AN ITALIAN Euro-MP has criticised his country's handling of the case of the 1,500 foreign-language lecturers who are claiming maltreatment and discrimination on the grounds of nationality.
At a forum on the professional status and role of the lettore, or foreign-language lecturer, last month in Bologna, Green MEP Gianni Tamino, a university researcher and former trade unionist, described the government's response to the European Commission as "totally unacceptable, disrespectful and at times even ridiculous".
"Italian legal provisions introduced in 1995 in order to remedy the lettori situation have proved quite inadequate and the subsequent national contract approved by the CGIL trade union has clearly failed to respect EU directives. Sacrificing the legal rights of a minority, in this case those of the lettori, for wider interests is no way for a trade union to conduct its business and will not wash in Europe.
"There is no doubt that lettori are de facto lecturers and must surely be recognised as such: if our government genuinely believes they are not, then it should have the courage to recall all those graduates who have taken exams with the lettori and annul their exam passes and degrees on the grounds that they were not conducted with recognised teaching staff.
"Firm belief in a truly European citizenship without discrimination and with equal treatment for all can now be the only way forward for Italy."
Mr Tamino also said that a credible solution must involve the immediate integration of the lettori into the university system with the same job stability as Italian teaching staff and similar, although not necessarily identical, status and career prospects.
Giovanni Garofalo, general secretary of the CGIL-SNUR, the forum organiser and Italy's largest official university trade union, said: "While I support the European Commission's position regarding the discriminatory nature of Italian national law, I do not feel that European legal action is the best solution. What is now required is fresh contract negotiation at the national level."
Although Mr Garofalo's position is shared by the majority of his union members, it seems that a growing minority now support Mr Tamino.
Bruno Civello, director of the higher education ministry's department for university autonomy, said: "I do not believe there has been any discrimination against the lettori and I find the action by the commission nothing short of oppressive.
"I think that teaching language skills are rather the business of schools than of universities. Nevertheless, we now have ample opportunity to revise language teaching in our universities through the creation of new posts, but a stable post appears to be out of the question."
Cesare Cecioni, former director of Florence University's language teaching centre, said: "It seems the lettori have still not understood that tenure has nothing to do with teaching: it rather concerns the privileges that a professor enjoys."
Addressing the 125 lettori present, he added: "If you were ever to apply for promoted posts you would have no chance of success. As we would be judging you, it would simply be the slaughter of the innocents."