Eminent Italian academic Salvatore Sechi, a lecturer in contemporary history at Ferrara University, has revealed that a quarter of his students cheated in an exam and that university authorities did nothing about it.
The exam, at the end of May, involved 120 students who were required to give brief responses to a series of questions. When Professor Sechi read the exam sheets, he found that more than 25 per cent had given exactly the same answer, word for word, on one or more questions.
He reacted by writing an open letter to the media and to prime minister Giuliano Amato declaring: "Out of 120 students, a quarter copied the answers to my questions."
He added that the dean of the humanities faculty, Paolo Trovato, and Ferrara's rector, Francesco Conconi, on being informed, "did nothing against this malpractice".
There seems little doubt that cheating did take place. A Ferrara student who was present explained that the exam was held in a physics lecture hall, with steeply staggered seating. "I saw pieces of paper being passed around and people looking down and reading what those below were writing."
The dean and rector were unavailable for comment. But Alessandro Fabbri, the administrative director of Ferrara, pointed out that the exam took place under Professor Sechi's supervision. "If he failed to prevent cheating, he did not do his job properly. Also, he had the right to annul the exam or to fail those suspected of cheating."