Language lecturers bow to pressure

June 12, 1998

EIGHT foreign language lecturers at the University of Verona have caved in to the university authorities after a ten-year battle and accepted downgrading to language assistant status. Six had previously been awarded associate professor salaries by the Italian Supreme Court.

The lecturers have blamed lengthy delays in obtaining European and Italian justice and university recalcitrance in implementing the law for putting them under pressure and financial hardship.

But just two months ago 22 lecturers from Verona and 31 from Bologna, who had been sacked last year for refusing to sign a controversial new contract, failed in a labour court bid to get reinstated.

Anthony Steele, 57, a professional translator from Blackpool who has been teaching in Verona since 1966, said: "The practical necessities of earning a living and the responsibilities towards students who are dependent on our work, together outweigh our potentially hypothetical rights. Why lose your job over a matter of principle? In the end teaching is more important than justice."

But Steven Guttenberg, 48, from New York, a Verona lecturer sacked five times in nine years, said he would fight on. "My eight colleagues were virtually coerced and threatened into agreeing, which explains their reluctance to speak out. Our only hope is the European Court of Justice."

Irishman Paul Hyde, 52, a novelist and former lecturer at Verona, said: "It is a classic Godfather scenario: they make you an offer you can't refuse by giving you your job back, provided you give up all your legal rights in return, including the right to defend yourself. In Italy it is considered bad manners to insist on your legal rights."

David Petrie, chairman of the Committee for the Defence of Foreign lecturers, which has 300 members, said: "The University of Verona spent almost Pounds 3 million telling us: 'We will not submit to the injustice of justice, which is an anathema to us. We are Italians, not Anglo-Saxons. How dare you ask us to apply the law'."

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