Romance Languages

    University of Oregon

  • Op-Eds

    Really? This is Section A news for the United States?


    In order to underscore my point, I would ask that you pause after you read my first question and before moving on to my answer: Who is Prospero Gallinari?


    (New York Times website)

    Now, unless you are around fifty years old, or indeed older, and lived in Italy during the 1970s and 1980s, and/or unless you are an intimate student of contemporary Italian history, you probably have no idea who he is. Indeed, I would submit to you that the majority of Italians would not recognize the name at first blush.


    The question begged here, then, is, why did the New York Times have an obit on him in their obituary pages (p. 25) in the print edition of January 17, 2013, space they seem to reserve for people of a certain stature? Furthermore, the article, now on line, is accompanied by a photo not only of Gallinari but also of the macabre scene of Aldo Moro’s murdered body, as you can see above.


    There is a second occurrence that raises questions. On page 19 of the same Friday edition, the New York Times published an article, a short piece indeed with large print of five lines and a large photo, on nicknames of Italian members of organized crime, beginning with that of someone who had been arrested the day before, and known as "Papa Smurf." 

    (New York Times website)

    Here, too, one wonders. Why would such a prestigious newspaper feel the need to publish such a piece, first of all? Then, why in Section A of the paper? Third, why stretch it all out, so that the piece with its large print and coincidental large photo occupy two thirds of the page, above the fold? Of course, the ultimate question is, why do it at all?


    I’ll stop here, as I suspect I may get the urge to return to this subject of what appears here at another time and in another venue.

  • Really? This is Section A news for the United States?


    In order to underscore my point, I would ask that you pause after you read my first question and before moving on to my answer: Who is Prospero Gallinari?


    (New York Times website)

    Now, unless you are around fifty years old, or indeed older, and lived in Italy during the 1970s and 1980s, and/or unless you are an intimate student of contemporary Italian history, you probably have no idea who he is. Indeed, I would submit to you that the majority of Italians would not recognize the name at first blush.


    The question begged here, then, is, why did the New York Times have an obit on him in their obituary pages (p. 25) in the print edition of January 17, 2013, space they seem to reserve for people of a certain stature? Furthermore, the article, now on line, is accompanied with a photo not only of Gallinari but also of the macabre scene of Aldo Moro’s murdered body, as you can see above.


    There is a second occurrence that raises questions. On page 19 of the same Friday edition, the New York Times published an article, a short piece indeed with large print of five lines and a large photo, on nicknames of Italian members of organized crime, beginning with that of someone who had been arrested the day before, and known as "Papa Smurf." 

    (New York Times website)

    Here, too, one wonders. Why would such a prestigious newspaper feel the need to publish such a piece, first of all? Then, why in Section A of the paper? Third, why stretch it all out, so that the piece with its large print and coincidental large photo occupy two thirds of the page, above the fold? Of course, the ultimate question is, why do it at all?


    I’ll stop here, as I suspect I may get the urge to return to this subject of what appears where at another time and in another venue.

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