David Aliaga (
31 Jul 1995 08:17:08 -0600

JULY 27,1995




By Andy Marshall

Academic leaders and learned organizations from Canada and the U.S. are
rallying to the cause of a Calgary man who claims he's been cheated out of
his doctorate by an Italian university.

Despite the widespread support, though, David Aliaga, 43, despairs hell' ever
have the financial means or the power to tackle the italian academic community
he is convinced has cruely closed the door on him.

"It's like you keep hitting a rubber wall," said Aliaga, counting personal
bankrupcy and nine years of anguish as just part of the costs of his failed
attempt to win his PhD in anthropology from the university of Calabria in
southwest Italy.

"I want to expose the problems in Italy for what they are. I don't want any
other person to go through what I have," he said. " I also want to point my
life in other directions. I don't want to be obsessed with this."

Two years in jail as a young man in his native Chile for political activities
didn't even prepare him for the rigors of dealing with the Italian university

But, when he set out from Calgary for Calabria in 1986 with his Italian-born
wife and their two little girls to study emigration, development and socio-
cultural change in the small village of Torano Castello, happier visions of
an illustrious career danced before him.

With a Bachelor of anthropology from the University of Calgary, $12,000 in
the bank, and verbal assurances from Calabria officials he would be elegible
for extensive grants while studying there, there was little reason to be less
than optimistic.

Three years later, after receiving no money, no guidance from elusive academic
supervisors and after learning Italian rules prevented him from earning while
studying, the desperate Aliaga left Italy for Chile and then for Calgary to
complete his doctoral report.

A thick file is testimony to the constant communication with university
officials, and the Italian ministry of education which does the actual
granting of doctoral degrees.

Inadequate notice for a rescheduled examination was one further incident in a
continuing saga of frustration. Then, when Aliaga did return to Rome at the
appointed time during 1991, his examination commiteee simply failed to show
up without explanation.

The committee subsequentely failed him, despite positive recommendations from
earlier academic panels.

Then he learned that no appeal procedure was available to pursue his case.

"I was naive. I thought I could rely on my bureaucracy," said Aliaga. But,
"they can do anything they want. There are no clear-cut standards."

Letters from professors in Italy and Wales, and later from the U of Calgary
where Aliaga returned to work as a research associate, have attested to his
academic abilities.

Since widening publicity over the case, the Canadian and American Anthropology
Societies,the Canadian Archaeological Association,several individual academics
from Calgary and other universities, and even the Canadian embassy have gone
to bat for Aliaga.

One curt letter from the Italian ministry denying requests for a re-opening
of the issue and stating it is not possible for Aliaga to repeat the exam
has been virtually the only official response to the issue.

To earn a living, he has recently completed a course in computer maintenance.

"Basically, my academic career is wrecked. I've lost hundreds of thousands of
dollars I have no chance of recouping," he said.