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