We got up really early today and were out the door by 7:15AM because we headed to Milan, Italy. Believe it or not, it is only a little bit over an hour to Milan from Riva. Many people slept on the train and it was a quiet ride into the city. When we arrived we took the subway to Politecnico di Milano or also known as Poli Mi. We were given a presentation about the University and then the floor was open to questions. Poli Mi is the leading university in architecture, design and engineering. It was established in 1863, so they are celebrating their 150th anniversary and it was denoted as 150 with a degrees symbol. Although, PhD programs did not begin until 1985. Unlike any other university we have visited, Poli Mi has a graduate school which oversees graduate studies and this was started in 2001. To attend Poli Mi, students must pass an entrance exam. If you don’t pass, you can still take classes, but you are not allowed to take exams and pass the classes until you pass then entrance exam.
Of course I asked about teaching and it was very similar to what I heard in Strasbourg. There is no reward system for excellence in teaching, although there has been some talk about it. They do have course evaluations by students and if the evals are poor the Dean will talk with the professor. Because of Poli Mi’s relationships with industry, if a professor has poor evals, the University can block a collaboration that the professor is applying for. So the professor would not be able to spend time doing certain activities that they might want to do.
After our question and answer session we took a tour of the campus and saw many of the buildings that were uniquely architecturally designed. There was a building that they called the submarine because it had a ship-like windows, one that they called the glove that was like a glove had wrapped around it, and one called the ship that was narrow in the front and the back. Interestingly, they had some student housing which is pretty uncommon in European universities.
We headed back to where we started and had an Italian lunch of Focaccia bread and pizza-roll sandwiches. It was very good. I love the Swiss food, but a nice Italian lunch was wonderful. We ate our lunch with some current graduate students at Poli Mi and were able to ask questions about what it was like to be a graduate student in Italy. I found out at this time a little bit more about the Italian system. All jobs at the University from full professor to administrative staff are all appointed federally. The government decides how many full professors are needed at a specific university and then the amount of assistant professors and administrative staff are a percentage of that. So you can compete for an assistant professor position, but there is no guarantee that you would make it to full professor at that university. The government would have to post that position and then you would have to compete with other outside candidates. So although full professors are “tenured,” this does not mean that an assistant professor is on a tenure-track to full professor at one university. I also found out that they have had a hiring freeze for the last 5 years for all positions at all universities and that this is projected to remain until 2015, regardless of retirements.
We left Poli Mi and took the subway to the Santa Maria delle Grazie church that has the “Last Supper” painted by Leonardo DiVinci. It was quite an honor to see since tickets are always sold out. Our GPP warrior Justin ordered them 3 months in advance, the earliest you can order them. You have a specific viewing time and enter and exit through airlocks. When inside, you have a 15 minute viewing time. The painting is painted on one end of a wall. It was originally painted over a door and a very long time ago someone enlarged the door, thereby removing the painting of Jesus’ feet. The church was used by Napoleon as a horse stable and it was bombed in WWII. With that said, the painting is not in great shape, but it still the amazing painting that you see in pictures. The intricate details that Leonardo was able to paint on plaster is remarkable.
After the Last Supper we headed to Duomo di Milano. It was HUGE and quite impressive. Two things stuck out to me. One, it was very dark inside. I think this had to do with its age and size. The lights that had been installed are minimal and on rods- obviously there was no electricity when it was built. Also, the stained glass windows were dark because of age. The second thing that stuck out was in the main part of the church (not in a crypt) on a side wall were the bodies of two deceased Milano cardinals. Their faces and bodies were covered except for their hands. Not a usual sight for a church.
Eight of us stayed in Milano and had dinner there before heading back to Riva. We found a restaurant near the Duomo di Mialno where they were serving happy hour. If you purchased drinks, they had a spread of heavy hors d’ourves for free. We shared two bottles of wine and made dinner out of the snacks. We then piled in the full train back to Riva as people were commuting home. Another packed full day.