University in 'sex for admission' scandal

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A senior official at the University of Bari in southern Italy is in police custody after demanding sexual favours in return for the answers to an entrance exam.

Giuseppe Specchia, the co-ordinator of the university's public relations office, was caught on tape giving a journalist with La Repubblica newspaper, posing as a university applicant, the answers for the examination, then saying to her, "Tell me, what do you want to do for me [in return]?" The journalist said, "No, no, listen, don't touch me." On the tape is the sound of clothes being pulled about, then Mr Specchia demands, "Why can't I touch your breasts?" Whereupon the carabinieri hiding behind the door burst in and arrested him.

After Mr Specchia's arrest on Wednesday, three more university officials, including the secretary of the administrative faculty, were arrested on suspicion of providing him with the exam answers. The university rector, Giovanni Girone, has announced an inquiry.

This is at least the fourth such scandal to hit Italian universities in recent years. In July, students at Sapienza University, the most prestigious in Rome, were found to have paid between €1,500 (£1,000) and €3,000 to pass exams. At the University of Camerino, in Marche, a professor was videotaped selling exam results in exchange for sex in January last year. And at the University of Messina, in Sicily, in 1998, one student was found to have paid 50 million lire, about £18,000, for a degree in economics and business.

The Bari scandal - which involves admission papers for heavily oversubscribed courses in communication sciences and the science and technology of psychology - was exposed after a student took her complaint about Mr Specchia's sexual advances to La Repubblica. She recounted how an official called Pino - Mr Specchia's nickname - had drawn her into a secluded corner of the university public relations office.

"He asked me if the [entrance] exam mattered a lot to me," she was quoted as saying. "If I was ready to do everything [to pass it]. He asked me about my boyfriend, he told me that he could ensure that I passed. And then he touched me." She said she did not take her complaint to the police because she didn't have the courage. "I was scared. I didn't want to lay eyes on him ever again. And then this was the university, I couldn't bear to start in this way. My whole future was at stake."

Questioned by an investigating magistrate and the carabinieri who arrested him, Mr Specchia is reported to have confessed up to a point, blaming an environment of "cosi fanno tutti", in which corruption is universal. "We know the university very well, what sort of environment it is," he was quoted as saying. He claimed he had only obtained the exam answers to enable his son and his son's girlfriend to gain places.

He said that when he told colleagues his son was hoping to join the university, one of them said, "You're the only idiot ... I bet you're the only one who hasn't got those things [ the exam answer papers]."

Mr Specchia claimed the secretary of the administrative faculty, Luigi del Fonso, gave him photocopies of the answers after he explained that he wanted to help his son. He denied his sexual approaches to candidates were intended to be serious. "I don't deny having touched, having made advances, but I've never said that I wanted to go to bed with them. I know myself very well, I'm all smoke and no fire ... I just enjoyed helping them, that's all. I gave them what they needed and they went away."

Mr Specchia has been charged with misappropriation, sexual violence and revealing official secrets. After an emergency meeting of the committee in charge of entrance examinations at the university, the university authorities confirmed that this year's exams would proceed as planned.