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Academic freedom under threat: a workshop on LGBT Asylum is censored at the University of Verona

Under political pressure, the president of the University of Verona has suspended a day-long workshop on “themes that are politically and ethically controversial such as migration and sexual orientation”…

Academic signatories
24 May 2018

Sigillo dell'Università di Verona (marzo 2016). GiovanniCerutti/Wikicommons. Some rights reserved.In Italy too, academic freedom is under threat, and democracy along with it. Barely has the extreme right assumed power that its effects are already being felt.

On Friday, May 18, pressured by the extreme right, which recently came to power in Italy, the president of the University of Verona, economist Nicola Sartor, “suspended” a research and training workshop scheduled for Friday, May 25 titled “Asylum Seekers, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.”

This workshop was organized as part of a National Interest Research Project (PRIN) on vulnerability by the departments of the Human and Juridical Sciences as well as the Hannah Arendt and the PoliTeSse Centers from the same university, in collaboration with the Association of Juridical Studies on Immigration (ASGI) and the “LGBT migrants” section of the organization Arcigay, and with the participation, among others, of a representative of UNHCR. It was meant to bring together scholars, lawyers, and activists.

As the Italian press reported, worried by the anticipated success of this event evidenced by the number of registrations, the extreme right (Lega, Forza Nuova) mobilized to ban the event with leaflets  (“No gay refugees, stop the dictatorship of gender!”) and explicit threats (Forza Nuova announced a demonstration in front of the university on May 25 with the words: “Someone has to ban this conference; if nobody does it, we will, by force.”

In adjourning the workshop sine die under the pretext of “strengthening its scientific contents,” the president of the University of Verona caved in to the far right, laying claim in his public statement to the importance of scientific autonomy while sacrificing academic freedom: “The university cannot be instrumentalized by actors outside of the academic world who fight over subjects that are both politically and ethically controversial, such as migration and sexual orientation.” We ask the president of the University of Verona, despite the difficulties of the Italian political context, to reconsider his decision.

We are outraged that the extreme right feels authorized to dictate what can be done or said in Italian universities, and we worry that a university president who yields to such pressures will only encourage them to grow stronger. We ask the president of the University of Verona, despite the difficulties of the Italian political context, to reconsider his decision in order to preserve the international reputation of his institution in the academic field. Today, it is Gender Studies and research on immigration that are under threat, and the University of Verona is the target of these attacks. But tomorrow, who in academia will be able to feel safe? We express our solidarity with our colleagues in Italy for we know that, in their country as in our own, we must defend academic liberties with vigilance lest they be diminished, and democracy along with them.


Among the signatories (the complete list can be seen here):

Association française de sociologie

Étienne Balibar, philosopher, Université Paris-Nanterre / Columbia University

Laura Bazzicalupo, philosopher, Université de Salerno

Esther Benbassa, Senator of Paris, historian, EPHE

Daniel Borrillo, attorney, Université Paris-Nanterre / LEGS

Judith Butler, philosopher, University of California, Berkeley

Line Chamberland, Chair of research on homophobia, UQAM (Canada)

George Chauncey, historian, Columbia University

Christine Delphy, sociologist, CNRS

Didier Eribon, sociologist and philosopher, Dartmouth College

Éric Fassin, sociologist, Université Paris-8 / LEGS

Alvaro Gil Robles, attorney, First Commissioner of the Human Righst of the Counsel of Europe, Universidad Complutense de Madrid

Nacira Guénif, sociologist, Université Paris 8

Virginie Guiraudon, political scientist, head of research at CNRS, Sciences Po Center for European and Comparative Studies

David M. Halperin, Chair of History and Theory of Sexuality, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (EUA)

François Héran, sociologist and and demographer, chair of Migrations and Society, Collège de France

Jean-Claude Marcourt, Vice-President of the Government of the Wallonie-Bruxelles Federation, Minister of Higher Education, Research, and Media

Nonna Mayer, political scientist, CNRS / Sciences Po

Angela McRobbie, Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths University of London

David Paternotte, sociologist, Université Libre de Bruxelles

Paul B. Preciado, philosopher

Joan W. Scott, historian, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton

Patrick Simon, socio-demographer, INED

Isabelle Simonis, Minister of the Rights of Women and Equal Opportunity of the Wallonie-Bruxelles Federation

Serge Slama, attorney, Université de Grenoble

Ann L. Stoler, historian and anthropologist, New School for Social Research (EUA)

Anna Uziel, psychologist, UERJ, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)

Françoise Vergès, Chair of Global South(s), FMSH

Catherine Wihtol de Wenden, political scientist, CNRS

Raul Eugenio Zaffaroni, Judge at the Interamerican Court of Human Rights, former judge of the Federal Supreme Court of Argentina.

Donatella Di Cesare, philosophe, Université La Sapienza, Rome

Simona Forti, philosophe, Université du Piémont Oriental

Franca Roncarolo, politiste, Université de Turin

Chiara Saraceno, sociologue, Université de Turin

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