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interesting when the international
press picks up a story that those of us here in Sicily thought prompted
little curiosity beyond our own shores, but some things are so bizarre that
they're difficult to ignore. As part of an article on problems and reforms
in Italy's universities and other public schools, The Economist ("Higher
Education in Italy - A Case for Change,"15 November 2008, page 32)
recently had this to say about nepotism at the University
"this week news emerged of a university rector who, the day before
he retired on October 31st, signed a decree to make his son a lecturer...
At Palermo University, as many as 230 teachers are reported to be related
to other teachers."
Speaking of the national trend in this direction, the article went on
to state that:
"The creation of jobs for relatives and friends has helped to inflate
the number of Italian academics... 13,000 junior posts have been advertised
in the past seven years, yet 26,000 have been filled... Not one Italian
institution is in the top 100 of the 2008 Times Higher Education world university
Unfortunately, this is all true, and while nepotism is not, strictly
speaking, illegal in Italy, the means of getting a job for a relative often
are. Typically, a university teaching position is given to a professor's
child, spouse or lover (sexual liaisons being common between ageing male
professors and aspiring young female associates) without the position having
been announced officially, or perhaps the opening has been made public only
in an obscure posting on a bulletin board in an office to which the general
public has limited access. This corrupt practice of informing "favourite"
candidates of available positions while concealing the same information
from worthy candidates in the general population explains how twice as many
junior posts could be filled as were actually advertised.
The universities have no monopoly on such practices. In some cases they
are actually institutionalised. Until its recent acquisition by Unicredit,
a large Milanese bank, the Banco di Sicilia promoted a program for retiring
employees to leave their positions to their children, as though these offspring
were heirs to a family business (the phenomenon is described in the newspaper
clipping shown here). It is even possible for the retiring employee of a
large hotel to negotiate a position for his son or daughter, perhaps based
on the retiree accepting a slightly lesser pension in exchange for his child
getting a job.
Then there's cronyism based on political affiliations or other factors.
Here's a typical example. Recently, a 12-month work project for young people
(in Sicily you're considered "young" and are probably underemployed
until at least the age of 30) began to accept applications for around a
hundred positions which pay about 500 euros per month --hardly a princely
sum but the positions entail little actual work. Some qualified people applied
but noticed that the job interviews were rather superficial, built around
questions such as, "Why would you like this job?" It turns out
that the only applicants to receive these (admittedly mediocre) positions
were those affiliated in some way with the dominant political party. Even
those who were "recommended" (based on preferments) did not get
jobs unless they were known party supporters or the children of party activists.
In this ridiculous milieu it's easy to understand why many young, well-educated
people leave Sicily, and according to the Economist article, Italy's
dropout rate of 55% is the highest in the rich world. (Student
life at Palermo's university is terrible.) Sadly, there's little indication
that much will change in the near future, but the fact that the press is
writing about the phenomenon of nepotism is a good sign. Those promoting
such practices can run but they can no longer hide. A recent issue of the
Palermo edition of the daily La Repubblica published several articles
on the local university nepotism problem, complete with dozens of names;
the entire institution is controlled by a hundred families as though it
were a business run by the Mafia. There is hope that if organised crime
can be defeated, or at least reined in, practices like rampant nepotism
can also be brought under control.
About the Author: Maria Luisa Romano has
written for various Italian magazines, including this one.