Italy's Geophysics Chief Quit, But He May Not Go

Controversy has erupted in Italy following the news that Domenico Giardini, who had announced late last year that he was to resign as president of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV), may now stay on in his job if a way can be found to supplement his income with that from a specially created professorship at the Sapienza University of Rome.

Giardini, a seismologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, was one of a number of scientists appointed in August last year by the then research minister Mariastella Gelmini to take up the reins of Italy's research institutes. But in December Giardini announced that he would resign, telling colleagues at INGV that "it has not been possible to find an agreement between the Italian and Swiss regulations that allow me to continue in my position."

According to Il Foglietto, a publication of the Usi-Ricerca research trade union, Giardini resigned because he considered his salary of a little over €100,000 a year too low. The Ministry of Education, Universities, and Research then reportedly tried to persuade the Ministry for Public Administration and Innovation to increase Giardini's wage, but without success. As a result, says Il Foglietto, the now research minister Francesco Profumo asked the rector of La Sapienza, Luigi Frati, to create a part-time post at the university for Giardini with an annual salary of about €100,000.

Physicist and science-policy analyst Renzo Rubele of the Free University of Brussels points out that Italian universities do sometimes set up special chairs for eminent scientists, bypassing the usual public competitions used for academic appointments and drawing on funds provided wholly or in part by the research ministry. However, he adds that usually it is the university that initiates the process, and that it files an application to the ministry to have the new position set up. "In this case," he says, "we can surely affirm that the telephone line has been very busy between Rector Frati and Minister Profumo."

According to Rubele, INGV statutes do not legally require Giardini to dedicate himself entirely to his research-institute job. But he says that to date professors have always voluntarily put themselves "on leave" from their academic positions when appointed as a president of a public research institute. "This would be a break with tradition that would single him out among his peers."

Were Giardini to take up a position at La Sapienza he would certainly have his hands full. In addition to his job at INGV, which puts him in charge of Italy's earthquake monitoring, he also has his chair in Zurich as well as a visiting professorship at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Giardini says he does not wish to discuss the matter until "the whole story is complete" in March.

The possible appointment of Giardini at La Sapienza is now being discussed by members of the council of the department of earth sciences. Meanwhile the top jobs at two other Italian research organizations—the National Research Council (CNR) and the Area Science Park in Trieste—also remain open. The holders of both of these positions were made ministers last November in the new government of Mario Monti—Profumo himself being head of the CNR and Corrado Clini, who is now environment minister, president of the Area Science Park. Profumo and Clini resigned from their research posts only 2 weeks ago.