Everyone connected with Italian studies has been dismayed to learn that the University of Salford seems intent on phasing out the discipline there over the next three years.
The proposal occurs at a time when, in the wake of the British Academy position statements Language Matters (2009) and Language Matters More and More (2011), a great deal of public attention has centred on the need for British graduates to develop their language skills in an increasingly globalised economy. It is also clear that Italian is a popular subject at university level, with several departments having recently expanded their provision of the subject. And this is not to mention how recent events have underlined the importance of Italy as the third-largest eurozone economy and as one of the UK's leading trading partners.
But the proposal is even more saddening because Salford openly acknowledges the undeniable quality of its Italian teaching and research. It does not question the national and international significance of the language, nor cite any weakness in recruitment for its programmes. Indeed, the university appears to share everyone else's view that Italian at Salford has successfully provided a language- and business-focused degree that appeals to students from a wide variety of backgrounds.
The success of Italian at Salford is clear from the online petition to save the subject, which has already attracted more than 1,300 signatures. The comments posted point to the international recognition earned by Salford's researchers in Italian; register the concern of businesspeople at the prospect of a vital link between industry and academia being broken; and record the perception that the proposal will exacerbate the UK's existing deficiencies in languages.
Perhaps most importantly, the petition registers the glowing testimonies of Salford Italian graduates and the scale of discontent among students. The level of consternation is made still clearer in an open letter to management published in the Salford Direct student newspaper. It states that students regard the closure plans as "vastly counter-productive" and that the range of languages on offer was one of the reasons why many of them came to Salford.
We accept that Salford has to find ways to address its financial difficulties, but it is the view of everyone in Italian studies that in proposing to withdraw Italian, it is robbing itself of a highly regarded and successful part of its work. The proposal, if it goes through, will in the long term diminish the attractiveness of its language programme as a whole.
Charles Burdett, chair, Society for Italian Studies; John Dickie, professor of Italian, University College London; Simon Gilson, professor of Italian, University of Warwick; Robert Gordon, professor of Italian, University of Cambridge; Martin McLaughlin, professor of Italian, University of Oxford; Stephen Milner, professor of Italian, University of Manchester; Brian Richardson, professor of Italian, University of Leeds; Marina Spunta, senior lecturer in Italian, University of Leicester