I had occasion to write about nepotism in Rome’s first and largest university, La Sapienza, almost a year ago, when investigations were being conducted into the university’s dean, Renato Guarini, and some confusion about a nine-million-euro tender for an underground car park and his daughter’s university career. You can find the details here. At the end of the post, I commented:
The cherry on the cake? The deputy dean and head of the faculty of medicine, a certain Luigi Frati, whose votes were decisive in Guarini’s election as dean, has also been investigated for nepotism. His wife and two children all work, you guessed it, in his faculty.
That was last October. Now, as elections for a new dean come to their close, Dr Luigi Frati has emerged as the winner with 53% of the vote. An article in today’s la Repubblica (I can’t find a link for it) adds some piquant new details to his family’s academic career. For example, his wife, now full professor in the medicine faculty, used to teach literature in high school. Well, let’s be generous. A lot of writers have been doctors. Maybe she does courses on Chekhov (‘Medicine is my lawful wife.’). Or on Italo Svevo and substance addiction. Frati’s daughter, also a full professor in papà’s faculty, has a degree not in medicine but in law. OK, we all watch CSI. Maybe she has the seat in Horatio Crane studies. Or maybe, just maybe, she’s benefited from the oldest career structure in Italy, otherwise known as nepotism.
I’m sure you know that nepotism comes from the Italian word nipote (indicating niece/nephew or grandchild) and that it was used to describe the way popes promoted their illegitimate children. These days, in Italian universities, they don’t have to be illegitimate or even children – practically any family member or hanger-on can expect to get a leg up onto a chair of one sort or another, regardless of faculty. It’s not as though anyone expects them to actually do anything. Italian universities are probably unique in the free world for their failure to measure themselves against other universities, whether in Italy or abroad. Italian universities were evaulated at national level, using internationally recognised and objective criteria, for the first and, so far, only time in 2006. This evaluation would make interesting reading if it were published but that hasn’t happened. Clearly, the experience was so dispiriting for the Italian academic world that it’s unlikely to be repeated in the near future.
In the meantime, Frati’s family are ben sistemati. And they aren’t alone. Forty percent of university teachers in Messina share a first name and surname with teachers in some other university in the region. In Naples, the percentage is around 35. In Rome, it’s slightly over 30. These people aren’t all necessarily related but the odds are good. At the university of Bari, 42 out of 179 teachers have close relatives in the same faculty. And think about this. A study conducted by Roberto Perotti into competitions for posts in Italy’s economics faculties found that the most important factor of success, by a wide margin, was already belonging to the faculty in which the job was up for grabs. Scientific production, measured in terms of publications in recognised international journals, played no part at all.