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An appeal for David Aliaga

Twelve years ago David Aliaga was denied his doctorate degree in Italy on the basis of criteria that appear to have had more to do with vendetta than merit. His battle for justice has now also become a symbolic one for radical reform of a university system that punishes truth, merit and honesty and rewards conformity to a system based on a mafia mentality. Domenico Pacitti launches an appeal for international support.

For the attention of:-

Mr. Thomas Yeh
Academic Freedom Program Associate
Human Rights Watch
350 Fifth Ave, 34th Floor
New York 10118 -- USA

The Human Rights Watch Academic Freedom Committee Co-Chairs:-
Mrs. Yolanda Moses
Mrs. Hanna Holborn Gray
Mr. Vartan Gregorian
Mr. Jonathan Fanton
Mr. Charles Young

Mr David Aliaga
University of Calgary -- Canada

RE: Request for support concerning 1) David Aliaga's denied Italian doctorate; and 2) pressure on Italian universities to combat endemic corruption

I am writing to you from Italy on behalf of David Aliaga, a Calgary Canadian who was punished by Italian academia for daring to stand up for his rights. David enrolled on a doctoral course in ethnoanthropology at the University of Calabria in 1987, duly completed his work and obtained the approval of international experts. In 1991 an Italian examining commission failed him. David has always argued convincingly that the commission's criteria were based not upon merit but upon vindictiveness as a result of his having reported serious irregularities relating to the commission and its mode of operation. The examining commission had in fact failed to turn up on 25 July 1991, the day of David's examination. David has also complained that there was no appeals process to respond to grievances and that a recent review of his case by the Italian national universities' council (CUN) was conducted unfairly. Full details of David's case are available for you to read in Doctoral torture.
Since 1991, David has been engaged in a courageous and determined battle to obtain justice. Those who have written letters of support to the Italian education ministry and failed to receive replies include: human rights activist Noam Chomsky, Chilean playwright and activist Ariel Dorfman, former Clean Hands magistrate Antonio Di Pietro, president of the Canadian Anthropology Society Margaret Rodman, president of the American Anthropology Society James Peacock, president of the Canadian Archaeology Society Jane Kelly, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, the Canadian Graduate Council, the American Association of University Professors, the Italian Doctorate Association (ADI), Canadian MP Diane Ablonczy, etc. Professor J. Scott Raymond (University of Calgary), Professor Doyle Hatt (University of Calgary) and Professor Russell King (University of Dublin) also wrote to Italian anthropology professor Tullio Tentori and again failed to receive a reply. A host of letters of solidarity from Italian academics are available at
Libro Aperto.
David's battle has now also become a symbolic one for pressures to brought on the Italian university system more generally in order to encourage a radical move away from an anachronistic feudal system that continues to betray all of the fundamental values normally associated with bona fide universities. As I write, Europe's largest university, La Sapienza in Rome, is once again in the news over police investigations into the buying and selling of examinations. This should be seen as only the tip of an enormous iceberg of endemic corruption and rot that continue to strangle Italian academia. It has long been impossible to obtain a tenured post at an Italian university without "recommendations" on the basis of criteria other than merit. Truth telling and non-conformity to this appalling system are, as in David's case, severely punished. Such punishment is generally psychological rather than physical. This makes it more difficult to identify and expose but no less insidious.
As an education correspondent for the Times Higher Education Supplement and Guardian newspapers, an academic who has taught at the University of Pisa for 18 years and the editor of the online journal JUST Response, I have spared no effort in attempting to bring both David's case and the deeply unjust manner in which Italian universities operate to the attention of a world audience. I think it is now high time that international pressure be brought to bear on the general Italian university climate of intimidation, moral degeneracy, unaccountability and grotesque bureaucracy.  Until this happens the term 'Italian university' will remain an oxymoron and the Italian university system a floating black hole.

I therefore urge the Academic Freedom Committee to mobilise appropriate concerted action not only in order to help obtain full justice for David Aliaga but also in order to help change a university system that Italians have for centuries shown themselves to be unable or unwilling to reform.

I look forward to hearing from you and hope we can work together in order to help give this issue the attention it undoubtedly deserves.

Note: This appeal was first published by JUST Response on July 25 2003.