Students at the University of Pisa, one of the most highly rated in Italy, have decided to set up a surveillance system to expose lecturers who do not turn up for lectures, are late or leave early, break appointments, and discuss their personal affairs on their mobile phones while in class.
The campaign began in the departments of informatics and literature but soon spread to other parts of the university. Semi-clandestine committees of students have organised teams of "watchers' to keep tabs on the comings and goings of the professori.
Andrea, a third-year literature and philosophy student, said: "With the results we will compile a 'hit parade' of offenders which will be distributed among the students as printed leaflets. But more important, our compiled findings will be turned over to Pisa University's academic senate and to the legal authorities."
Another student added: "Many professors, instead of thinking about teaching, think about their own business affairs. It is a disgrace. Of course there are also excellent teachers, but the rotten apples must be eliminated."
In Italy university teachers are not only civil servants, but also public officials, so their alleged wrongdoings are conceived as crimes against the state and the taxpayer and are the concern of the ordinary state prosecutor's office.
A number of professori have expressed support for the idea. "The students are quite right," Massimo Ampola, a sociology professor, told the Corriere Della Sera. "In fact this type of control by the students should become institutionalised, the way it is in some foreign universities. Among other things, it might also reveal that a teacher may be absent because at the same time as he has a lecture he must also be on a committee to decide the purchase of rolls of toilet paper."
Lorenzo Greco, a professor of Italian literature, said: "In Italy teachers are convinced they are divinities. Many forget teaching because they feel they are great minds that must concentrate on higher things. And abroad you have a place like Berkeley where 30 Nobel winners teach from nine to five and are totally available to students."
Italy may seem a land of privilege for professors, who cannot be dismissed or transferred against their will. But things do not always go their way. Giancarlo De Vero, who teaches law at Messina University in Sicily, was shot in the leg outside his apartment. He was wounded by a .22 calibre bullet and was released from hospital after treatment. He did not recognise his assailant, but police are carrying out inquiries at the university and believe the shot may have been fired by a disgruntled student.