Thursday, 22 February 2007

Running Babel to advantage

Like some mythological beast, the university language centre I work in is about to undergo what looks like its final metamorphosis.

Its first director treated it as a centre of power and money cow, running the place as an occasionally benign dictatorship until she was crossed by higher forces. (The disadvantage of wielding power in a feudal set up is that there's almost always someone nearer to God than you are; in this case, the Magnificent Rector, as they're touchingly known in Italy.)

Director No. 1 was replaced by a woman whose sense of self-esteem is so highly developed she was once seen stamping out of the Bank of Italy screaming, I'll have you closed! (For the benefit of my Italian readers, Vi faccio chiudere!). She stuck it for fifteen months, during which the place ran on auto-pilot.

And now we have Director No. 3, a law professor. He's going to be supported by something called a giunta. (Translates as junta: among its definitions is: Military dictatorship, a form of government wherein the political power resides with the military.) In theory, this will give him the expert didactic advice he's going to need in order to run a centre devoted to the teaching of foreign languages at university level.

The startling thing about the junta is that not a single member of it is a professional language teacher. We haven't even been asked.

Yet no one here seems to think it startling at all. This is a state of affairs that would be hard to imagine in a university in any other country in the world.

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