January 5, 2011 Leave a comment
James Sasso, Associate Editor
Italian university students have not kept quiet about their anger against the Berlusconi government in Italy. The Italian prime minister, besides living a life of tremendous personal scandal and leading what is widely regarded as a corrupt government, has spearheaded the government’s attempt to cut spending and reign in the unruly university system. While no one, especially students, can deny the truth of the disastrous situation of Italy’s higher education system, almost every member of academia disagrees with the government’s plan to reform the system with a program known as DDL.
These reforms would, according to a student member of the protest at the University of Parma, would take away power from the students, ensure that researchers do not have the time or money to teach needed lessons and that an “outsider” of the school would overlook its spending with bureaucratic limits and regulations that would not account for the needs of the individual school. Indeed, the reforms would aim “to reorganize the governance of institutions and the system of recruiting university teachers, and to change the way funds are allocated, by rewarding meritorious institutions and forcing schools that are running a deficit to close.”
These reforms had already been passed through the House in Italy and were awaiting approval by the Senate when Silvio Berlusconi’s government came into question due to his numerous personal scandals, including Rubygate where he had relations with an underage girl. The students hoped that his government would fall and thus take away the majority of Senators who would support the DDL reforms to the universities. So, as is the norm in Italy, the students decided to make their voices heard against Berlusconi and against the proposed reforms by protesting, marching and occupying buildings.
In late November, student groups at universities across Italy began to take extreme measures to voice their opposition to the DDL. In Rome they occupied the Colosseum and Senate building. In Pisa they took over a runway at the airport and the Leaning Tower. In Parma, a smaller city, they occupied a classroom of the University of Parma, but in Florence and Milan students clashed with police. Even researchers at the universities joined in by taking sleeping bags to the roofs of universities to sleep there in protest. These protests intensified as the government prepared to make a vote of confidence (one that would decide, essentially, whether or not Berlusconi would remain in power) on December 14th. In Parma, students blocked the main street, stopping traffic and singing songs to try and rally support against Berlusconi and against DDL in vibrant and active manners. They obviously cared about the situation affecting their universities and their educations.
In America what would happen in a similar situation? Republicans already are threatening massive spending cuts in public education and public funding for higher education, but almost no students have voiced protest. Education is the backbone of a developing society and should be protected by all, especially by those directly involved such as students and educators, but the discussion of school funding goes largely unnoticed to members of Generation Y who seem not to see education as a gift. Yes the Italian university system, almost entirely public, cannot be compared to the largely private (or semi-private) system of American colleges and universities, but that should not change the level that students want to protect their education. Generation Y needs to voice its opposition to the destruction, dismantling and degradation of the American education system, not ignore it.
While the Italian system obviously has its flaws and is untenable in its current state, one cannot deny the power of watching hundreds of students march to try and protect something they feel is sacred: their ability to advance their knowledge. American students could learn a lesson from their attempts. This is not to suggest that American students should pick up pitch forks and torches and take to the streets, but perhaps that Generation Y needs to once again recognize the invaluable gift and privilege given to it in the form of public education. It should hail that gift and nurture it. It should care for it and promote it. When something threatens its existence, Generation Y should strike back instead of lauding the decreased number of teachers and homework. As politicians attack the education system with spending cuts, furloughs and unnecessary bureaucratic restrictions, Generation Y needs to voice its opposition or else face the consequences as it matures in the world’s next generation of leaders.