Flags flew at half-mast over the University of Bologna on Wednesday as Europe's oldest university offered an unprecedented show of solidarity and support to American students and faculty who have been part of the academic community there for nearly 50 years. Earlier in the day, Rector Pier Ugo Calzolari paid a personal visit to the SAIS Bologna Center to offer his condolences to director Robert Evans, his faculty, staff and students.
Calzolari was one of a stream of civic dignitaries--including Bologna mayor Giorgio Guazzaloca and provincial president Vittorio Prodi--to pay respects at the center, which for many years has been a symbol of the American academic presence in Bologna. Although Brown University, Dickinson University and the University of California all have academic programs centered in this northern Italian city, the Johns Hopkins SAIS campus is the oldest, largest and generally recognized to be the most prestigious American program in the city. It was established in 1955 and this academic year will enroll more than 150 students. About a fifth of Bologna's half-million residents are full-time university students.
News of the terrorist attack reached the center within minutes of the first plane crash in New York when director Robert Evans received a cellular telephone call from his daughter-in-law in New York. Evans' son, Philip, who works at the Bank of New York at 1 Wall St., had arrived at the World Trade Center PATH station just minutes before impact. He was heading to work when he heard what he thought was a sonic boom. He looked up to see the wing of an aircraft falling from the sky. Evans subsequently learned that his son was safely evacuated from Manhattan on the Staten Island Ferry.
Shortly after hearing the news, Evans tuned the television in the center's basement student lounge to CNN. It was about 3 p.m. Italian time, and although many of the students were in preterm intensive Italian classes, about a dozen international and American students soon gathered in the lounge. "There was shock and disbelief," Evans said of the initial images coming from New York. "What impact this will have on our students as the days go by, I don't know."
As news of the tragedy spread, a projection TV was set up in the center's first-floor auditorium. Soon dozens of students and faculty sat in stunned silence in the darkened room as images of the disaster played over and over against CNN commentary.
Meanwhile, as part of routine security precautions, members of the Italian counterintelligence force arrived to block off the street in front of the center and check credentials of all those trying to enter. An old television set, which had been abandoned on the sidewalk across the street several days earlier, drew particular attention. At about 7 p.m. the city's bomb squad covered the television in a heavy protective cloak and blew it up with a small charge. The sound of the detonation rattled the center's windows and sent students streaming from the auditorium, wondering if they, too, were under attack.
As night fell in Bologna, the center was kept open and phones made available for students to try to call family and loved ones in the States. Lines were frequently busy, but by repeated efforts most were able to get through. One student who had a half-dozen friends and family working in the World Trade Center learned by 8 p.m. that all had been spared. Others continued to watch and wait. On Thursday, the center was to hold a nonreligious service of remembrance for the dead.
"It's important at a time like this to bring the community together," Evans said. "Our work continues, and our goals are still the same--to know and to better understand each other. That's the work that cannot stop."
In China, Robert Daly, American director of the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, was preparing to welcome approximately 100 students for the new semester, for which check-in was scheduled on Sunday. Classes begin Sept. 24. The only American educational institution with a permanent physical presence in China, the center is jointly administered by Hopkins and Nanjing University, on whose campus it is located. "The entire staff of the Hopkins-Nanjing Center is grieving over the terrorist attacks, and we pray for the safety of friends, colleagues and countrymen in the United States," Daly said. "The mood in China is one of shock and sympathy. "
In an e-mail to incoming students and his colleagues at SAIS in Washington, D.C., Daly wrote, "The center puts the safety of our students above all else and would change the schedule for the fall semester if we thought that these attacks had security implications for foreigners in Nanjing. We are in close communication with the embassy in Beijing and the Shanghai consulate and will keep our students apprised of all warnings, travel advisories, etc., issued by the State Department."
Daly said that he expected that travel restrictions would cause students coming from the United States to be arriving late for the semester, although their Chinese classmates and many of the international students already in China or traveling from other countries were expected to arrive on time. Vital orientation information, he said, would be repeated for students who arrive late due to the attacks.
Stephen McClain, vice provost and director of the university's European office, located in Berlin, received a phone call around 3 p.m. (9 a.m. EDT) on Tuesday from a close friend and colleague who works at Humboldt University.
"Steve," the friend said, "something terrible is happening in New York and Washington. You had better turn on your TV."
During the rest of the afternoon, as McClain and his German-born wife, Cornelia Donner, sat in front of the TV, they received "many, many phone calls and e-mails from German friends, colleagues and family, expressing their sympathy and grief," McClain said. The calls continued, he said, into the week, both at home and in the office.
Tuesday night, there was a memorial service in the Berlin Cathedral, which was full to its capacity of 2,000. Along Unter den Linden, Germans lit small candles. Hundreds laid flowers in front of the American Embassy. All flags in the city are flying at half-mast.
Mike Field, assistant to President Brody, was at the SAIS Bologna Center on university business when the attacks occurred in the United States. Field filed the above report on reactions from Italy. Reactions from other Hopkins locations were gathered by Gazette staff.