Tag Archives: french university politics

“Our profession does not easily accommodate resignation”

I’ve been spending more time lately with La Ronde Infinie des Obstinés, the Infinite Rounds of the Stubborn, the little group which, in spite of all instrumental considerations, persists in marching every Monday in front of the Ministry. I said in my previous post about them that I was going to translate their tract, so now you (anglophones) can all have another sample of French political rhetoric.

Madame Minister,

For the past two years, we—teachers, researchers, staff and students—have declared our total disagreement with the LRU university law, with the teachers’ education reform, and more generally with the spirit guiding the majority of measures and initiatives that come out of your ministry.

In spite of the longest strike the university world has ever known, you have refused all negotiations on the universities’ status, concerning yourself solely with your career as a politician.

In spite of last year’s general refusal to fill out the auditing forms that inaugurated the teachers’ education reform, this year your government is set to continue every measure that brought us out in the streets last year. You are even adding dangerous, aberrant rules about internships.

Madame Minister, our profession does not easily accommodate resignation.

Research, creativity and the transmission of knowledge all imply a freedom quite at odds with the reforms, these reforms that are turning us into petty administrators of social selection. For us to accept these reforms in silence would amount to renouncing our own idea of what a university should be, a university bolstered by a centuries-long tradition of research, a university engaged in creating a future that cannot be dictated by short-term economic needs.

Madame Minister, the university will not understand itself, it will not manage itself, and it will not evaluate itself in terms of productivity and profitability, for it is based on the inherent risk of research. This risk is at the base of the formative gesture that brings students and professors together, and it falls to universities in the public service to keep this risk alive. Yes, the university needs reform—indeed, we know this better than you do, we teachers, researchers, staff and students who ARE the university in all its contradictions, and who are devoted to preserving and restoring a democratic future for the institution.

Madame Minister, on every one of our campuses, we are working to invalidate each one of the measures you hoped to use in your project.

Madame Minister, beyond these points of resistance and days of protest that will mark our defense of public education from nursery school to the university, we believe it is indispensable to show the public that we resist your policy of dismantling the university, to re-establish the truth against your lies, and to remind the world that the university is a common good that should not be open to corruption by politics. This then is the reason why, having already held vigil for a thousand hours last spring in front of the town hall, we are now going to revive this Infinite Round of the Stubborn. You can find us every Monday starting at 6pm, from here until the day when real negotiations over the universities’ status are opened.

Our stubbornness is total because, in wanting to transform our universities into corporations, you have gone past the limit of what is tolerable.

Our stubbornness is total because we are in no respect inclined to renounce the freedom without which there would be neither research nor creativity.

Our stubbornness is total because, whatever the difficulties of battling your policies, we know that the university community is massively hostile to them.

Our stubbornness is total because of the high stakes we defend, stakes which go far beyond any simple categorical reading of this conflict.

[Second Page:]

Why we are stubborn:

-To remind everyone that the university is a common good, one not open to corruption by a political ideology.

-Because we refuse a third-rate teacher’s education brought about by the disappearance of practical training.

-Because we refuse a university conceived as a business, thrown open to competition between campuses, between employees, between students.

-To defend everyone’s access to quality education—freely chosen, secular, and free of tuition.

-To defend independent research.

-Because we refuse the coming rises in tuition fees and loans that logically follow from the reforms.

-Because we refuse the social selection that will become part of the university admissions process, as budgets come to be calculated in proportion to graduation rates.

-To show the public our resistance, in the face of the dismantling of the whole system of public services.


The Infinite Rounds of the Stubborn
meets every monday starting at 6pm
in front of the Ministry of Higher Education and Research, 1 Rue Descartes


Continue reading “Our profession does not easily accommodate resignation”

Race, French national identity, and disciplinary politics

I saw the following statements posted on Sauvons l’Université. I have, of course, no personal knowledge of the facts of the situation, but it’s a culturally interesting scenario:

Academics solicited for participation in a “debate” about “national identity” (nov-dec. 2009)

Mail addressed to a teacher-researcher at a university in Nantes

In the framework of the debate over national identity, on Friday December 11th, 2009, at 6:30pm, the prefect plans to welcome Monsieur Jean-François SIRINELLI, professor of contemporary history at SciencesPo and director of the SciencesPo history center.

The prefect, Jean DAUBIGNY, will preside at the meeting. Monsieur SIRINELLI will speak on the theme of “National and Republican Identity.” His comments will be followed by those of Monsieur MENARD, regional delegate for research. The debate will then be opened to all.

The prefect would like to see the audience composed of high school and university students. He would deeply like to see university students and teachers in letters and languages participating in the event.

He would be grateful if you could please distribute this invitation to students and teachers. You will find the invitation attached.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me at …

very best wishes, […]
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A university call to arms after an unsuccessful strike

A question that has interested me since my arrival in France has been the following: how do participants in last spring’s university protests sustain their political hopes in light of the seemingly limited success of their actions last spring? I asked around last June about this and got some nebulous answers about how you just have to keep trying, as if hope was normative even when dismay was the real political feeling of the moment. It would I suppose be exaggeration on my part to say that last spring’s strikes “failed”; certainly they may have slowed things down, and they caused an immense ruckus and drew attention and majorly developed critical analysis of the university and put a major thorn in the side of the education minister — who is still Sarkozy’s Valérie Pécresse, in case you wondered. But they didn’t manage to get the government’s university reforms withdrawn and neither did they manage the radical transformation of universities that many said they desired.

In this light, I wanted to translate a current call for a General Assembly next week at my field site in Paris-8. It goes like this:

“We have even more cause than last year to be angry and to keep fighting.”

This declaration was placed at the start of the communiqué of the National University Coordinating Committee*, which met at Paris-8 on September 30. It perfectly summarizes the feelings of everyone who was there — the representatives of 29 establishments of higher learning and research. We all know that it’s not possible to have a strike comparable to the one we had last semester; we all know that there’s no single form of action that alone would manage to make the government give in; but we all know as well that doing nothing would end up giving the government free reign to impose the worst on us.

For we must not have the slightest illusion on this point: the passage to complete university “autonomy” will wind up threatening the status of ALL workers in higher education. A small cast of mandarins and their lackeys aside, this reform will, before the end of this coming decade, force us all to have to defend our jobs in terms of criteria that the government will wholly determine.

—Autonomous to manage our own fiscal destitution,
—Autonomous to inflict the costs on the students and raise their tuition,
—Autonomous to spread precarious working conditions throughout the educational system,
—Autonomous to impose permanent competition between ourselves.

Last semester’s strike led the government to slow down in its destruction of the public service. But let’s not get this wrong: if we let down our guard, our universities will soon become service stations working under contracts with the State. The State will then retain for itself the autonomy that we claim for ourselves: that is, the autonomy to set scientific programs and pedagogical methods. And given the way the minister acts towards our university today, as in the case of the IFU, we can genuinely fear the worst.

Continue reading A university call to arms after an unsuccessful strike

The Infinite Rounds of the Stubborn

ronde infinie devant le panthéon

One day a few weeks ago I stopped by a political demonstration against the French university reforms. The organizing group, La Ronde Infinie des Obstinés, specializes in what are essentially indefinitely long circular marches, rather after the pattern of a vigil. Their name amounts to “the infinite rounds of the stubborn,” though someone tried to explain that une ronde infinie could also be interpreted as a merry-go-round! At any rate, the idea is that by marching nonstop they can manifest their “infinite” determination and commitment to the cause. But what cause, you ask? Well, for those anglophone readers out there, I thought I would give a rough translation of their pamphlet (French original here). As you’ll see, on this occasion they were trying to persuade French candidates for the European Parliament to take a stand on university reforms.

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