This year, the University of Dallas will not hold an Italian Summer program on its Rome campus. The intensive course, scheduled to begin in June and to be taught by Dr. Anthony Nussmeier, was cancelled because of low enrollment.
The remaining classes of the Summer Rome program — Western Civilization I, Western Theological Tradition, Literary Tradition III and Philosophy of the Human Person — are all scheduled to proceed as planned.
Jen Massicci, the Assistant Director of Rome and Summer Programs deemed enrollment elsewhere in the program as “healthy.”
Nussmeier, the director of the university’s Italian program, said that this year’s low numbers did not represent a “defeat [or] declining enrollment.” Rather, it is merely a problem of statistics.
In the intensive program’s — and Nussmeier’s — inaugural year during the 2016-2017 school year, the department decided to only offer Second Year Italian. Consequently, Nussmeier said, “our pool of students from which to draw is incredibly small, i.e., students who have already had one year of Italian and who also do not intend to do a full academic semester in Rome.”
The decision to only open the course to advanced students made sense last year, as this pool of students approximated 12-15. “About 50 percent” chose to participate.
This year, however, the number of prospective students was considerably reduced, and “at the 11th hour,” a student decided to not participate in the program.
Massicci said that only two students were enrolled.
Although the cancellation will have no bearing on future offerings of the Italian program, Nussmeier said that this setback may force a “restructuring” of the program. Nussmeier emphasized a “revision of what the program will be, and for whom.”
One alternative to the current method includes increased recruitment from other universities. While competition is fierce, as many universities have faculty-led summer study abroad programs in Italy, Nussmeier believes that UD can remain an attractive option.
“Due Santi is a special place,” he explained, “between the expertise and the physical structure.”
Cost, he added, is also another area in which the University is competitive.
Another option was put forth both by Nussmeier and Director of Rome and Summer Programs Rebecca Davies and included expanding the scope of the program to include First Year Italian.
Nussmeier expressed regret that Italian will not be a part of the Core program this summer. “The Core Program offered during the summer remains strong and is a real point of light for the University of Dallas,” Nussmeier said. He also elaborated on examples in which the Italian course “had a lot to add to student life.”
For example, he relayed an anecdote about last summer’s trip to Assisi. While preparing for Mass in the Basilica Inferiore of Basilica di San Francesco, one of the friars asked Nussmeier questions about the large number of American students and asked Nussmeier to lector.
While conversing with the celebrant in the sacristy, Nussmeier said the celebrant was so excited to hear about the visit ” ‘by young students from Texas’ that he gave us a ‘shout-out’ at the beginning and end of Mass.”
Without the Italian program, Nussmeier believes that the Core will be lacking a “cultural facilitator” and a fundamental, if “subtle” part of the Core. According to Nussmeier, the presence of the Italian department enhances the experience of every student by opening wide a new array of cultural experiences, such as the incident at the Basilica in Assisi.
“You can’t know a culture without knowing the language,” Nussmeier said sipping on a cup of Italian espresso in his office.
From my very distant perspective — close on to forty years later — this seems a rather silly discussion. Credit or no credit, one hour or three hours, Summer or Fall or Spring, specially-engaged faculty or drawn from present staff that have some passing familiarity with Italian or brought in from local talent — whatever! Work into the the so-called “curriculum” something that will enrich the experience with (to borrow from Eliot, but quite literally and linguistically) the meaning. It’s an easy choice, as most of the best choices are.