I recently had visitors from the states, which is always a good opportunity to go see some of the more “touristy” sides of Padova that I don’t normally see. One of the most interesting things about Padova is its university. It’s apparently the third oldest in the world, after the nearby University of Bologna, and the Sorbonne in Paris. Even more impressive is the fact that it was the first “free” university, having been founded by students and teachers from Bologna who wanted greater freedom from the Catholic church. Pretty impressive for 1222, and certainly something to be very proud of.
One of the peculiarities that has struck me about universities here compared with the US is that it is possible to spend your entire academic career at one university in Italy. From your degree, to a doctorate and beyond even to a position as a professor, it’s not necessary to move around at any stage of the game. Compare that to the states, where people often do their undergraduate and doctorate in different places, and are then required to move yet again if they find work as a professor. This ensures that people circulate, don’t get stuck in any one place and (theoretically) don’t build up too much of an entrenched political/patronage system. It turns out that the clever people of the Republic of Venice had this figured out when they declared that Padova was to be the university of the republic. They decreed that no Venetian could teach at the university, and that while inhabitants of Padua could, they were constrained to a relatively lower rank. This ensured a place for people like Galileo, who apparently spent some of the happiest years of his life working in Padova.