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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: L’université que nous voulons…

by Paris-VIII university faculty and staff

The University That We Want in France ...

Translated Sunday 2 December 2007, by Gene Zbikowski

An appeal by teachers at the University of Paris-VIII Vincennes - Saint-Denis - a petition to halt the "Law for the Reform of the University"

We, teachers, researchers and members of the personnel of the University, state our categorical opposition to the Law for the Reform of the University (LRU), our total support for the student protest movement and our participation in that movement.

Under the misnomer of “autonomy” (autonomy of management, but neither intellectual nor scientific autonomy) and in order to favor the creation of “poles of excellence” that will be aimed at improving the ranking of French universities in the derisory “Shanghai top university list” (or in the race to attract the best “brains”), the management-inspired LRU reform aims to increase competition between public institutions of education and research. In the long term, this competition is likely to transform most of them into "university colleges” limited to bachelor’s degree programs. The LRU reform also aims to delegate to these institutions the problem of managing the progressive reduction of government financing.

Thus, and to meet an already-existing financial crisis, these institutions are strongly incited to follow the example – which apparently is unsurpassed – of the prestigious university-level business and political science institutions (the "grandes écoles") - with competitive entrance examinations and join in the race for private funding, which, thanks to tax deductions, is becoming one of the gateways to public resources. Similarly, the recruiting of non-permanent staff is highly encouraged.

Indeed, the LRU reform anticipates the financial difficulties with which the universities will necessarily be faced, when they are unable to drain private and public resources, by allowing them to recruit non-permanent teaching, research and administrative staff.

There can be no doubt that, with this new possibility to recruit staff under private contract, the number of civil servants at the universities will continually shrink.

Finally, the LRU reform will inevitably lead to a progressive increase in student tuition. Like local authorities, which today are forced to increase local taxes in order to have the means to conduct an independent policy, institutions which do not directly interest the private employment market will in the long term necessarily be led to select their students and/or solicit them financially through a generalized increase in tuition fees (there is talk of fees of 3000 to 4000 euros). This increase that has been officially denied for essentially tactical reasons, is moreover being demanded by the National Assembly deputies belonging to the conservative UMP party and by the Conference of University Presidents (CPU).

Under the misnomer of “good government,” future university presidents will exercise a particularly tight control over the way their “dear colleagues” are recruited. Although they are presented as a remedy to the “parochialism” that influences much recruitment today, the selection committees provided for by the LRU law will only reinforce the system of feudal-style cronyism. To this must be added the other instruments for the “taming” of staff, as for example the administrative council’s power to decide on how teacher-researchers’ teaching, research and administration duties are to be shared out, the president’s power to grant bonuses, the creation of “profit-sharing” schemes, the recruiting of teaching and administrative personnel under either a temporary or an open-ended job contract, etc.

Thus the LRU reform constitutes a threat to the civil service status of all university personnel. As concerns teacher-researchers, it is manifestly a prelude to the reform of their job category recommended by Bernard Belloc, who moreover is a councilor on university affairs to President Nicolas Sarkozy. This dissociation of teaching and research, which notably will allow the ministry of education to “do more with less,” to use an expression that is dear to business consultants, fits in with the division and increased hierarchical ranking of institutions mentioned above, and also represents an unprecedented scientific regression, because the specificity of university teaching is that it is done by teachers who are also researchers.

Far from resolving the present problems of French universities, the LRU reform will notably contribute to increasing social inequality in the area of higher education in the name of a philosophy which declares competition to be the best guarantee that a service is adapted to public “needs.” Thus the democratization of the university (which is partial and limited, but which nevertheless if far greater than what is to be found in those already very “autonomous” institutions, the prestigious university-level "grandes écoles"), will not be strengthened in the direction of a democratization of “results” (access of all to all disciplines, all institutions, and with the same level of rigor), but in the direction of access to greater accompaniment towards the job market, notably through a generalization of precipitate “professionalisation” and a policy of (rarely-paid) student internships. Moreover this professionalisation is often presented as a universal panacea which will supposedly cure the ills of the university and satisfy social demands. And yet, there has been no true reflection on the acquisition of generic knowledge of the kind that permits later changes of career or the pursuit of studies “throughout life.”

In opposition to this head-on challenge to teaching and research as a public service – a challenge that is moreover cynical, as it is often disguised by favoring the supposed interests of students and more particularly the interests of underprivileged students (with some “fairness” economists trying to convince them that, in the final analysis, it is in their interest that tuition fees should be much higher) – it is necessary to unceasingly repeat that the missions of the university are necessarily plural, notably as concerns the expansion and transmission of knowledge, the development of research and of a critical attitude, and the general raising of the educational level of the population. The missions of the university cannot be reduced – as the prevailing econmics-is-everything viewpoint would have one believe – to the production of a ready-to-use work force, under the pretext and taking advantage of the fact that this workforce of course needs to work. It is the vocation of each university to be a living cultural and scientific center, open to all and notably to the children coming from a democratizated schopol system, who are particularly numerous at our university, and who must continue to find here a place of intellectual emancipation and of upward social mobility.

As a consequence, we call on our colleagues to mobilize, not to penalize students at exam-time for having participated in the protest movement, and above all to participate actively themselves, notably by inviting students to reflect with them on the university’s mission, such as in the development of the upcoming curriculums as called for by the so-called "LMD2" program of ministry-vetting of universities. The university that we want is first and foremost a university for students, teacher-researchers, researchers and all the people who work at the university, and not the university dreamed up by private business.

First signers of the appeal:

Avril Christelle, sociology, Paris-VIII,
Beaud Stéphane, sociology, ENS, Béliard Aude, sociology, Paris-VIII,
Ben Hounet Yazid, anthropology, Paris-VIII,
Coulmont Baptiste, sociology, Paris-VIII,
Cusso Roser, sociology, Paris-VIII,
Davault Corinne, sociology, Paris-VIII,
Diener Ingolf, anthropology, Paris-VIII,
Gaertner Laure, sociology, Paris VIII
Jounin Nicolas, sociology, Paris-VIII,
Laé Jean-François, sociology, Paris-VIII,
Lafaye Claudette, sociology, Paris-VIII,
Ménoret Marie, sociology, Paris-VIII,
Molinéro Stéphanie, sociology, Paris-VIII,
Riot-Sarcey Michèle, history, Paris-VIII,
Soulié Charles, sociology, Paris-VIII,
Terrolle Daniel, anthropology, Paris-VIII,
Trat Josette, sociology, Paris-VIII.

This appeal can be viewed in whole at the following Internet sites :

http://www.universite-democratique.org/spip.php ?article197
To sign the appeal write to: p8_contre_la_lru@yahoo.fr

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