total lack of moral and social conscience, the principle of
exchange of favours, overconcern with power and money, a cynical
disrespect of the law and strict observance of the code of silence
all legitimate the term university mafia.'
would have to include drastically decreasing power and funding,
rewarding honesty and penalising dishonesty, and demythologising
the heroic strain in the national mafia mentality.'
in Italy's system of allocating university posts have already been condemned as
a step back in time. Domenico Pacitti tells what happened to him
HIGHER education minister Luigi Berlinguer's
statement that Italy's universities have "no tradition of evaluation"
raises the uncomfortable question of how tenured posts are allocated in Italy if
not on merit. It also ultimately undermines the very idea of a credible Italian
Professor Berlinguer is making much of his recently approved laws to reform the
concorso system - the competitive state examination by which appointments to
professorial posts are made. But Salvatore Sorriso, chairman of the largest
trade union for university professors, who is completing a three-volume
documentation of concorso fiddling, is one of many who have already condemned
the reform as "a step 20 years back in time".
In future, associate and full professorship concorsi are to be conducted locally
with enormous powers of veto bestowed on the faculty - in the same fashion as
researcher concorsi, traditionally the most corrupt and easiest to fiddle.
Bureaucracy reigns supreme. Back in December 1995, 3,491 associate professor
posts covering 357 disciplines were advertised in the official gazette. Thirteen
of these posts were in English linguistics, where a nine-strong commission
shortlisted 17 of the original 125 applicants for the examination, which
eventually took place in Bologna at the end of May. The statutory two-part exam
required each candidate to discuss his or her publications with the commission
and, on selecting a sealed envelope containing a title, to prepare within 24
hours an actual lesson to be delivered in English.
Despite having been shortlisted, I failed to be appointed. Colleagues and
neutral observers never seriously felt my academic qualifications - eight
published books and 20 years' university teaching experience of English,
linguistics, American literature and Chinese - had been taken into
consideration. It is common knowledge that the exam is simply a recital and that
the places have already been decided many months and even years in advance,
although no commission will ever admit this. The decision is final and not open
The official judgements are sent to the ministry and then to the National
Universities' Council for formal approval, which they invariably obtain. Even
the most patently absurd decisions can be ratified, provided the commission is
unanimous and no formal errors have been made, such as physical failure to leave
the door open or to reinsert the questions correctly into their respective
Predictably, the successful candidates, almost all Italians, turned out to have
ties with individual examiners and faculties with vacant posts. It came as no
surprise that my books had not been read nor had my arguments been understood or
listened to with much interest.
My examiners were hardly inspiring: those Italian speakers whom I had the chance
to listen to had a poorer level of English than many of my students, while the
English speakers had lost their linguistic 'freshness' after long years spent in
a foreign country, although they had clearly acquired the Italian corporative
power group mentality.
These impressions were shared by David Petrie, chairman of the Committee for the
Defence of Foreign Lecturers, who had been asked to investigate following a
number of angry complaints by highly qualified members of his trade union, who
had not been shortlisted.
Our uncustomary decision to exercise our rights and sit in on some exams caused
the commission visible irritation. We heard one successful, Italian candidate
change the title of the lesson assigned to her so that she could talk about her
own research, and saw another, far more competent but unsuccessful, British
candidate treated very unfairly.
Books, such as Hands On The University by Felice Froio, have recently been
written documenting Cathedropolis, as the Italian press has christened the
fiddling of concorsi. Examples abound of entire commissions and even faculties
placed under arrest and led away in handcuffs following recordings of their
deliberations, candidates sure of winning well in advance who submitted a
last-minute plagiarised book or two just to keep the written records right, jobs
for the chairman's lover, the rector's brothers and sisters, the baron's
protected pupils, forged signatures - the list is neverending.
The total lack of moral and social conscience, the principle of exchange of
favours, overconcern with power and money, a cynical disrespect of the law and
strict observance of the code of silence all legitimate the term 'university
mafia'. The proof that this mafia mentality is in the system rather than in the
blood is that Italians often lose it after years spent abroad, whereas foreign
academics unfortunately often acquire it after a long spell in the Italian
Decrees are regularly brought into force to modify concorso rules that then
elapse after a matter of weeks once they have fulfilled their purpose of
accommodating a powerful baron's son with a post, further demonstrating the
alarming role in the promotion of organised crime played by national law.
Measures would have to include drastically decreasing power and funding,
rewarding honesty and penalising dishonesty, demythologising the heroic strain
in the national mafia mentality, and discouraging cliques and secret
organisations, which in Italy are automatically transformed into mafia. It has
been estimated (by former higher education minister Stefano Podestŕ) that over
50 per cent of all rectors at any one time are freemasons.
An EU move towards the derecognition of Italy's universities qua universities
would surely shake the ministry and rectors into action. Adding more rules and
regulations is merely tinkering with the problem.
The new law is a clear signal that Italy has no intention of basing concorsi on
merit. But this was to be expected from a parliament, some 40 per cent of whose
members are university lecturers. Too many barons' protégés are already
earmarked to win concorsi years in the future. To an Italian, a post awarded
simply on merit would be unthinkable as it would mean the admission of a
possible rebel and the loss of a grateful baron's return favour.
The new legislation confirms the real object of single university autonomy to be
a sell-out to the barons and a reduction of ministerial work and responsibility.
Undisciplined Italy needs a centralised system, but an efficient and rigorous
Domenico Pacitti teaches English language and American literature at the
University of Pisa.
Note: This article
was published by JUST Response on July 12 2002. It first appeared in The Times Higher Education Supplement (London) on
July 10 1998.
FLAVOURED EXAM COMMISSION
connection with The Times Higher Education Supplement article,
"Bolognese flavoured corruption", and in response to popular request,
here is a list (taken verbatim from the Gazzetta Ufficiale) of the nine worthy
members of the Bologna English linguistics commission referred to:-
Settore L18C - Linguistica inglese
- Membri effettivi -
BARBARESI Lavinia MERLINI
LINGUE e LETT. STRAN.
LINGUE e LETT. STRAN.
CORTESE Giuseppina MARRA
CECIONI, Cesare Giulio
TAYLOR Carol Elaine TORSELLO
- Professori Associati
BONDI PAGANELLI Marina
Sc. della FORMAZIONE
CHIARO Delia Carmela
Sc. Sup. LING. MOD. I.T.
PONTEROTTO Diane LUDOVICI
LETTERE e FILOSOFIA
See also: The
Domenico Pacitti Archive
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