Fall 2020
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65 Years of SAIS in Europe

by Susannah Tillson
More than six decades ago, an experiment in international education was born in Bologna, Italy. Today, the center that started as a place to foster postwar transatlantic dialogue continues to bring a valuable European perspective to complex global issues.
Above: The Bologna Center was inaugurated in 1961 with an award-winning architectural design by Enzo Zacchiroli (Best Building from Italy’s National Institute of Architecture).

On Feb. 22, 1955, with four professors, 10 students, and borrowed classrooms, Professor C. Grove Haines launched an experiment in international education. Haines, who had been the first full-time professor at SAIS, established 12 years earlier in 1943, wanted to provide advanced training to a select group of SAIS students representing various nationalities who were preparing for careers in international affairs.

The vision was to offer these students the experience of living and studying together under a multinational faculty in an international environment, thereby encouraging cross-cultural communication and fostering collaboration among world leaders. Most students at the SAIS-affiliated center would work toward a Master of Arts in international relations, which required one year of study in Bologna and then the second year at SAIS in Washington, D.C.

SAIS Europe began its first semester in 1955 with 10 students: two Austrians, two French, two Italians, and four Americans.
The Bologna Center was renamed SAIS Europe in 2013, to emphasize the campus’ standing as an integral part of Johns Hopkins SAIS based in Europe.

In 1952, the rector of the University of Bologna, the oldest university in Europe, enthusiastically supported Haines’ proposal to establish the school in Bologna, offering classroom and office space as well as access to the university’s vast library collection. The first class in 1955 included two French, two Italian, and four American students. Two American professors (including Haines) and two scholars from France and Italy taught courses on the economics and politics of France, Germany, Austria, and Italy during that first spring semester. By the autumn of 1955, Haines had recruited seven additional lecturers who commuted to Bologna from all over Europe to teach 18 American and 22 European students. The center quickly outgrew its modest quarters, and Haines sought funding to build a larger, permanent structure. He succeeded in securing assistance from the U.S. government and selected a site on via Belmeloro, in the heart of the city’s university quarter. The Bologna Center was inaugurated on April 27, 1961, by then-Johns Hopkins University President Milton S. Eisenhower. The U.S. Information Service donated a collection of 10,000 books, with the understanding that the center’s library be open to the public.

Students and faculty members on campus in Bologna and enjoying the rooftop terrace.
The Bologna Center was inaugurated on April 27, 1961, with then-Johns Hopkins University President Milton S. Eisenhower and Professor C. Grove Haines.

Haines’ vision for a postwar transatlantic dialogue to support the creation of a peaceful and prosperous postwar order continues to this day. The Bologna Center was renamed SAIS Europe in 2013, to emphasize the campus’ standing as an integral part of Johns Hopkins SAIS based in Europe.

“Our Bologna campus brings to SAIS a diverse, European perspective to complex global issues,” notes SAIS Europe Director Mike Plummer. “The dedication of its faculty and administrators remains exceptional; the achievements of our students and the loyalty of its alumni are also clear indicators of SAIS Europe’s enduring impact.”

Today, SAIS Europe students hail from 40 countries, training under a multinational, multidisciplinary faculty. They continue to form lifelong friendships and professional connections that sustain them through careers as leaders in all sectors of international affairs worldwide. The 65th anniversary celebrates Haines’ vision and the center’s 8,000+ alumni from 115 nations — ambassadors of Bologna and of SAIS Europe in the world.

Earlier this year, we discovered some footage from the school in its early years — a clip from a conference held at the SAIS Europe Bologna Center on May 20, 1965. Chaired by Professor Wilson Schmidt, the three-day conference was titled “The European Community and the United States.”

With video restoration help from RAI, the Italian national television network, SAIS Europe leaders have been able to share a portion of the video. In it, Heinrik N. Boon, who was then the Netherlands representative at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and NATO, secretary-general of the Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and ambassador to Italy and Venezuela, talks about how important it is to have open policy discussions between young students from different international backgrounds.

Celebrating 65 Years of ‘Bolognesi’

As the world responded to the global pandemic, SAIS Europe’s planned series of worldwide anniversary events had to be modified. Leaders at SAIS and the Johns Hopkins University made the difficult but necessary decision to transform many of the 65th anniversary events into virtual events, including SAIS Europe’s largest annual gathering, Alumni Weekend. Hence, for its customary two days in May, SAIS Europe virtually welcomed close to 600 alumni, traditionally referred to as “Bolognesi,” to a 100% virtual event.

Alumni, faculty, staff members, and guests from all continents and 53 countries attended seminars and panels online with SAIS professors; speeches by SAIS Director Michael Plummer, Johns Hopkins University President Ronald Daniels, and SAIS Dean Eliot Cohen; career panels between groups of alumni and current students; and special separate sessions for class reunions. The event also included less formal virtual “spritz receptions” for alumni, which were emotional sessions, particularly for those Bolognesi with special anniversaries to celebrate.

Despite not being able to connect in person, cohorts still reunited to share nostalgia from their year in Bologna, and all vowed over Campari spritz toasts to see each other in person at Alumni Weekend 2021. Plans are underway for other signature virtual alumni events this fall, including the Amici di Bologna event organized out of New York City, a Berlin alumni event in October, and a Bolognesi a Londra event organized from London for November. Alumni can find out more details and can register for the virtual events on the SAIS Europe 65th anniversary website.