It was with a certain pleasure that my husband, Professor of Economics at the University of Rome, Tor Vergata, handed me the newspaper today and said, “I think you might want to do a blog post on this letter to the editor written by an economist colleague of mine.” He knows me so well. I never miss an opportunity to point out the rampant male chauvinism that sadly still exists in some parts of Italian society, unfortunately often among the political and intellectual elites. Many women thought perhaps things had changed with the political decline of Silvio Berlusconi and his famous Bunga Bunga parties (See Blog Post: The End of Italy’s Bunga Bunga Era), but no, this time the scivolata (slip—as on a banana peel) as they say in Italian, was made by Eugenio Gaudio, President of the University of Rome, Sapienza.
On May 6, 2015 Eugenio Gaudio, President of the largest University in Italy, headed the Jury of the “Miss University” contest in which female University students were judged, among other things, in a bikini. The contest was to find “The most beautiful and wise student from the Italian University.” The participants were given a free coupon for a center for esthetic surgery.
Now the Italian economist Mariana Mazzucato of the University of Sussex, together with a long list of top Italian female professors and researchers have written an open letter to him calling for him to step down. They have put a petition on the website Change.org gathering signatures in favor of his resignation.
Let me quote the letter, they say it much better than I could:
“…We consider that your participation as a jury member for the selection of Miss University, held in Rome on May 6, 2015 at Billions is not compatible with your institutional role, and represents a scandalous stain on the university that you were elected to lead.”
They went on to say:
“In a context in which the international reputation of Italy is more linked to Bunga Bunga instead of its enormous scientific and cultural heritage, your participation at this event does nothing but further diminish the fundamental role of the University (with a capital U) and of women.”
“…We expect that the President of the largest University in Europe would use his strategic position to push his students to believe in themselves and not in the way in which men value their bodies; to convince them that the future is in their hands and in their heads and not in their bikini; to encourage them to fight to reach their goals, to put into practice, in the working world and outside of it, everything that they learned at the University.”
“Your participation at this event demonstrates how backwards our society still is.”
The women academics conclude by demanding he publicly apologize, that he also declare that the University of Rome Sapienza will never again participate in a similar event, and finally that the University will support initiatives designed to promote the careers of its female students.
I just checked and the petition on Change.org now has nearly 1,300 signatures of individuals demanding the President’s resignation. Looks like the “scivolata” may become a “caduta” (fall).
I will keep you updated.
The President of the University of Rome, Eugenio Gaudio, has responded, and here is what he had to say:
“I do not have to apologize for anything.”
“My participation was a way to be close to the students and was carried out with full respect towards the girls, and I want to emphasize, they were not in bathing suits but evening dress.”
“I decided to accept this invitation…after a careful analysis on the part of my secretary.”
Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.