Staff exits batter US outposts

June 6, 1997

One tends to think of the overseas offshoots of American universities as sunlit islands of academic tranquillity, a kind of higher education Butlins for the students and a Muthaiga Club for the lecturers. But apparently nothing is further from the truth, in light of recent events at Rome's Loyola University and the American University in Rome (AUR).

Dark rumblings began in November 1996 at Loyola, offspring of Chicago's Loyola University. Paul Robichaux, appointed director in 1995, was discovered to have presented false academic credentials. He had flaunted, on his curriculum, a "PhD Oxon" and an MA from the Gregorian University in Rome.

It occurred to a disgruntled staff member that Oxford does not award a PhD, but a DPhil. A check was run, and Oxford responded that they had no record of Mr Robichaux having any kind of degree from their university. Another query with the Jesuits at the Gregorian also drew a blank. Mr Robichaux resigned, under a cloud.

In July last year, the AUR selected a new president, Angela Iovino. Hailing from the National Endowment Foundation in Washington, the Italo-American was appointed with much pomp at a ceremony held in Rome. Speeches were made, national anthems were sung and the AUR staff had to parade up and down in a slow march, wearing full academic regalia, often far in excess of the qualifications of the individuals, and holding aloft Italian and American flags made of synthetic fabric.

But the honeymoon was short-lived and by the autumn Dr Iovino's relations with the staff and the board had seriously deteriorated. After mutual accusations of various kinds she took a long leave of absence and resigned in January, under another cloud.

Since then AUR has had no president. A "provost", in the guise of an American lawyer, Peter Alegi, has held the tiller. By the end of May no existing appointments had been confirmed for the autumn, and the 25-odd faculty members, increasingly disgruntled, had no idea if they would still have jobs.

"The key to all these problems is the Italian labour laws," said an AUR faculty member, who preferred to remain anonymous. "Under Italian law you cannot officially employ a person without giving health insurance, severance pay, and almost total immunity from dismissal. Till now, there was a tacit understanding in the American universities in Rome that in the interests of keeping the institutions economically viable and alive, lecturers would work under a kind of 'gentlemen's agreement'. They would work, part-time or full-time, without invoking Italian labour laws."

This pax academica appears to have cracked at AUR. Faculty members discovered that the administrative dean, described as "a glorified secretary", was earning $80,000 a year, while the academic dean was only getting $30,000 and the rest of the academic staff a good deal less.

At the moment, relations between AUR administrators and staff are being cautiously renegotiated with lawyers on all sides, and the future of the AUR itself is by no means certain.

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