Abbott, Alison. "Concorsi ‘corruption Leads to Court," Nature 374 (27 April 1995), P. 756.
Munich. In the first case of its kind, eight Italian professors have been suspended from their
academic duties after being charged with corruption in making academic appointments.
The eight are accused of unfairly appointing their young collaborators (allievi) in preference to
better qualified candidates in two national competitions, known as concorsi, to appoint a total of
25 professors in the medical discipline ENT (ear, nose and throat).
All eight, who have been barred from academic activity pending the outcome of a court case,
face criminal charges./ Allegations of nepotism are associated with at least two of the
Seven of the accused were among the ten members of the committees appointed by the research
ministry to run concorsi in 1988 and 1992. The eighth is accused of making a deal with
committee members to ensure the appointment of his son.
The results of concorsi have occasionally be overturned in the past on procedural grounds. But
this is the first time that a criminal action has been brought in connection with the system under
which a concorso is held every few years by the ministry of universities and research to arrange
appointments in full-time position.
Shortly before the competition takes place, universities throughout Italy must apply to the
research minister for new posts in different disciplines. The minister then appoints committees
for each discipline, which both run individual concorsi and choose the winners.
Once the winners have been chosen, each is allocated to a university with a vacant position.
Critics of the system complain that appointments too often involve deals between powerful
departmental heads, irrespective of whether they sit on the committees, and that the whole
procedure lacks both transparency and clear criteria for appointments to academic positions.
So far, attempts by successive research ministers to introduce such measures have failed because
of lack of support in parliament, where many members are themselves professors. But last week,
Italy's current research minister, Giorgio Salvini, won government approval for a bill which
modifies the concorsi rules.
If the bill is approved by parliament, concorso committees in future will be required to select
more candidates than the number of positions available. A shortlist of candidates would thus be
prepared, from which individual universities could then make appointments.
Salvini wants the bill to be approved rapidly so he can call the next concorso as soon as possible
under the new rules. The bill has been granted accelerated passage through parliament to
facilitate this. It is likely to be approved because it is in line with new rules on the autonomy of
universities (see Nature 365, 682; 1993), and nearly sidesteps the thornier issue of criteria for
minimum qualifications - a fact that has not gone unnoticed by Italian academics.