You would think that someone who spent years at a university doing graduate research deserves his or her achievement to be recognized with a diploma. If the work is deemed inadequate, the student deserves an explanation. However, some doctoral students in Italy complain that their careers have been ended by professors who failed to explain what was actually wrong with their work.
David Aliaga is a Chilean-Canadian man who believes that injustice and malpractice are a widesprad plague in Italian academia, and that the doctoral students affected have no support whatsoever.
‘Italian students have nowhere to turn, nowhere to direct their grievances and get redress for injustice. As the legal option is out of the question for most students, they remain quite literally at the mercy of their own victimisers’, says Aliaga.
Aliaga, who now llives in Calgary with his wife and three duaghters, spent four years doing research at an Italian university, starting in 1987. Right from the start he had to undergo financial hardship, because of miscommunication with his university department’s officials. Also, he had to rely on his own means and acquaintances to carry out his research, as his research supervisor was hardly ever there and the university library was ‘hopelessly inadequate’.
In 1991, when he was summoned for the final thesis desense, he flew from Canada, yet the exam committee did not even bother showing up, or informing him that his exam had been cancelled. Upon his insistence, the members of the new committee appointed by the Italian Ministry of Universities and Research agreed to reschedule his exam in August.
At the end of his examination, the committee members told David to wait outside while they evaluated his work.
‘Two hours later’, says Aliaga, ‘I decided to go to the main office to inquire what had happened and was informed by a young secretary that I had failed. I asked to see the commissioners but was told that they had already left. When I asked to view the commission’s final evaluation, I was told that regulations permitted only successful candidates to do so’.
Notoriously, August is the premier vacation month in Italy. This custom is so deeply rooted in society that it is considered almost a heresy to ask someone to work in this month, especially if they are a professor or a public official. Thus Aliega is convinced that the committee failed him out of pure vindictiveness, and he has been fighting ever since to obtain a fair re-evaluation of his doctoral work in Italy.
Aliaga’s struggle has been covered by several international publications, including London’s prestigious Times Higher Education.
It appears that the system at Italian univesities has not improved since 1991. Davide Merlato, an Italian university graduate, also saw his academic career shattered after four years of hard work and collaborations with foreign universities, without a clear explanation of what had actually gone wrong. He enrolled in a doctorate program in Italy in 2003, and for the first three years he received positive evaluations from his professors. Merlato also complains that his graduate advisor spent very little time guiding him, saying that he had no time for that.
In 2006, Merlato was supposed to take his final examination. However, his graduate advisor denied Merlato admission to the exam while the student was attending a graduate workshop abroad. Upon his return to Italy, the doctoral student learned from his progfessor that he was not satisfied with Merlato’s work, thus he had decided to give Merlato a year’s extension without consulting him.
Another year in university did not help Merlato complete his program. In fact, he was denied admittance to the final exam once again, which was his last opportunity to complete his doctorate degree in Italy. While his Italian professors ended his career without a proper explanation, the professors he had worked with during his workshop abroad invited him to complete his research at their university.
David Aliaga and Davide Mer-lato might never obtain a fair re-evaluation of their graduate work in Italy. This is a flaw in the Italian higher education system that no government has been able to remedy thus far.