A law professor put forward as Italy’s next premier faced suspicions Tuesday that he overstated his academic credentials, including referring on his resume to seven summers of studies at New York University that turned out to involve only having library privileges there.
The 12-page resume covering the years since Guiseppe Conte earned his law degree from Rome’s Sapienza University in 1988 includes entries for time spent at an array of top universities in the United States, Britain and France, without specifying the courses or areas of research he undertook.
The curriculum vitae states that Conte, 53, “stayed” at Paris Sorbonne University in 2000 and Cambridge University’s Girton College in 2001 for scientific research. The resume also states he “perfected and updated his studies” at New York University during the summers of 2008-2014.
In a statement Tuesday, New York University said records showed that Conte had “no official status” at the school, but “was granted permission to conduct research in the NYU Law library” during the same years listed on his resume.
University spokeswoman Michelle Tsai added that Conte also “invited an NYU Law professor to serve on the board of an Italian law journal.”
Conte did not respond Tuesday to the speculation he padded his official resume, which was submitted to the Italian parliament in 2013.
The 5-Star Movement, one of the populist forces that proposed the University of Florence professor without political experience as premier, offered a vigorous defense.
Conte “never boasted” of holding degrees from foreign universities, but “stayed abroad to study, enrich his knowledge and perfect his juridical English. For a professor of his level, the opposite would have been strange,” the movement said.
Cambridge declined to confirm an affiliation with Conte, citing privacy, and the Sorbonne didn’t immediately respond to queries.
The resume also says Conte studied at the International Kultur Institut in Vienna in 1993. No school responding to that name could be located in Vienna, but a language school called the Internationales Kulturinstitut declined to comment, citing privacy issues.
Conte’s CV further notes that he taught a course in European contract and banking law at the University of Malta during the summer of 1997.
The University of Malta said Tuesday it has no record of Conte “ever forming part of the resident academic staff,” but added that “he may have been involved in lecturing duties during short courses organized in the summer of 1997″ by a now-defunct foundation that worked with the university.
Analyst Wolfango Piccoli, co-founder of Teneo Intelligence, said he didn’t expect an exaggerated resume to necessarily affect Italian President Sergio Mattarella’s deliberations over whether to formally tap Conte to form a government.
“Embellishing resumes is sport in Italy,” Piccoli said, adding that “only an academic would have a 12-page CV.”
Political observers in Italy think a bigger issue for Conte is persuading the president he would have the independence to lead a coalition government composed of the 5-Stars and the anti-immigrant League, and not just be an executor of the populists’ wishes.
The 5-Stars began circulating Conte’s name as a possible Cabinet minister several months ago, but he never participated in the elections or in the drafting of the government program he would be expected to carry out as premier.
He surfaced as a possible candidate to lead the Italian government after 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio and League leader Matteo Salvini agreed over the weekend not to fight each other for the job.
Paola Lucarelli, a professor of business law at the University of Florence, where Conte currently teaches, said Conte would bring to a new government “his ability to mediate, a gift that maybe is not very common in politics.”
Conte also has solid institutional Catholic credentials. He taught at the Vatican-affiliated LUMSA university in the mid-1990s and has close ties with Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, one of the behind-the-scenes power brokers in the Italian church and at the Vatican.
During his university years in Rome, Conte lived at the Holy See-affiliated Villa Nazareth, a residential college that provides low-income students with a place to live in the Italian capital while they pursue their studies.
Conte was precisely the type of motivated but economically disadvantaged Italians that Villa Nazareth sought out, said Nicholas Cafardi, a canon lawyer at Duquesne University, which has an exchange program with Villa Nazareth.
“He’s a ‘pull-himself-up-by-his-bootstraps’ type,” Cafardi said. “He’s gotten where he is today because of very, very hard work.”
While at Villa Nazareth, Conte became friends with Silvestrini, the cardinal who runs the residence, and then went on to become one of his lawyers. Cafardi said he met Conte in 1992 when Silvestrini and Conte visited the United States to set up a fundraising foundation, since disbanded, for Villa Nazareth.
“He’s a great guy,” Cafardi said. “I feel like he’s walking in the lion’s den with Salvini and Di Maio, but we’ll see.”