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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: À quoi doit servir l’université ?

by Jacqueline Sellem

What rôle for the Universities? (1)

Translated Wednesday 10 June 2009, by Henry Crapo

Part 1: Introduction to the Debate. [1]

Participants in the Round Table:

Frédérique Bassino, professor of computer science at Paris XIII, member of the national administrative commission of the SNESUP.

Isabelle Bruno, assistant professor in Political Science at the Universty of Lille-II.

Jean-Louis Fournel, assistant professor in language and literature at Paris VIII, president of the association Sauvons l’Université (Save the University).

François Vatin, professor of Sociology at the University Paris-Ouest-Nanterre, signer of the Manifesto for the Re-Foundation of the French University .

Recall the Facts (Introduction by Jacqueline Sellem)

The French universities and research organizations have experienced four months of intense mobilization. At the origin of the anger, the law on liberties and responsibilities of universities (LRU) of 10 August 2007. While this was already the source of many protests, the presentation by the government of its decrees for application of the law are what lit the fuse.

"With respect to a comparative budget, a French researcher publishes 30 to 50 percent less than a British researcher in certain domains. Clearly, if you don’t want to see that, I thank you for coming. There are lights, the heat is on ... one can continue, one can write."
The 22nd of January, the university and research world was stupefied to learn of this discourse delivered at the Elysée before an audience of scientists, by the president of the Republic.

Already the subject over a period of several years to a constant degradation of their working conditions, worried by the concrete consequences of the LRU law, of which they perceive more precisely the effects of the modification of the statute of teacher-researchers and new powers accorded to presidents of universities, the teachers, the researchers, the students, the research and university personnel measure brutally the degree of disdain in which they are held by the government in power.

In an open letter addressed to Nicolas Sarkozy, Wendelin Werner, Fields medalist [2] in 2006, member of the Academy of Sciences, became spokesman for the indignation of the entire scientific community. The intransigence of the government, its refusal of any discussion, transform this indignation rapidly to anger. And the strike spreads to all the universities, punctuated by large demonstrations.

Conceding nothing that might be fundamental, the government finally made a few concessions, at the same time multiplying its measures of intimidation and pressure tactics. At the present time, the examination period approaches, the return to the classroom is fairly
general, but no one would dare predict that the movement is over.

On the contrary, a deepened understanding has formed concerning the coherence of the projects in question, and a clear will has emerged to place the question of the university, research and training at the center of public debate in France and in Europe. This is the subject of this round table [3] in l’Humanité.

[1The debate starts in part 2, article 1227.

[2In Mathematics, the Fields Medal plays the role of the Nobel Prizes, which are not awarded in that domain of science.

[3The text of the round table will appear here in English, in subsequent articles under this same title, What rôle for the Universities?

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