A group of senior Italian academics has written an open letter to university minister Ortensio Zecchino warning against plans to eliminate the job definition "researcher" in state university employment and to redesignate all 20,000 existing researchers as professors.
"This measure violates the constitutional principle that there must be a competitive exam for access to posts in the public administration," they said in the letter. "It would put on a par those who in the past have worked well in both research and teaching with those who instead have done little or nothing. All this is happening while great efforts are being made to make merit prevail over automatic career progress," the letter continued.
A general reform of the status and duties of Italian academics, including the measure at issue, has been approved by the government and is about to wind its way through the various passages of parliamentary approval. Academics have been classed in three ranks: professore ordinario, professore associato and ricercatore.
All three ranks involve life-long employment and salaries based almost exclusively on length of service. But while the two grades of professore hold a full-time job with their universities and are expected to teach, the ricercatori have a much looser relationship, lower pay and in many cases part-time jobs in research, with occasional teaching.
Under the reform, there would be one class for full professors, (professori ordinari), a class for associate professors, to be known simply as professori, and a third class, to be known as "third-level professors", which would absorb the current researchers.
At the same time, the former researchers would have an increased work-load comparable to the two higher classes. This third class is described as "transitional" in the bill, but it is not clear to what.
The Italian government crisis is unlikely to kill off the reform process and Mr Zecchino is expected to retain his job.