Language slaves

An update on the situation of university language teachers in Italy, otherwise known as lettori. The academic year looks set to begin with the usual mood of rage tempered by resignation as emails from colleagues throughout Italy relate the new attacks on the category, almost but not entirely composed of non-Italians, by the ill-educated, largely unpublished, downright stupid, short-tempered, wilfully or idly vicious caste of native professors and their administrative lapdogs.

Three emblematic situations.

In Viterbo, despite pressure from the unions and lawyers, lettori continue to be obliged to clock in, unlike all other teaching staff, because they aren’t considered teaching staff, and to fill in registers and reports of their activities, unlike all other administrative staff, because what they do is teach. For the director of the university language centre, a woman called Alba Graziano who’s published a couple of books on George Meredith (one of them in a series edited by, er, Alba Graziano), lettori are tecnico-amministrativo personnel, and that’s that, so fuck logic and the evidence of her own eyes. She probably wouldn’t recognise a language teacher if it hit her in the face (don’t tempt me), but she knows enough about protecting her turf not only to force her language slaves to have their activities timed like office staff, but also to inform them that they’re overpaid, under-worked and, in the face of the university contract, which presumably she hasn’t – or can’t – read, part-time workers, with all the effect this has on pensions rights, and so on. I don’t know how much they get in Viterbo, but it’s unlikely to be more than the €1,150 I get each month. That’s right, about £700. Poor sods. No wonder they’re demoralised.

In Rome, a colleague is told that she has to come into the university three days a week to teach her hours, something she’s been doing with great success for the last few years in two days. She refuses, pointing out to the rabid barone – responsible, god help them, for timetabling – that her contract says nothing about the number of days she has to teach but only the number of hours. All hell breaks loose. Meetings are held. At the highest level. There is much shouting in corridors as short-fused middle-aged women with too much power and money face the prospect of paradigm shift. The university isn’t concerned with the quality of my colleague’s teaching, which is recognised as being exceptional, but with punishment and the blind wielding of power. Ironically, the stick it’s chosen to beat this particular drum (and colleague) is the contract used for the short-term recruitment of professors. That’s right. Professors. Sounds familiar? When it’s in the interests of the university to treat lettori like clerks, they’re clerks. When, less often, it’s in the interests of the university to treat them like professors (i.e. when office staff get a raise and teachers don’t), they’re suddenly, briefly, hiked up a notch. Until the next time they ask for a piece of chalk.

In Bologna, a colleague asked to have extra holiday to make up for holiday lost through illness this summer, as stipulated in her tecnico-amministrativo contract. She was told that she can’t take any holiday during the period of teaching activity. Why not? Why doesn’t this contract apply to me? Because I’m a teacher? Well, yes. Er, no. But I can’t have time off because I should be teaching? I didn’t say teaching! So what do I do? Whatever you do, you can’t have time off.

Heads, they win. Tails, you lose.

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