Former Brooklyn College professor of Italian Studies Luigi Bonaffini has filed a lawsuit against his former school, alleging that it had forced him into retirement after phasing out all Italian courses.
Bonaffini complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), saying it was “intolerable and insulting” that the school would not let him teach what he taught for 43 years simply because enrollment was down.
The suit was filed after the EEOC issued a “right to sue” notice on July 29. Lawyers are seeking “at least $12 million in damages.” Brooklyn College, City University of New York (the public university system which includes Brooklyn College), and Provost Anne Lopes are listed as defendants.
The professor, who hails from Italy, has been teaching Italian Studies at Brooklyn College since 1977. In his court documents, Bonaffini stated that he had had “excellent reviews” and “authored 40 books and garnered several awards.”
Bonaffini recalled Provost Lopes notifying professors that instead of teaching Italian the plaintiff and other members of the Italian faculty would have to teach general education courses or be placed on administrative leave. Bonaffini claims that Brooklyn College just wanted to “get rid of him” along with his aging department colleagues, who were all above 65 years old.
Also, with over 800,000 Italian-Americans in the borough of New York City, Bonafinni said Brooklyn was “the most Italian place in America.” He questioned why the school would abolish Italian Studies “without any reason.”
Brooklyn College’s Response
Spokesman for Brooklyn College Rich Pietras told the New York Post that the Italian Studies major and minor programs had only one student each at the time. Thus, the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures decided that its Italian major and minor “needed to be revitalized due to declining enrollment.”
Regarding the lawsuit, Pietras cited Brooklyn College policy, stating “We do not comment on pending litigation or individual personnel matters.”
Bonaffini’s attorney, Marshall Bellovin, asserted that Brooklyn College has “targeted a significant substantial minority student population.” The abolition of Italian Studies has left his client “absolutely no alternative but to retire.”