The proposal to close the department – which the university said could lead to the loss of up to four jobs – is currently subject to a 90-day consultation period, which closes on 25 June.
A Salford spokesman said the university had “found it difficult to support the expense of teaching the current programme”, which has around 70 undergraduate and postgraduate students.
In a letter published in tomorrow’s issue of Times Higher Education, concern over the move is voiced by academic signatories led by Charles Burdett, chair of the Society for Italian Studies and reader in modern Italian studies at the University of Bristol, and John Dickie, professor of Italian at University College London.
An online petition to save the subject has attracted more than 1,300 signatures, they say.
The signatories write that the proposal “occurs at a time when…a great deal of public attention has centred on the need for British graduates to develop their language skills in an increasingly globalised economy”.
They add that the closure plan “is even more saddening because Salford openly acknowledges the undeniable quality of its Italian teaching and research”.
In a letter published in the Salford student newspaper, students in the Italian department say that “as a university which is part of the EU Translation Network, it seems vastly counter-productive to go forward into the 2012-13 academic year offering only three European languages”.
They add that Italian “is not studied in many other UK higher educational institutions” and that to remove it “would render the university just like any other in this country, offering the standard and banal range of French, Spanish and German as available European languages, thus lessening interest in the university as a place of study for European languages”.
The Salford spokesman said: “We are committed to providing a wide range of courses which meet the needs of employers and demand from applicants.
“We review all of our courses continually, and are currently proposing to narrow the range while maintaining the quality of language courses we offer, as we have found it difficult to support the expense of teaching the current programme.
“We will, however, continue our strong tradition of teaching major world languages and of translation studies.”