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Columbia University Sued Over Mission of ‘Casa Italiana’

Columbia University was sued by a group of families for allegedly failing to use their donations to promote Italian culture as the benefactors intended.

Several Italian-American families in 1927 donated $400,000 (worth about $5 million today) to the Manhattan-based university to erect La Casa Italiana, the “Italian House,” on school land, according to documents filed today in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan.

The “simple and unambiguous” mission of the house was for it to be university’s “centre and seat of its work in the field of Italian language, literature, history and art,” according to documents filed in court today by the Floral Park, New York-based Italic Institute, which said it’s the authorized legal representative of descendants of the donor families.

“Today, however, the organization that occupies La Casa, the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America, is off-track,” according to the complaint. “The Italic Institute views the current work of the academy as elitist and detached, European and international (not uniquely Italian), and failing to encompass any serious scholarship in Italian American history, consciousness or concerns.”

Some programs at the house are in “stark contrast” to the donors’ intent, or traffic in stereotypes of Italian-American culture, according to the complaint. One such program, entitled “What’ya mean I’m funny? Ball-busting Humor and Italian American Masculinities,” was scheduled for November 2011, according to the complaint.

Columbia University doesn’t comment on pending litigation, Brian Connolly, a spokesman for the school, said in an e-mail.

The case is Italic Institute of America Inc. v. Columbia University, 652948/2012, New York State Supreme Court (Manhattan).

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