ITALIAN professori are for the first time facing the sack for absenteeism and low productivity.
The dismissal of 30 doctors teaching at Milan University's medical school has been demanded by the head of the city hospital, on the grounds that they simply do not do the jobs they are paid for, in the first recorded challenge to the cast-iron security of the university baroni.
Marco Vitale, an economist appointed to combat inefficiency at the hospital, said: "Sinecures no longer exist here. If the university continues to send us surgeons who do not operate, or doctors who place the centre of their activities outside the universities, it will be difficult to stem the tide of self-destruction."
While many doctors worked "hard and honestly", there are "some who only drop in for an operation twice a year, or use their position in the hospital to fuel private practices", he said.
Luigi Berlinguer, the university minister who has called for the elimination of feudal-type academic privileges, effectively endorsed the clamp-down. He said Mr Vitale's move "reflects the established guidelines and goes in the right direction".
Of the 550 doctors at the hospital, 150 are attached to the medical school, mainly in senior roles. Mr Vitale says that in a programme of reorganisation in a hospital in which "the university component is so relevant, this component cannot help but be an important part of the process".
He has issued a hit list of 20 professori who head duplicated or redundant departments, and of another ten who are accused of blatant absenteeism.
Paolo Mantegazza, the rector of Milan University, said: "We have agreed to form a mixed commission with three members from the policlinico (the city hospital) and three from the university."
The clash between the university, which sees the policlinico as its domain, and the health ministry, which is directly responsible for the hospital, is evident. Health minister Rosi Bindi said: "Mr Vitale is doing exactly what he should. He is applying the guidelines set by my ministry".
It is unlikely that any professori will find themselves jobless - they will be found slots of some kind elsewhere. The precedent is, however, crucial; that the all-powerful medical baroni finally have to answer to somebody.