The patronage and nepotism that has for decades controlled appointments in Italy's state university system is under a two-prong attack.
There is a rising tide of protests and formal complaints filed in court against allegedly irregular appointments by commissions of senior professors -- the Baroni. Also, the ministry for university and scientific research has begun cancelling several past appointments because of irregularities in the work of commissions.
In the medical school of Rome's La Sapienza University, for instance, the judiciary authorities are investigating four professors who in 1992 assigned posts to candidates who had no scientific publications or other academic achievements to their credit, but happened to be assistants or proteges of one or other of the Baroni on the commission.
The ministry also annulled an appointment for a post in political economics and another in clinical oncology for similar reasons.
A group of academics recently organised a meeting in Rome entitled "The Jungle of Competitive Exams in the University", calling for clear rules and objective parameters in personnel selection to combat abuses and favouritisms.
Mario Sanna, an ear specialist who teaches at Chieti University, told the Corriere Della Sera: "In my field eight or ten professors (out of 30 odd in the country) have parents or uncles who are also professors. University posts have virtually become hereditary.
"The truth is that the commissioners agree beforehand who will be selected at the exam. A system of exchanges of votes favours those candidates with protectors or those who have been slavish assistants."
After the recent cancellations by the ministry it seems clear that the new minister, Stefano Podesta, himself a professor of economics, has decided to wage war. "This is only the beginning," he said recently. "The real scandal is not so much that the members of examining commissions agree beforehand who to choose. But they choose people who do not deserve it. I cannot accept that people pay taxes to support professors who are asses."