A selection of responses posted on Nature's website to the News article 'Strikes could “break” Italy's universities' (Nature 466, 16–17; 2010).
Giampaolo Minetti said:
What the Italian ricercatori (researchers), including myself, are threatening is not a strike. Although ricercatori are not obliged to teach, in practice they run a significant proportion of science courses — but why do they do this? According to the rules, a ricercatore is permitted to teach voluntarily and occasionally, although unpaid and in addition to his or her research duties. However, this practice is running out of control, to the point at which more than 30% of teaching is now done by the ricercatori.
To protest against the government's budget cuts and the reform bill, we resolved to stick to the rules and decline any offers to teach. We will continue to do what we are paid for, namely research and associated duties (including giving seminars, tutoring students and participating in examining committees). We are also contributing to proposals for alternative university reforms through a group of organized researchers (the 'Rete29Aprile'). Our strategy is by no means a strike, but a last resort against the new reform bill, which threatens to dismantle the country's public university system.
Patrizio Dimitri and Patrizia Lavia said:
The list of measures about to be approved by Italy's government includes indiscriminate heavy cuts to public universities and public research. Those cuts will come after years of decline in research funding and will be made in the absence of any serious, internationally recognized system of evaluation of research and teaching quality.
The Italian research and university system undoubtedly needs a cure, but the remedy should not kill the patient. There should be a rigorous, strict and transparent evaluation system to cut unproductive areas and hit the existing areas of laziness and nepotism head-on. Without such a merit-based approach, indiscriminate cuts by Silvio Berlusconi's government will penalize the active and vital components of Italy's universities and research centres, whose scientists desperately strive to keep doing research and producing results.
Michael Shore said:
In this complex situation, there are no heroes, just villains. Italy's continuous drastic budget cuts threaten to destroy its public university teaching and research. But before pointing fingers, the Italian university system should point a few thumbs — at itself. It is an institution plagued by phenomenal inbreeding (how many faculty members have a cradle-to-grave career, from undergraduate to retirement, in the same university?), little or no meritocracy (how convenient to get automatic raises every two years, regardless of productivity) and no real desire for improvement (rhetoric aside, most counter-proposals aim only to preserve the status quo).
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