Raymond Arke | Editor-in-Chief
UPDATE 06/01/2018: In a reversal and after reaching a deal, Conte will indeed become Italy’s new prime minister putting a lawyer with Duquesne connections in charge of the EU’s third-largest economy.
UPDATE 05/28/2018: Several news outlets have reported that Conte has given up his nomination to be prime minister after the Italian President rejected Conte’s pick to be economy minister. A new parliamentary election is expected for the fall, the Guardian reported.
Across the Atlantic, a practically unknown lawyer, Giuseppe Conte, has been nominated by the far-right and anti-establishment Italian government to serve as prime minister. If approved by the Italian Parliament, Conte will become a rare world leader with connections to Duquesne.
Conte’s nomination ends 11 weeks of deadlock over who would become prime minister. The political outsider is a private law professor in Florence and Rome, according to the BBC. However, since his nomination, controversy has surrounded the accuracy of his resume.
Several credible news outlets questioned whether Conte accurately represented his educational experience. According to CNN, Conte’s resume states that he “conducted studies at Yale University and Duquesne University in the U.S. for three months in the fall of 1992 ‘to further his study of the North American contract law.’”
Bridget Fare, chief marketing and communication officer for Duquesne confirmed Conte attended Duquesne in the early 1990s through the Villa Nazareth program, “a cultural institution in Rome, founded by Domenico Cardinal Tardini, that fostered international student exchanges.”
Fare described the Villa Nazareth program as an exchange opportunity with Italians.
“The program enabled students from Rome to attend graduate programs at Duquesne University and undergraduates from Duquesne to attend classes at Villa Nazareth,” she said in a statement.
However, Fare said Conte was “not enrolled as a student.”
“Conte worked on legal issues related to a charitable trust that funded the program. He also helped to select the program’s participants,” she said. “[H]e was engaged in legal research and in advancing the work of our affiliation with Villa Nazareth.”
Fare said that several Duquesne faculty can remember Conte during his time on campus.
“Although the University does not track the details of individuals’ involvement in research, several professors recollect that he was actively engaged while on campus,” she said.
Carla Lucente, associate director of Duquesne’s Center for International Relations and professor of modern language and literature, is also the director of the Villa Nazareth program. She said in an interview with The Duke that the program started in 1985 with a committee of five people which was overseen by then-Duquesne President Rev. Donald Nesti.
Lucente said the Villa Nazareth program often is limited to a few select students from Duquesne or Italy.
“[Villa Nazareth] is for students that are extremely brilliant,” she said. “I send very few people [from Duquesne].”
She also recalled meeting and working with Conte when he was in Pittsburgh as part of the program.
“He never really studied here, but he worked hand-in-hand with me,” Lucente said.
She praised Conte, describing the new prime minister as “a very good attorney … very educated and very kind” and “very disciplined.”
“I am very pleased Villa Nazareth produces people like [Conte],” Lucente said.
She also mentioned that Conte had met Duquesne’s then-President John Murray and notable Duquesne donor, A.J. Palumbo, while he was in Pittsburgh.
Yale told CNN in a statement that it “would not comment further” until it finished a check of its records.
Conte listed other universities such as New York University, the University of Malta and the Sorbonne as places he studied, taught or researched. Each suggests he may have exaggerated his role, according to CNN.
The Five Star Movement political party pushed back against the reporting.
“The Government of change is under attack. After the terrorism on the spread and the undue interference of European politicians and bureaucrats, today is the turn of the American press,” the party said in a blog post translated from Italian.
The Five Star Movement’s post said that Conte had represented his studies accurately and described the stories in the press as “infamous accusations.”
“The defamatory campaign is so explicit and crude that it will only strengthen us. When we came to an agreement with the League we were aware of what awaited us,” the post read. “Too many interests are at stake, too many resistances to change. Who attacks us without restraint knows that we will not give up an inch.”
On March 4, Italy held national parliamentary elections. The two parties that won the most seats, the Five Star Movement and the League, were tasked with creating a power-sharing government. The Five Star Movement is an anti-establishment party and the League is a far-right party. Their coalition government promises to deport 500,000 immigrants, along with creating a basic income for low-income families and redoing the Italian tax system, according to the BBC. Both parties are also European Union skeptics, the BBC reported.
A way to contact Conte or the coalition government for comment could not be found.