Corrupt baroni meet their match

March 17, 1995

Semiologist Umberto Eco is among 77 leading Italian academics who have appealed to the country's new university minister to stamp out fixing exams in favour of powerful professors' proteges.

In an open letter to Giorgio Salvini, 75, professor of physics at Rome's La Spaienza University and now minister in the special temporary government of non-politicians led by former Bank of Italy governor Lamberto Dini, the academics, many of whom are well-known public figures, call on parliament to pass the reform fast. The government is expected to resign for early elections in summer or autumn.

Over the past year scores of appointments have been frozen because the competitive exams for posts are under judiciary investigation for alleged corruption. Official complaints of favouritism and disregard to objective qualifications for university posts, have snowballed to such an extent that new appointments have been all but paralysed.

Under the existing system examining commissions are composed of senior professors, often known in Italy as baroni, who in the past tended to share out job openings among their own faithful disciples rather than assigning them to those best qualified.

As a solution, the academics suggest a double competition: one for eligibility to teach in the state university system, and another run by particular universities and judged by a panel of professors from that university. Those academics not called to fill a post within five years would be dropped from the national eligibility list, but would be allowed to compete again at a later date.

The theory is that given the autonomy universities now enjoy and the competition for students and for academic success, rectors and heads of department will insist on the best available candidate irrespective of what godfathers he or she may have. A further suggestion is to include foreign academics on the panels to reduce chances of exchanges of favours among the Italian professori.

The new university minister, Giorgio Salvini, has replied that he agrees in principle and hopes to put a reform through parliament along these lines in the brief time he expects to have available.

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