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The University of Padova disagrees with… November 10, 2008

Posted by dorigo in internet, news, personal, politics, science.
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Here is an excerpt from a letter sent by the Rector of the University of Padova, Vincenzo Milanesi, to Padova students and their families:

The University of Padova […] strongly disagrees with legislations which threaten to demolish our University system, which cut funds with an ax in a mass decapitation […]

( translated from the letter of the Rettore of the University of Padova:
lettera_studenti_famiglie.pdf )

Original version:

L’Universita’ di Padova […] è decisamente in disaccordo con i provvedimenti legislativi che rischiano di demolire il nostro sistema universitario, che tagliano i fondi con la mannaia in una decapitazione di massa […]

(dalla lettera del Rettore dell’Universita’ di Padova:


1. Gordon Stangler - November 10, 2008

Oh, wow. Colorful language indeed. :s

2. Nicola - November 10, 2008

Hi all,
the circumstance are well illustrated here (Nature, Oct 15th 2008)

Cut-throat savings
In an attempt to boost its struggling economy, Italy’s government is focusing on easy, but unwise, targets. (…)

3. Davide - November 11, 2008

I am a physics student in Torino, and i’m “living” in the physics dept. since one month. We’re holding seminars and lunches for outsiders ( i.e. not physicists…) and it’s being quite a success!!

We wont step back!


4. Fred - November 11, 2008

Hello Davide,

As someone who is an active participant in the current situation, what are the main points of your movement? What do you ultimately hope to accomplish by your actions? How is your group organized and do you have designated leaders? Are your positions coordinated with students from other schools? What are your options if your demands are not met and do you have an exit strategy? What are the living conditions like and from whom and how are you receiving support? What specific reasons allow you to label it as being quite a success so far? What is it like being a physics student in Italy today?

Thank you

5. Guess Who - November 11, 2008

Is there a summary somewhere (preferably online, in English) of the legislation in question? The links above are more rhetorical than quantitative.

6. dorigo - November 11, 2008

Hello Fred,

Lol… your usual inquisitive albeit amicable style. I await answers from Davide myself.

I am afraid I do not have links to offer you here. Have you read the piece on Nature (see comment above ) ?

Anybody who can provide outside help ?


7. Nicola - November 11, 2008

Hello Guess Who,
there is an english page on “Buconero” (The Black Hole)
an italian website made by INFN researchers.
Unfortunately, many documents are only available in italian.
Please sign the petition to support the cause..

8. Guess Who - November 11, 2008

Hi TD. Yes, I read the article in Nature, but it seems to be at odds with the law in question: http://www.parlamento.it/leggi/08133l.htm

The relevant parts that I can spell my way to are Art. 16 (“Facoltà di trasformazione in fondazioni delle università”) and Art. 66 (“Turn over”).

Art. 16 allows, but does not mandate, public universities to turn themselves into private foundations (by majority vote and subject to various government approvals).

Art. 64 is mostly about public employment in general, but paragraph 13 spells out the following reductions of ordinary university funding (year: million EUR):

2009: 63,5
2010: 190
2011: 316
2012: 417
2013: 455

The 10% figure in the Nature piece is about the final, 2013 level, right? But this comes on the heels of more than a decade of expansion


and does not include additional funding earmarked for new reseach position, 150 million EUR in 2009 according to this:


Nature speaks of 2000 research positions being cut, this article speaks of 3000 being created.

I’m confused.

9. dorigo - November 11, 2008

Hi GW,

the decreto referred to in the very partisan piece on Il sole 24 ore is new, and it comes after a strong protest from the world of university and research. It is better than the transversal cuts of law 133, but still contains some malicious bits. I cannot discuss it now though, and tomorrow I am traveling to Sestri Levante. However, if you are so much at ease with italian newspapers, you probably know more than me about the issue by now.


10. Nicola - November 12, 2008

Hi GW,

decreto 133/08 is the *cause* of all these actions, protests and strikes) in italian universities.

and the fresher decreto 180/08 (ultimated just today: the article on IlSole24h was only an anticipation) is a first *result*.

It’s a little success so far.


PS- yes art 16 allows, not mandate; but considering this “permission” together with the cuts, many universities will have no chance..

11. Davide - November 12, 2008

Fred, Tommaso,

The main objective of the movement is to push the government to change the dl133/08, in particular art.16 and 66. The point is that the dl133/08 tries to kill public university with a cocktail of funding cuts and exit doors( private foundations..). Some think this is a strategy coherent with the famous motto “ignorance is freedom”, some think this is only a funding cut, made to save poorly managed public companies from failure. The former or the latter, the point is that we can’t accept this sort of laws without at least protesting. Italian university has many problems. We are working on propositions to make it better. This is a huge work so we have formed groups: there is the press groups, there is the law group, the kitchen group (the cook is a genius!!), the fliers group, the security group….etc…

The are no leaders, literally speaking. Everyday we have a meeting ( everybody is invited in those meetings…) where u can raise your hand and make propositions, criticisms…etc…obviously there is a moderator. At the end of discussions, when propositions have been clearly formulated, we vote: one head, one vote. So you see, there isn’t a designated leader. There is a person who,at the same time, coordinates work groups and moderates discussions. I wish to stress that there are no personal decisions.

Are your positions coordinated with students from other schools?
We started as physicists and a bit of chemists. Now we are physicists, chemists, geologists, natural scientists, doctors, philosophers, political scientists, poets (🙂 )…..We organize lessons held by fourth or fifth year students for firsts years students so that they succeed in giving their exams although they spend time protesting….

Sometimes our demands are not met, in that case, the same evening we vote for an exit strategy. We never voted for something which would be violent, and we never will. On the other hand, we are the only part of the population that can loose time without starvation. We use this time to work on ways to obtain what we want, by all legal and political means.

We use sleeping bags, and we sleep in classrooms. We go to sleep approximately at 2 or 3 am and wake up at 7 am before other students arrive.

All the people who walk past the front door of the dept. tell us to keep it up. Yesterday evening we had open doors and seminars and 600 people attended: the classrooms where overfull. We are receiving support from almost everybody. ( there’s always someone, at least one, who complains…:-) ) Sometimes ago we went to give fliers in front of Mirafiori, which is the industrial part of the city, and workers were so happy to see us, and they actually read our fliers and asked questions!! it was wonderful!!

What makes me optimistic is seeing all these young people full of ideas and wanting to do whatever to help the protest. Another thing is the absolute unity on the basic principles of democracy, apart from the political views of the individuals. That is very important.

What’s like being a physics student in italy….Its hard to explain. For outsiders you are like the most strange animal in the zoo: when i say i study physics, people make round eyes and ask me if i’m joking….On the opposite, my class ( fifth year…) isn’t big, we are about 10, so there’s a very good atmosphere and teachers are very very well prepared and open to discussion….in conclusion, being a physics student in Italy is very stimulating🙂

I apologize for any mistakes i may have made, my English isn’t very good!!


12. Fred - November 12, 2008

Hello Davide,

Thank you for taking the time to respond. And you don’t need to apologize for your English as it is more than adequate. It would be completely appropriate to answer in Italian if it would help explain your positions with greater understanding and depth. I’m sure Tommaso and others who frequent this blog would be more than willing to translate and respond in kind with pertinent follow-up questions. I feel you offer us a unique opportunity to get a bird’s eye view of the current situation as it unfolds in your specific location.

I am handicapped in responding to your answers by the fact that I am ignorant of the educational system in your country combined with a lack of basic knowledge concerning the current political and budget crises in Italy.

1. Was dl133/08, in particular art.16 and 66 the straw that broke the camel’s back or was the protest already predetermined based on events that led up to it? In other words, was the protest inevitable?

2. “… we can’t accept this sort of laws without at least protesting. Italian university has many problems. We are working on propositions to make it better.”

What is the role and responsibility of the students to the institution from which it ultimately benefits?

3. “We never voted for something which would be violent, and we never will.”

Was this derived “organically” or was it a calculated decision based on historical observations and conclusions? Was the vote overwhelmingly for non-violent action? What if the situation turns violent?

There are many other questions but I conclude with a smile towards your reference “the cook is a genius!!” and your acknowledgment of poets.

p.s. A very smooth and deft landing: “… in conclusion, being a physics student in Italy is very stimulating”

13. Guess Who - November 12, 2008

For a little perspective, I suppose you could do worse than peeking at one of the most acclaimed private universities around. Lately, more than 1/3 of Harvard’s budget has been coming out of its endowment fund, which is now expected to finish the year 30% down or so:


That’s a looming 10% budget cut in just one year, not five. Some caustic commentary here:


Given the current state of the global economy, the lack of sympathy should not be overly surprising. Everybody is tightening their belt.

14. Mauro Da Lio - November 12, 2008

Hi Tommaso, you know I think that funding for research should be increased.
But there is a problem: you may easily find it by yourself if you make a distribution of the h or g index for a randomly selected sample of professors.🙂 (well I know that in one of your old post you spoke of this).
Let us now suppose we have “solved” this problem. Than another problem needs to be faced: I call the second problem the useless research. Resources are limted and we HAVE to focus research in large ambitious plans. After all this is exactly what the Europen Framework Programmes are: focus research and form critical mas and have care of the impact on society. Then you may easily discover the second problem: if you compute the of EC fundings that every university is able to achieve, you wil easily find that there are first and second class institutions.
I strongly support the proposal of AQUIS (the coordination of quality universities in Italy), to which also Padova belongs. We need more investment in research, but we have to be very careful not to save the “bad” researchers here.

15. Davide - November 13, 2008

Hi Fred,

In fact, the protest isn’t politically oriented and we have people from all political sides. Therefore, i can say it was born with dl133/08 with no premeditation.

In fact, about non-violence in itself we didn’t even vote since it is so obvious that we needn’t. The mainstream idea is that violence doesn’t bring anywhere. And it is not about violence not being “nice”, it is about violence being *useless*. This idea stems from the fact that nobody has never been convinced of something using the “baseball bat” argument🙂
No incidents happened up to now. I hope this continues on the same nonviolent path but if it doesn’t, we have a security service that is very effective in excluding violent individuals in all sorts of situations. Moreover, our emeritus President Cossiga took time to explain to citizens where to look at if something violent happens.

About the role and responsibility of students…I don’t think i correctly understood your question. Is it about the formal role of the students or about the means of pressure students have on the higher spheres?

Feel free to ask more🙂


p.s. if you are interested in seeing what we do in turin:

16. goffredo - November 13, 2008

Cossiga said a provocative but very stupid thing because now if violence does flare up then protesters can always say if was not their fault but was started by infiltrators. It is an old story in Italy.

Is violence started by nastily placed infiltrators? Did it spontaneously start when herd psychology sets in, individuals stop thinking as individuals and agressivity gets out of hand? Or was it intentionally started by a nasty subset of violent “protesters”? Three theories. Which will apply? I hope none because I hope no violence does start.

17. dorigo - November 13, 2008

Mauro, I agree, but I have one issue with what you write, and it is political, unfortunately.

You want to save the good research and cut the “bad” one, because resources are scarce. I think there is no bad research, but just research which is less interesting. I think we have to step back and ask ourselves first of all if we agree that basic research should be cut. I disagree. I think the moneys can be found to fill the holes of our finances, without fishing in the pockets of research institutions that have seen their funding decrease with time by 2-3% each year, in the face of an increase of inflation by 3-4%, for a total loss of almost 40% in the last 6 years in INFN alone, just to make an example. I disagree with accepting this logic, so I see no need to start discussing where to cut first and where to freeze the “pianta organica” of the R.I. Why instead don’t we increase funding on basic research, which is an investment in the future ?


18. Mauro Da Lio - November 14, 2008

No no… I was not meaning basic research.

I do not want to cut the “bad” research because resources are scarce. I want to cut it because it is bad (or non existing at all) and we should have alredy done it.
There are professors that have NO published paper at all in the last n years (and they are not so few) and NO evidence at all of any real research activities and achievement. As for professors, there are large differences among universities in the country.

I do not agree with generic cuts. I think that the good research (institutions and researchers) should have more funds.

19. goffredo - November 14, 2008

To say that no (basic) research is bad is a very unfortunate thing to say. To refrase the polarization good-bad in terms of research being interesting or not is not much better. It sounds cool but infact most “ordinary” people would be confused, annoyed and then disagree. I am a little confused myself and disagree too. Annoyed? No. Today I am in a good mood as I know that someone did good and interesting research and there is a high chance my heart problems will be solved. I suggest you keep your thoughts to this blog to avoid further alienating ordinary people.

I realy do fear that in Italy no one stands up to point fingers because no one is innocent; i.e. everyone is guilty to some degree of being self-referential (to say the very least). I’d prefer fighting words and distinctions rather than lumping all types of research together by saying “no research is bad”.

20. dorigo - November 14, 2008

Hi Jeff,

I stand by my opinions and I do not care much if people I talk to or people who read me agree or not. Of course I prefer agreement to disagreement, but that does not depend on me. I am also always willing to put my opinions in question, and I do change position occasionally.

About research: I repeat I believe that honest people doing research should not be prevented from working on things that are considered “less interesting”. Of course, there are wastes. But they occur everywhere -they amount to some physiological percentage of the funds allocated-, and I do not know a surgeon that can remove these wastes without cutting healthy, functional parts. I do not consider wastes a tumor, that threatens the whole system and requires invasive action. Let’s not forget that occasionally science has made huge leaps forward from the less promising studies.


21. dorigo - November 14, 2008

Mauro, I of course agree with cutting the dead branches, and the professors who use funds only to increase their power and produce no valuable results. I think there are two levels of this problem: cutting the dead branches may be easy, removing the wastes in good projects without affecting the productivity is very hard. To make an example, I have seen a continuous tightening of the rules in INFN, and this hits mostly the less protected personnel, such as students who have to travel but see their refunds taxed, just to name one vicious mechanism.


22. goffredo - November 14, 2008

of course I didn’t mean you should change your statements out of fear of what other people think. I myself NEVER do that! What I mean is that you should think more about how people tick. People ARE alienated by science in Italy and it just might be that they have some very good points.

23. goffredo - November 14, 2008

By the way. Regards the way the INFN is behaving I suggestyou do not invoke “mechanisms”. The rules of the INFN are made by people. People are not abstract entities hence they can be confronted and made to justify those rules and change them if better ones are proposed. All with the same budget!

I do think that if cuts are necessary then they should be aimed and not generic. But then that goes back to having the courage to say “This we finance; this we cut!” But no one has yet stepped forward to lead the way. Evidently no one has the VISION, wisdom or the courage.

24. Guess Who - November 14, 2008

Goffredo, I don’t pretend to understand Italian politics (who does?) but isn’t the net effect of laws 133 and 180 to reduce fixed funding and increase discretionary funding which can be directed to deserving activities? Or am I still totally confused?

25. dorigo - November 14, 2008

GW #13 (just fished out of the spam filter): the crisis in the US is much worse than it is in Italy. And you said it: Harvard is private. It is a money-making endeavour, primarily. Their business plan cannot be an example to the management of public universities, which are a source of intellectual wealth to the country, and whose product is not money but progress. In other words, the fact that private universities in the US fill a hole and provide a service cannot be used to argue that their budget decisions are driven by the same reasons as those behind public university funding.


26. Guess Who - November 15, 2008

#25: TD, “private” is not synonymous with “for profit”. Harvard is a non-profit corporation with educational and research objectives. It needs money to function; so do public universities. The difference is that (part of) Harvard’s money comes from voluntary transactions, whereas the money to run public universities comes almost entirely from taxes. I see no reason to assume that the latter model is inherently better.

27. dorigo - November 15, 2008

Ok, thank you for the explanation. In Italy, private universities are growing to do exactly that: money-making. I do not see how an acceptable transition can be made to a different system, and I do not think it would work well. Freedom of research is my concern. If you want that, you have to accept some degree of inefficiency and waste.


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