'Chief of structure' quits over new age of corporate speak

March 3, 2000

ROME

A professor of Anglo-American literature at Venice University has announced he will abandon teaching after 42 years because he is baffled by the new wave of corporate-bureaucratic terminology used in his university.

In an article in Corriere della Sera, Sergio Perosa, 66, head of Ca' Foscari's department of English and American literature, complained of a "new age" in which students become "customers", degrees are "products", the university is a "company", and directives and circulars are obscure and prolix exercises in administrative "new speak".

"As a linguist, I find the new terminology offensive towards the Italian language," he told The THES. "In practical terms, the damage consists of communication that is confusing, ineffective and time wasting. The job of a university is to encourage clarity, not to muddy ideas and confuse the mind."

Professor Perosa said that he used to receive letters and circulars addressed to the "director of department" or the "director of institute". He finds, however, that he has now become "chief of structure".

"I feel like writing a letter to the rector addressed to the 'chief of chiefs of structures'," he said.

Professor Perosa complained that with this evolution in language, the quantity of paper landing on his desk has increased enormously, a daily load of circulars, directives and evaluation forms to be filled out.

"The new language is the offspring of a hypertrophic bureaucracy," he said. "We know that the old academic language was muddy, pompous and rhetorical. For decades we fought against it and looked with longing towards the clarity and conciseness of the English language. But this is worse, often I have no idea what they are talking about. It is both glacial and mystifying.

"I believed our job was to form minds, awaken interests, stimulate intellectually and transmit knowledge. I now discover that I am providing a 'service', like gas, to 'customers' who, if all goes well, become 'products', like tinned food."

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