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Message from the President and Executive Committee

October 8, 2017

Dear President Stanley, Provost Bernstein, and Dean Kopp:

We write as the Executive Committee of the American Association for Italian Studies (AAIS) to express our deep concern over cuts to the Humanities at Stony Brook University. In particular, we are gravely troubled by the recent non-renewal of three tenure-track faculty members in the College of Arts and Sciences.

As tenured professors who work at diverse public universities (Northern Arizona University, The Ohio State University, the College of William & Mary, and Wayne State University), and who serve as deans, chairs, associate chairs, and faculty members, we are well aware of the kinds of budgetary pressures and other institutional challenges that Stony Brook University faces. We also feel very strongly that these pressures require us all to defend the integrity of humanities programs with more vigor than ever, and indeed to work to strengthen studies of comparative literature and culture, of migration, gender, race and ethnicity. In a year marked by xenophobic violence on the national stage and the recension of the DACA program, it is our responsibility as university faculty to bolster cross-cultural communication, innovative reasoning, and a deep awareness of cultural history. Some of the programs Stony Brook plans to cut are those best positioned to do this kind of critical work.

Most urgently, in the face of financial constraints, it is imperative to protect the institution of tenure, along with the academic freedom and professional stability that it affords. Only faculty with such freedom and stability can develop and sustain programs of innovative research. Failing to follow the recommendation of a department, and its chair, to renew these three contracts risks weakening the tenure process across the university, and threatens it beyond Stony Brook as well. Although budgetary pressures are common at state institutions, austerity measures must not undermine the integrity of academic programs. We feel strongly that, at a university, the kinds of difficult choices made under financial pressures must still respect the intellectual priorities of the institution.

At an institution whose diversity plan celebrates cultural awareness, and where a Global Studies program promises to teach students about the values of interconnectedness, the work being conducted by the tenure-track scholars being dismissed seems, ironically, to be precisely the kind of work that helps the university realize its mission.

The three faculty being dismissed are pursuing critical research in areas that will be increasingly important as globalization continues to spur migration. They specialize, respectively, in works by Southeast Asian American authors and refugee artists, Middle Eastern women writers in French and Arabic, and Italian migrant writers and authors from

the Horn of Africa. In Italian studies, we can affirm that research in migration studies is cutting-edge, and is positioned to become increasingly important as Italy continues to be on the frontlines of wave after wave of migration to Europe. Indeed, each of these faculty members was pursuing—and achieving—precisely the innovative and productive scholarship that we expect from faculty in tenure-track positions.

We urge you to reconsider your decision to dismiss these three outstanding scholars, and hope that you will consider the alarming precedent set when tenure-track faculty can no longer rely on being evaluated on the merits of their scholarship.

Sincerely,

Valerio Ferme, President
Dana Renga, Vice President 

Monica Seger, Executive Secretary 
Elena Past, Treasurer

Executive Committee, American Association for Italian Studies (AAIS) 


    Previous messages from the President and Executive Committee:


    February 1, 2017

    Dear colleagues,

    We write as members of the executive of the American Association of Italian Studies to express our deep concern about the decision by our newly elected president to place restrictions and holds on the entry into the United States of many immigrants and visitors who have dutifully obtained permission to come live in or visit the country.


    Without getting into the validity of these decisions or the political issues that relate to them, we believe it is important to consider how these restrictions affect many of our colleagues, and graduate and undergraduate students, but also neighbors and others who come from countries affected by the executive orders. Many come from war torn areas, and have suffered tremendous personal losses, as well as already significant and extended scrutiny in obtaining the permissions that are now being questioned and put on hold. Others have already been victimized because, even though they practice a particular religion, it is not the specific current of that religion that others in their countries profess. Some decided to subject themselves to this uprooting spurred by the hope to be reunited with members of their families already in this country, or by the promise of leading a life that does not involve going to bed at night wondering if you will wake up in the morning still in one piece. 


    Why should this matter to us as members of the AAIS? It should for many reasons, none more important than as a reminder of how members of the culture and history we make our own once were equally victimized by executive orders and popular sentiment that we now see replicated toward others. We hope many of you have seen and read the article that our colleague and fellow member, Professor Anthony Tamburri, has written about his family’s personal experience with the Alien Enemies Act in 1942.


    We would like to go back even further in time to remind ourselves that Italians were once vilified and excluded as dangerous to the health of the nation in similar ways to those we are witnessing today. For example, the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 (alternately known as the Immigration Act of 1924) was clearly meant to exclude Italian immigrants (who had come in droves in the period 1890-1920), since it restricted annual immigration from any country to 2% of the numbers from that country who had been living in the United States as of the 1890 census. Given how many more Italian (and Eastern European/Jewish) immigrants had come to the United States in the 1890-1920 years, the act obviously targeted and excluded them in primis. That was preceded in 1919 and 1920 by the infamous Palmer Raids, which targeted anarchists and political activists (many of whom were Italian) who were imprisoned and deported because their ideas were at odds with those of the government. Finally, to complete the analogy, threats to the wellbeing of Italian immigrants were often carried out in lynchings, none more egregious than the New Orleans lynching of 11 Italians in 1891 (the largest mass-lynching in American history), or the subsequent one of 5 Italian citizens in Tallulah, MS in 1899.


    We write, therefore, asking our membership to think about how it wishes to act moving forward. Regardless of our political convictions, stripes, colors, or religious affiliation, it behooves us to empathize with those who are subject to these new dispositions because, once in a past that is not that distant, many of our own relatives, families, and friends might have experienced similar disruptions and fearful holds on their movement into this country (for many with similar long delays or return trips to Italy). We also need, where possible, to join in questioning the appropriateness of these actions, not because our government does not have the power (if not necessarily the right) to enforce acts that it deems appropriate for its security; but because the targeted nature of these measures seems haphazard and capricious (as Professor Tamburri points out in his article, no citizens from the countries targeted by the executive orders have been responsible for terrorist acts on American soil). As we know, capriciousness and ideological exclusions have often led to behaviors and restrictions on human rights that have had and continue to have tremendous negative impacts on our fragile, commonly shared humanity.

    - The AAIS Executive Committee


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