Prof. Cesa Resigns from SAIS After Contract Dispute

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SAIS Europe professor Marco Cesa abruptly resigned last Friday, opting not to teach through the end of the semester, as the two parties failed to agree to terms on a new contract.

Cesa’s departure will place a heavier teaching burden on other SAIS professors through the end of the semester and will alter the end of the term for some of Cesa’s former students who are now devoid of an academic advisor.

Cesa’s resignation comes seven months after he claims to have initiated discussions on renegotiating his contract.

“To say that all this is regrettable is a great understatement. SAIS Europe – or the Bologna Center, as it used to be named until a few years ago – was indeed home to me,” Professor Cesa told the SAIS Observer via email. “Leaving like this, after 22 years, and in the middle of the semester, is something that I would have never imagined, even in my worst nightmares. The readers who know me are certainly aware of this, and they can only imagine how frustrated and disrespected I must have felt to take such a drastic measure.”

Cesa said he found himself in a “take it or leave it situation” after raising the issue of

Prof. Cesa taught at SAIS since 1994

renegotiating his contract in May and September with no action from SAIS. Cesa claims that he was seeking a pay raise for the first time in years or a reduction in his course load, as a class was added to Cesa’s roster this semester.

“It is evident, by now, that [the administration] took it for granted that in the end I would settle for more or less the usual terms, despite my repeated requests,” Cesa said. “In a word, they gambled – and lost. In fact, we all lost.”

Cesa, who joined SAIS in 1994 as an adjunct professor, later becoming a resident professor in 2006, will remain a professor at the University of Bologna. His resignation came 25 days before the end of SAIS Europe’s semester on Dec. 21, and nearly two months ahead of Bologna’s January final exams.

SAIS Europe Professor Erik Jones will take over teaching responsibilities for two of Cesa’s fall 2016 classes: Theories of International Relations and Risk in Political Thought. The latter was added to Cesa’s teaching schedule as a part of SAIS Europe’s new Master of Arts in Global Risk degree program. The increased course load will add to Jones’ current responsibilities as head of the European and Eurasian Studies program and the International Political Economy program, as well as his teaching duties in Risk in International Political Economy, West European Political Economies and Risk in International Politics and Economics.

SAIS’s D.C.-based Director of Strategic Studies Eliot Cohen will guide Cesa’s Strategy and Policy course through finals, beginning with his visit to SAIS Europe on December 3 when he will deliver a lecture to the Strategy and Policy class on his coming book “The Big Stick: The Limits of Soft Power and the Necessity of Military Force.” The lecture was added to Cohen’s previously-planned trip to the Bologna campus where he will participate in a Dec. 5 panel discussion with SAIS Europe professors David Unger and Erik Jones on the recent American presidential election.  

While Jones and Cohen will officially run Cesa’s former courses through the end of the semester, Cesa will still be available to his students.

“[Students] who might be interested in discussing the readings I assigned, or more simply, in keeping in touch with me, are encouraged to contact me at,” Cesa said, as he claims his SAIS email address has been disabled. “I would be happy to help – and to keep in touch, not only with the current class but with all the previous classes.”

Cesa’s resignation was announced to Bologna students in an email from SAIS Europe Director Dr. Michael Plummer on Friday. Plummer described Cesa as “a great contributor to SAIS Europe” in the email and promised that students advised by Cesa will be contacted by the registrar’s office.

“As happens in all organizations worldwide, sometimes contractual negotiations end in the parting of ways, and we cannot always control the timing of faculty or staff transitions,” Plummer told the SAIS Observer. “Our focus now is maintaining the quality and continuity of the academic experience for our students.”

Prof. Cesa taught at the SAIS Bologna campus for 22 years

A part of ensuring a quality academic experience will mean replacing Cesa, who published with Stanford University Press, Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press while at SAIS. Cesa also told the Observer that he “set up a dual degree program between SAIS and four different M.A. programs at the University of Bologna.” SAIS Europe will find Cesa’s replacement “as soon as possible,” according to Plummer. 

Some of Cesa’s former students are hoping that the replacement will mirror his characteristics.

“It’s unfortunate that SAIS Europe has lost an educator who provided instruction and guidance over many years,” second year strat. concentrator James Nadel said. “Professor Cesa helped students to develop their thinking on the use of force and great power politics. … He enjoyed contributing to students’ intellectual growth outside the classroom as well, always ready to suggest destinations of historical and cultural significance throughout Italy. Most importantly, Professor Cesa engaged with students frequently, providing opportunities to apply class material to current events and maintained the perspective to acknowledge when his particular interests influenced how he looked at an issue. I hope SAIS Europe will find a successor with these qualities.”

Throughout his time at SAIS Europe, Cesa was a mainstay for strategic studies concentrators. The Italian native, who earned his PhD at Boston University, regularly taught Strategy and Policy — a compulsory course for strat. concentrators — during the fall semester in Bologna. During the spring, Cesa taught strat. courses Thucydides on War and Alliances in International relations.

“In an environment which is increasingly overly-idealistic, [Cesa] provided a necessary realist perspective while also shaping the experience of a small strategic studies cohort,” a strategic studies concentrator who took Cesa’s 2015 strategy and policy course said.

While Cesa was a regular presence on campus, he also interacted with his students outside of the classroom.

During the second semester of the 2015-2016 academic year, Cesa often attended the “Strat Beer Call” at the popular Chiodo bar near SAIS Europe’s campus. The Beer Call — modeled after the American Military’s “Officer Call” — consisted mainly of contemporary strategic studies discussions and was well-attended by Cesa’s Thucydides on War students and the wider strat. population.

Most Beer Call conversations centered on current events, but some discussions drifted toward theory and fiction.

SAIS students in Cesa’s 2015 strategy and policy class often circulated memes relating to strat. and Star Wars

The 2015 release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” revived interest in the franchise within the strat. community, and students drew parallels in demeanor and appearance between Cesa and Grand Moff Tarkin, the fictional character who ordered the destruction of an entire planet in the film “A New Hope”. Cesa’s physical resemblance to the character and realist bent sparked a series of memes combining Cesa’s affinity for airpower and force with situations from the sci-fi series.

Cesa’s influence also extended to the annual IAEA Vienna Ball.

At an aperitivo before the soiree last spring, Cesa’s Strategy and Policy students gathered for a picture. The students re-enacted professor Cesa’s signature pose, placing their hands to their faces, resting their chins on their pinkies and thumbs, pushing their cheeks toward their eyes — a move unconsciously practiced by the professor during lectures.

Cesa Face.jpg
Strategic Studies students pose at the Vienna Ball

Having taught Theories in International Relations, one of SAIS’s core courses, Dr. Cesa was well-known beyond strat. concentrators.

During the spring of 2016, Cesa auctioned off a ride through the hills of Bologna in his Porsche as part of a fundraiser for the SAIS Europe Journal of Global Affairs. One strat. student and two students from different concentrations successfully bid on the jaunt. During the ride, Cesa predicted Donald Trump’s Nov. 8 electoral victory, saying that Trump would bring overlooked voters to the polls.

Patrick Kelley is the executive editor of The SAIS Observer. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickNKelley

Corrections and Amplifications

Prof. Cesa auctioned off a ride in his Porsche as part of a fundraiser for the SAIS Europe Journal of Global Affairs. An earlier edition of this article incorrectly said the fundraiser was for the SAIS Review.

3 thoughts on “Prof. Cesa Resigns from SAIS After Contract Dispute

  1. Good luck finding a strat professor who’s this committed and has a whole class on the edges of their seats week after week even when teaching theory and nothing but.
    A great loss for SAIS.

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