John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

Academic Observations from Venice

John Gardner

I recently spent part of a day in Venice, Italy, with my wife, Betsy Barefoot, being guided by an Italian university professor, who had just finished his first year or so in what he called a “permanent” slot, our equivalent of a tenure track position. From him I learned some things that made me contrast the similarities and differences between our lives in the academy in our two countries: 


  •  the oldest universities generally have the greatest prestige
  • entry level faculty has significantly lower teaching loads than senior faculty (now there is a practice what would revolutionize the cost of instruction in US higher education! Full professors generating more credit hour productivity than assistant professors is almost hard to contemplate.
  •  “deans” favor those disciplines that bring in the most extramural revenue support over many fields in the humanities such as the classics
  •  recent graduates face unemployment rates in excess of 30% (considerably higher than the US)
  •  and these recent graduates are either continuing to live with parents or are moving back in with them.  Same as in the US.
  •  and most distressingly, many of these graduates now assume they will not live as well as their parents due to the shrinkage of “permanent” jobs (with benefits) in all sectors
  •  Italian universities are now trying to provide more opportunities for residential accommodations for students (the picture is mixed in the US where we are very aware that on-campus residential status is a strong predictor for graduation
  • where once Italian students paid no fees, now they do, at an ever increasing rate, approximately 2000 Euros per year (still low by US standards)
  •  Italian universities are making more efforts to assist students to increase retention and graduation rates (we invented this in the US with much help from the author of this blog).
  • publish or perish is alive and well in Italy
  • Italian university students, and their families, do have a social safety net provided by university health coverage, about which we heard no complaints at all, except for waiting lists for non emergency elective procedures.
  • Italians educators are amazed by the issues in dispute in the current US presidential election campaign, such as whether or not to have anything approaching universal health insurance coverage.

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