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Verona's answer to the brain drain

Domenico Pacitti replies to Luca Benatti in Leeds

Dear Domenico,

As further confirmation of your reports on Italian universities I submit my own case. I might also add that I can testify to the correctness of what you say about negative Roman Catholic and moral issues.

Last February I went to England to carry out scientific research on an instrument which I had invented for diagnosing the state of human health through observation of the retina. This instrument, subsequently taken up by a Swiss company, still required further refinement in order to function properly. The University of Leeds kindly offered me the opportunity to research the instrument on a PhD course. They duly wrote to my Italian university, the University of Verona, for confirmation of my academic career, but unfortunately Verona failed to send the required documents and so I lost the opportunity and was unable to register on the course. I had also found funding for my university fees and an opportunity to commercialise a new clinical test. Both fell through.

I enclose an article on my case published in the Verona "L'Arena” on 7 September 2004, telling how my story began in 1999 when I attended a course in Padua on the Lüscher Colour Test. On suggesting ways in which the test could be improved, I was invited to Switzerland in 2000 by the test’s inventor Max Lüscher. Over the last five years I have rebuilt this instrument some fifty times in an attempt to perfect it. In the course of the same period I wrote to numerous Italian universities asking not for money but simply for the opportunity to carry out my experimentation on twenty subjects. My letters met with total indifference and I did not receive a single reply.

On returning to Italy I went to see the dean of the University of Verona’s faculty of education sciences where I had taken my degree. I was accompanied by student representatives and journalists. The dean confirmed my top marks but was unable to supply me with written documentation for bureaucratic reasons. I was told I would have to wait several weeks. I am still waiting. I have meanwhile decided to write to SOLVIT, an online problem solving network for citizens of EU member states. But I am having to write to the UK office following negative experience with the SOLVIT office in Italy.

Now at the age of forty I find myself having to be supported by my parents who are pensioners. Is it really possible that Italians are still obliged to go abroad to have their work appreciated? How do you see this case and what else can I do?

–– Luca Benatti, Leeds, England

Dear Luca,

As you no doubt know, but for the benefit of any of our readers who may still have doubts on the matter, the real reason why Italians are still obliged to go abroad to have their work appreciated is because Italian universities have no room for genuine talent, independent initiatives or intellectual honesty. Their doors remain open only to mediocrity and obsequiousness. The inhabitants of Italian universities certainly recognise talent when they see it, but they avoid it like the plague because it makes them both nervous and envious. The trouble is that genuine talent can produce unpredictable and uncontrollable results. Admitting talent to their ranks would seriously risk upsetting the fragile internal hierarchy and the delicate equilibrium of mediocrity.

Senior Italian academics, or “barons”, tend to have a view of themselves which is, at times comically, at strict variance with reality, as in the tale of the emperor’s new clothes. In order to participate in this degrading farce, you must be prepared to assure barons constantly of their unquestioned magnificence. (All correspondence to an Italian rector must still be addressed to the “Magnifico Rettore”.) Only then can you join the endless queue of fawning sycophants in search of the necessary “raccomandazioni” to gain access to a sinecure for life. Successful candidates will also gain the privilege of being allowed to help squander research funding on work which has little to do with truth, intellectual freedom and the spirit of scientific enquiry.

As far I am able to judge, your work appears to have the necessary requirements in terms of honest originality and genuine merit to meet with the predictable blank wall reception from Italian academia. This impression is supported by the positive reception you received from the Swiss psychologist Max Lüscher, a man whose work has brought him worldwide recognition. It is further supported by the offer you received from the respected University of Leeds to read for a PhD.

I therefore see your case as falling squarely within the Italian brain drain tradition – with the cruel twist that they actively prevented you from doing even that. From the additional information you sent me, I understand that the University of Leeds contacted two of your former teachers at the University of Verona for references and that they failed either to reply or to forward the requests to the appropriate administrative office at the University of Verona. Again, this is fairly normal practice within Italian academia, reflecting as it does the unmistakeable Italian academic stamp of ignorance, indolence and indifference.

As regards advice, you could look for an Italian trade union, association or radical group willing to provide the necessary legal and financial assistance to sue the University of Verona for damages. By all means give SOLVIT a try, though I very much doubt whether the UK office will be able to penetrate the Italian academic black hole. Keep Verona under pressure for your certificates and ask the University of Leeds to renew its PhD offer for the forthcoming academic year and try to re-arrange funding. You should invite Max Lüscher, the University of Leeds and all the foreign scientists, researchers and academics you know to undertake initiatives against Italian universities to encourage them to reform their corrupt and inefficient system. Meanwhile, avoid supplying Italian universities with your unpublished work or details of your ongoing research since you run the very real risk of finding the fruits of your hard earned research published under some baron’s name.

–– Domenico Pacitti, December 17 2004

Note: This article was published for the first time by JUST Response on December 17 2004.