Dear Provost Agouris: we must protect modern language faculty positions


April 26, 2021

Dr. Peggy Agouris

Office of the Provost

William and Mary

The Brafferton

105 Jamestown Road

PO Box 8795

Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795


Dear Provost Agouris:

We write to you as a coalition of Italian and Italian-American Studies Associations and Academic Institutes within North America to implore you to reassess your proposed faculty cuts in Modern Languages and Literatures. As principled organizations involved in the teaching of Italian language and culture, we feel compelled to band together in solidarity to oppose the significant reduction of language programs within the department.

We strongly urge that the central administration of William and Mary recognize the vital contributions of its highly skilled and extensively trained non-tenure eligible (NTE) faculty, many of whom possess terminal degrees. We thus implore you to re-examine and reconsider the abrogation of all proposed faculty cuts. As the oldest department of Modern Languages and Literatures in the United States, William and Mary must uphold its reputation as a premier university in which to study world languages and thereby protect its legacy. The paradox of downsizing the Italian program cannot be more glaring. Historically, it is said that William and Mary had the very first professor of Italian in the United States, Carlo Bellini, a dear friend of Thomas Jefferson.

In addition to the issues of experience and commitment, when administrations replace full-time continuing lecturers with adjuncts, there arises undue and unwarranted risk to the overall program. Such a reduction in the labor force eliminates the possibility of a myriad of invaluable co-curricular tasks that full-time faculty bring to their roles. A cadre of adjuncts simply cannot meet such requirements for all the obvious reasons, contractual and otherwise. The Italian Studies faculty member slated to be cut, for instance, is responsible for overseeing curriculum and assessment, mentoring and training, advising the Italian House, overseeing the Italian Club and the campus chapter of Gamma Kappa Alpha (National Italian Collegiate Honor Society). Further still, this faculty member runs all social media accounts, while also serving on department and university-wide committees.

Assuming that tenured and/or tenure-eligible faculty will take on the additional administrative burdens generated by these important co-curricular activities, it will erode the time they can dedicate to course design and other pedagogical endeavors, not to mention their research agendas, which stands to significantly affect the university’s reputation. On the other hand, opting out of these important co-curricular activities will damage the perception precisely because it lowers the value of William and Mary with regard both to prospective students and to alumni, both groups being important stakeholders for any college or university.

We realize that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on institutions of higher learning across the country and that student enrollment, university budgets and program viability are significant challenges that university administrators must face. Nonetheless, the fundamental importance of general education, particularly the inclusion of liberal arts and the study of world languages within any respectable university curriculum, plays an essential role in the twenty-first century. At William and Mary, the institution’s mission, vision and values promote a global and multicultural education worthy of its highly respected reputation.

With this letter we therefore petition the administration to maintain advocacy for all departments in the humanities, and especially modern languages. It is the university itself that identifies as “a premier public research university, widely recognized for our outstanding academic reputation.” William and Mary is, once again, according to the university itself, “the second-oldest institution of higher education in the United States, after Harvard University.” Regardless of such a nonpareil description that places William and Mary at the same level with our nation’s eminent Ivy League institution, the university has decided to decimate its language programs. You simply cannot have it both ways.

Overall, this year-long experience has better prepared faculty and students for the potential changes to come; that is, for what teaching may look like in the future, whether in-person, online synchronous and asynchronous learning, or hybrid-flexible course options. We ask then that, rather than remove these invaluable members of William and Mary’s intellectual community, the administration find ways to demonstrate their appreciation for the hours of retraining, revising and re-envisioning programs to adapt to changes in the midst of a crisis in such a way that William and Mary can remain, as it has since 1693, “grounded in the liberal arts and sciences.” Within this tradition, we are further compelled to underscore the fact all three persons slated for non-renewal in the department are women.

Now more than ever, it is crucial to protect these foundational faculty positions. On behalf of the executive boards and members of our academic institutes and associations, we challenge the administration to suspend any long-lasting decisions that would be detrimental to the vitality and diversity of the institution.

As future leaders of tomorrow’s globally-oriented world, students must have a variety of course offerings from accomplished educators in world languages and literatures. Only through a diverse faculty who are able to innovate curricular offerings with interdisciplinary workload policies may William and Mary retain the skillful academics that have contributed to the intellectual diversity of the campus to date.



Ryan Calabretta-Sajder, President

American Association of Teachers of Italian

University of Arkansas


Daniele De Feo

Advocacy Committee Member

American Association of Teachers of Italian

Princeton University


Alan J. Gravano, President

Italian American Studies Association

Rocky Mountain University


Patti Grunther

Advocacy Committee Co-Chair

American Association of Teachers of Italian

Watchung Hills Regional HS


M. Marina Melita, Vice President of

Colleges and Universities

American Association of Teachers of Italian

ACTFL Advocacy Committee Member

Marist College


Ellen Nerenberg, President

American Association for Italian Studies

Wesleyan University


Chris Picicci

Advocacy Committee Co-Chair

American Association of Teachers of Italian

Colorado State University – Pueblo


Courtney Ruffner, Vice President of

Communication and Marketing

Italian American Studies Association

State College of Florida


Colleen Ryan, Secretary

Italian American Studies Association

Indiana University


Anthony Julian Tamburri, Dean

John D. Calandra Italian American Institute

Past President, American Association of Teachers of Italian


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