Pubblicato il: 07/03/2023
The rector Elio Franzini with Iranian activist Rayhane Tabrizi

The rector Elio Franzini and Iranian activist Rayhane Tabrizi - Inauguration of academic year 2022-2023 - University of Milan

The protection of violated rights – a topic deeply rooted in the identity of the University and permeating each of its civil, educational and research activities – has been the leitmotiv of the inauguration ceremony of the academic year 2022-2023, held this morning in the Great Hall of the University of Milan, on the Festa del Perdono main campus.

The Rector of the University of Milan, Elio Franzini, introduced and closed his speech by stating the value of memory and testimony as allies of a civilisation based on rights and peace. In his opening remarks, he recalled that attending a University is always “an experience of education, freedom and justice” and that the presence of Rayhane Tabrizi representeda testimony to keep the memory alive”, because “we cannot not see that rights violations are increasing throughout the world, and not only far away from us”.  

Reporting on the state of the University of Milan, the Rector briefly listed its many recent achievements, including: its outstanding performance in terms of accreditation by ANVUR (Italian National Agency for the Evaluation of Universities and Research Institutes) and research assessment, the increase of the ordinary financing fund (FFO), the number of recognised Departments of excellence (top position in the national ranking with 13 Departments of excellence), its large investments in university construction (ongoing works for a total of EUR 123 million), its student residences, 11 new and innovative degree programmes, many of those offered in collaboration with other Italian and international universities.

Today, the University of Milan counts almost 61,000 students (of which over 3,600 are from other countries), 150 degree programmes (32 taught in English), 35 PhD programmes, 67 postgraduate schools, 31 vocational masters and 85 advanced courses, 31 Departments and 63 coordinated research centres. Moreover, it boasts 121 projects selected in the frame of Horizon 2020, 32,563 scientific publications in 2020-2023 (based on the Institutional Research Repository AIR – information to be updated), 54 ERC projects selected since 2010, 24 of which still ongoing, and 13 projects funded under Italy’s Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR) for over EUR 111 million.

After recalling the completion of the significant works for the Veterinary campus in Lodi and the Mountain University, the Rector spent some important words on the challenging transformation process which the University is undergoing, based on the project of a University with three campuses – the main campus, the new science campus in MIND, and the revamped campus in Città Studi, or “our history”, to use Rector Franzini’s definition: “Universities change territories, they make them alive. Through young students, they contribute to the perception of sciences as part of the collective heritage. Using their own funds, they shape urban planning revolutions that result in a social, cultural and civil growth. We have taken care of all the necessary steps to sign the contract for construction of the new campus in MIND, so that works can start this summer. Now it is up to others to support us in finalising a project that – as it has been said loud and clear, but not always proved by facts – is not only for our University, but for the whole country. As already said, this project cannot be undermined by the negative circumstances arising from the increase of construction costs. This is a project that must be implemented without sacrificing any of the legitimate needs of this University to develop its own institutional and research activities, and without compromising in any way the future of the younger generations”.

After that, the Rector insisted on the many structural issues of the national university system: these have to be overcome through the necessary reforms, without whom even the practical project of the PNRR cannot set a clear change of pace. The first of these issues is basic research, “which has almost been forgotten, also due to the huge delays in the allocation of funds for Research Projects of National Interest (PRIN)”. While admitting that “the only real distinction is between good and bad research, and the line between pure research and targeted research has become very thin”, as Franzini said, “it is still clear that some fields, evidently considered as unproductive, are playing a marginal role in the Plan”. The Rector then proceeded to address the ever-present “obsessive bureaucracy”, which hampers the exploration of opportunities in terms of teaching projects; the monetary value of PhD scholarships, “definitely unrealistic in order to live a decent life”, the many problems encountered in hiring new resources for PNRR projects, whose needs are often “in contrast with the recruitment rules applicable to public administrations”; the temporary nature of research contracts, “which is in itself a shame, affecting women in particular”, and finally the most critical aspect, the right to an education, defined as “a fundamental piece of the puzzle for the University of the future”. About this, “we have done a lot, but there is still much to do, especially in a city like Milan, where cooperation between institutions is becoming more and more crucial, most of all for the core topics of services and student residences.”

The upcoming 100th anniversary of the University of Milan – founded in 1924, after a first approval to its institution had been signed in 1923 – offered Rector Franzini a chance to celebrate not only the clear vision and strong will of Luigi Mangiagalli, founder of the University who served as first rector and city mayor, but also the exceptional connection between this University and Milan. Already in the 20s, Milan was referred to as a “metropolis”, and its leading role in terms of economy, civil society and innovation was nourished by a university system that, despite some remarkably complex political problems, has always remained united thanks to a constant and fruitful dialogue, and that still today, with the various universities founded in the meantime, represents a “fundamental backbone of the regional and city system”. As the Rector announced, the tribute to Milan will be the core and essence of the celebrations for the 100th anniversary. The list of events will be presented on 4 April, together with what is probably the most symbolic project designed for this occasion: the Virtual Museum (VUMM - Virtual UniMi Museum), that will finally enable the wider public to access the rich heritage of history and knowledge which represents the distinctive feature of the University.

The Rector’s invitation to consider the University as a “place where the meaning of critical spirit and the power, neither formal nor abstract, of freedom, is and has to be preserved” introduced the core topic and the main speaker of the event, Rayhane Tabrizi. Franzini described a world affected by “public tragedies” known to all of us, some closer than others, but also made a sorrowful reference to “more private tragedies”, symptom of a youth distress “that cannot be labelled as mere individual fragility” and that “should encourage the so-called adults to question themselves on what we are passing down to young people, also in terms of a civilisation based on rights, peace and environment”. This topic was further developed in the speech by Elia Montani, current President of the Student Council and enrolled in the first year of the Master’s degree programme in Philosophical Sciences.

To Rayhane Tabrizi, and to her testimony that keeps the memory alive, Rector Franzini gave his non formal thanks, closing his speech with a few words by Sandro Pertini, to underline the “civil” dimension of culture: “Culture means first of all creating a civil conscience, making sure that students are aware of what dignity is. A man of culture must react to anything representing an offence to his dignity, to his conscience. Otherwise, culture has no purpose”.

Introduced by director and producer Ruggero Gabbai, founder of Forma International, Rayhane Tabrizi focused her speech on the dramatic situation of the Iranian women and people. She highlighted the priceless value of living a normal everyday life and the freedom intrinsic to the most trivial gestures, which is common and taken for granted in the western world, but is still tragically denied to Iranian young men and women.

After her speech, Rayhane Tabrizi accompanied Rector Franzini during the most solemn moment of the event, interpreting into Farsi the ritual words for the inauguration of the academic year, also for the numerous Iranian students enrolled at the University of Milan.