Nepotism is a huge problem in Spanish universities. Everything is about being connected to the right people, kissing ass, networking, and placing your relatives and friends in key positions. The damage this does to the system of higher education is enormous.
One reason for the poor performance of Italian institutions in world league tables may be nepotism, it has been suggested. The practice has been blamed for a “brain drain” that has seen many of the country’s best researchers move to the US or the UK after failing to progress at home because of their lack of connections.
This is an open secret in Italy. The news magazine l’Espresso and newspaper La Repubblica have reported that in Rome’s La Sapienza University, a third of teaching staff are closely related. Questions were raised after the wife, son and daughter of Luigi Frati, La Sapienza’s chancellor, were hired by its medical faculty. At the University of Bari in the southern region of Puglia, Lanfranco Massari, a professor of economics, has three sons and five grandchildren who are colleagues in the same department. And at the University of Palermo, Angelo Milone, a professor in the architectural faculty, works alongside his brother, son and daughter.
Of course, a system of higher education that is structured this way will never produce valuable research or good teaching.
Efforts are being made to infect the American academia with the same kind of nepotistic practices. The system of “spousal hiring” destroys entire departments. The most offensive thing about this kind of unfair hiring practices is that nobody even thinks of informing the students that some of their professors did not get hired competitively and are only there because they happen to sleep with the right person.
The only thing that stands between us and nepotism is our own personal integrity. This year, for example, I chaired a panel that reviewed research proposals and decided which ones to fund. One of the proposals was by a person I really adore. Nobody at the panel knew about my feelings, so I could have easily done something nice for my friend and gotten their proposal funded. However, I couldn’t act in this dishonest manner. Which is why I declared my conflict of interest to the panel members and removed myself from the discussions of my friend’s proposal.
I’ve seen what nepotism does to individuals, departments, and universities, and I’ll be damned if I ever get tempted to become part of a nepotistic culture.