John Hooper writes for The Guardian in Rome – his book The Italians is reviewed by Nick Bruno for The Italian Insider:
At Chapter 15, Restrictive Practices, pp.221-222 comments on the lettori case:
For an example of a “mafia” that remains tenaciously protective (and protectionist) as ever, you need to turn away from the worlds of finance and industry to that of higher education. Italy’s universities are among the last great bastions in Italian society of patronage (and a fair number of restrictive practices). Take the case of the lettori. When I first came to Italy as a correspondent in 1994, it was already an old story. Twenty years later, it has still not been resolved.
Lettori are non-Italian university lecturers who teach a foreign-language in their mother tongue. Back in the 1980s the lettori began to lobby for pay and conditions comparable to those of Italian lecturers. But that would have meant giving them open-ended contracts. Those who campaigned on their behalf believe that the last thing most of the so-called baroni – tenured full professors – wanted was to give security of employment to a bunch of foreigners who might challenge the way things were done in Italian universities.
In 1995, under growing pressure from the European Commission, the Italian government of the day changed the law. It reclassified the lettori not as teachers, but as technicians. Those who refused to accept their new status were sacked (though most were subsequently reinstated at the insistence of the courts). Among other things, the reclassification of the lettori has meant that they can no longer set or mark exams. That now has to be done by an Italian who, except in very rare cases, does not have the same proficiency in the language as the lettori who, in fact if not in law, have taught the students being examined.
Ever since the mid-1990s those who were dismissed (or who accepted the 1995 terms while reserving the right to contest them) have campaigned for the back pay they believe is their due for the period which – it is acknowledged by all sides – they were teachers and not technicians. Over the years the European Court of Justice (ECJ) as ruled six times in their favour, accepting their contention that Italy’s treatment of them constituted discrimination on grounds of nationality. On several occasions the Rome government has changed the law in the semblance of an effort to meet the ECJ’s demands. But few of the lettori have ever been compensated. In 2010 a law was brought in that simply declared null and void the cases in which the lettori were suing universities for compensation and led to about half of them having their salaries cut – in extreme cases, by as much as 60 per cent.
All of this may help to explain why Italians sometimes use a phrase that baffles foreigners, telling them with a shrug: Siamo tutti un po’ Mafiosi (‘We’re all a bit mafia-like). The son of Bernardo Provenzano, the last undisputed capo di tutti capi of the Sicilian mafia, said something like it after his father was arrested in 2006 at the end of an unprecedented forty-three years on the run. The then thirty-year-old Angelo Provenzano was being interviewed by a reporter from La Repubblica. ‘The Mafia’, he said, ‘follows from mafiosita’, which is not solely and exclusively Sicilian behavior.’