Foreign language instructors at Italian universities, typically born outside Italy, have some of the worst working conditions in Italian academe, The New York Times reported. Under various provisions of Italian law, they work at lower salaries than other university instructors, and tend to lack basic sick and family leave, among other benefits. Despite a series of legal challenges to this system as inconsistent with European regulations that are supposed to promote equity across national borders, and a series of court wins on the issue, most of the language instructors have seen little progress.
Many Greeks are furious with Germany over its stance on the economic crisis in Greece, but Greek students are flocking to German language courses, The Times of London reported. Students are studying at German programs in Greece or traveling to German-speaking countries to learn the language, hoping to stay and find a good job. "I think the situation in Germany and the way they live is of high quality," said Elena Mavromatti, a law student at the University of Athens, who is taking advanced night-classes at the Germanika language school.
The University Center of Samaria, an Israeli institution in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, is pushing to be declared an official university on par with those in Israel proper, and the request has angered many Israeli academics as well as Palestinians and others who oppose building up Israeli institutions in the West Bank, Haaretz reported. The center currently has temporary status as a "university institution," which provides for it to receive more money than colleges do in Israel, but not as much as universities. That status expires in July, setting off a debate over the future of the institution. The center enrolls nearly 13,000 students. Israeli politicians who are skeptical of giving up the West Bank have backed the expansion of the center, and are pushing for university status.
More than 1,000 professors at universities in Israel have signed a petition opposing any elevation of the center's status, saying that they are opposed to "the attempt to enlist academia in service of the occupation." Some Israeli university presidents have also opposed a new status for the center, saying that such a change would lead to more money being spent there at a time that the other universities need more support.
The Modern Language Association's Executive Council has approved a statement on the importance of language learning to U.S. policy. The statement calls the learning of foreign languages "vital" and goes on to explain why. "We believe this view should be uncontroversial; anyone interested in the long-term vitality and security of the United States should recognize that it will be detrimental for Americans to remain overwhelmingly monolingual and ill informed about other parts of this increasingly interdependent world," the statement says. "We are therefore deeply alarmed by the drastic and disproportionate budget cuts in recent years to programs that fund advanced language study. We believe that advanced language study is important for the same reasons many policy makers, advisers, and elected officials do: Americans need to be literate about the languages and cultures of the United States’ major trading partners, and Americans need to be literate in the so-called strategic languages important to national security."
Manipal University, a private institution in India, is in talks to open a campus in China, in collaboration with two universities in that country, Tianjin University and Tongji University, The Hindu reported. The campus being planned would be the first in China to offer a program in information technology and other sciences, taught only in English.
Irish historians have watched the legal case relating to the witness statements from participants in the conflict in Northern Ireland held by Boston College with great interest and with no little trepidation.
Regardless of the ultimate outcome of the case, there are real fears that the controversy has already jeopardized the collection and preservation of historical material relating to the conflict in Northern Ireland.
One friend, who was instrumental in helping University College Dublin Archives to secure a significant collection of private papers that includes material relating to the Northern Ireland peace process, remarked recently that it would have been more difficult to convince the donor to preserve his papers and donate them to an archive if the controversy at Boston College had previously been known.
The great difficulty here is that any comprehensive history of the Northern Ireland conflict will be very dependent on statements from the men and women who were directly engaged in the events: republicans, loyalist paramilitaries, police, British army personnel, politicians, public servants, and the ordinary people whose lives were shaped by the conflict. The nature of the conflict in Northern Ireland was such that no existing archive can expect to stand as sufficient sources for the writing of plausible history; the words of the people who lived through (and participated in) the conflict need to be preserved to allow for the creation of a more meaningful historical record.
The Boston College interviews are one of several series of interviews that currently exist, or are now being collected. Oral history is especially important if we are to tell the story of everyday life during these years, and the motivations and reflections of men and women who did not hold positions of leadership.
Irish historians are very conscious of the importance of such testimonies, because a comparable archive exists relating to the 1916 Rising and the Irish war of independence. In the 1940s and early 1950s the Bureau of Military History – funded by the Irish government – collected statements from men and women who participated in these events. Some of those men and women engaged in violence or other acts about which they might not have been willing to speak publicly. The statements were finally released in 2004, 50 years after they were collected, when all the witnesses had died.
Although this delay has been criticized, it shows a respect for the witnesses and indeed for all who were affected by the events narrated in these testimonies. These statements, and the anticipated release shortly of thousands of Military Pension Files, containing further firsthand statements from those involved in the War of Independence, provide a permanent and valuable record of a critical period in the emergence of contemporary Ireland.
These firsthand accounts have transformed the understanding of these years, bringing it to life in a manner that more formal records cannot do.
The oral statements of participants in the conflict in Northern Ireland offer a similar potential to provide a rounded account of these years. This will only happen, however, if those making statements can trust the record-taker, and trust the place where these records are deposited.
This trust requires firm assurances that the statements will not be released prematurely, or divulged other than under the terms agreed. The witness statements should be collected with the intent of creating a long-term historical record; while there may be an understandable eagerness to gain access to them, in order to be first with the story – they are best left undisturbed for a significant period of time. Essentially, they should be collected and protected for posterity – not for the present.
University College Dublin (UCD), in common with other research universities, has a clear code of ethics that applies to all material that relates to identifiable individuals; securing their consent to any use that permits them to be identified is a key requirement.
In addition researchers and archivists must observe the requirements of the Data Protection Act, which precludes the revealing of personal information – relating to matters such as health, family circumstances or financial records, and these regulations are strictly enforced. Many of the private collections deposited in UCD Archives can only be accessed with the permission of the donor.
While testimonies relating to paramilitary activities are obviously of a particularly sensitive nature, there are recognized laws and procedures in place that protect the witness, the archive, the archivist and the researcher – provided that they are observed.
The issue may become more complex when records are transferred from one country to another, if the legal framework relating to data protection and disclosure is different, but again, a robust protocol and clearly-determined governance – agreed before any records are compiled – should reduce these risks.
Oral histories are extremely valuable sources for posterity, and they are becoming of still greater importance in an age when communication increasingly takes the form of telephone conversations, e-mails, texts, tweets and other means; these are obviously less easily preserved than letters or written memorandums.
Ultimately, there will be lessons to be learned from the specifics of the Boston College case. The overarching ambition must remain unchanged: to ensure that a trusted record of the past can be compiled and preserved for posterity.
Mary E. Daly is professor of modern Irish history at University College Dublin.