In the news: David Petrie

March 28, 2003

Lecturer David Petrie, a Scot who teaches English at the University of Verona, has become an expert in the intricacies of the Italian legal system after more than a decade fighting for the rights of foreign-language teachers. But his latest court victory was more personal.

A Bologna judge has ruled that Mr Petrie was defamed by the former rector of the Oriental University in Naples, Adriano Rossi, and Bruno Civello, a senior higher education ministry official, when they accused him of having said that Italy was run by the Mafia. He was awarded £12,800 plus legal costs.

Trouble began in 1997 when Mr Rossi and Mr Civello were called before a select committee of the European Parliament to represent the Italian state in answer to allegations of job discrimination against foreign teachers in Italian universities. They heard Mr Petrie describe the system of recommendations by which Italian university posts are commonly awarded, and later publicly accused him of having made the reference to the Mafia. But the parliament's tape recording of the meeting was found to contain no such reference.

Mr Petrie said: "If this is the calibre of people representing Italian higher education at government level, an impartial observer would surely question the entire system they represent."

As chairman of the Allsi, the foreign-language lecturers' association in Italy, Mr Petrie was instrumental in getting fair treatment for faculty who were downgraded to technical staff under a change in Italian law in 1995.

In 2001, a court awarded 21 lettori 47 months' arrears in pay.

Edinburgh law professor Sir Neil MacCormick QC MEP, who has been backing the lecturers' battle, said: "The patience that Mr Petrie and his colleagues have shown in over 14 years of legal chicanery in Italy is little short of superhuman."

Mr Rossi and Mr Civello were unavailable for comment.

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