Monday, May 25, 2009

Life in Italy 4: Parochialism

Italy is still very much based on independent small towns. There are 8101 comunes with the largest being Rome with 2.7 million inhabitants, and the smallest perhaps being Morterone with 33 inhabitants (and, I heard recently, more candidates for the council elections than residents). Between neighbouring towns there are often longstanding hositilities.

Recently I got involved in such a dispute. Our university (University of Insubria) was born as a "bipolar" university with two seats, one at Varese and the other at Como. It takes an hour by car to travel from one to the other. The university has two science faculties, including two separate courses of Computer Science. This is not completely irrational because, for example, students from Como who would like to do Computer Science would rather go to Milan than Varese if the course did not exist in Como.

Recently because of the reforms being made in the university system the faculty of Science at Como produced scenarios (in the January 2009 minutes of the faculty)  proposing the closure of the Computer Science course (and also Beni Culturali) in Como. As a result 8 computer scientists from Como asked to transfer to the course in Varese.

There is something I need to explain: the Varese Science faculty has three times the number of students as the Science faculty of Como, while having the same number of staff (approximately 80 each). So the transfer of staff to Varese seems quite reasonable.

However an anonymous letter was sent to the local Como press, a letter containing many false statements, but in any case implying that the Como pole was being badly done by. This became a political cause for Como: it was presented that the requests for transferral preceded, and were the cause of, the closure of Computer Science at Como, instead of the consequence. As a result of this campaign we were denied the possibility to transfer. This will probably result in the closure of one of the courses in Computer Science also at Varese.

Who knows what will happen next! As I have explained in an earlier post (Escamotage) the reforms necessitate the closure of many courses. La Sapienza university in Rome has closed 46 courses. There are currently 11 courses in Como Science, which must be reduced to 8. The faculty's choice of courses to close is strange. Computer Science and Beni Culturali are the courses with the largest student enrolments, and closing them will reduce the student intake by 40% in a faculty which already has few students.



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