Just another strike?

As noted on a previous post, most French universities are currently facing strike actions. While it may sound from abroad like nothing unusual, France being famous for its Spring strikes…, this protest runs much deeper than usual strikes. It was started by a greater-autonomy project from the (French) government to delegate pay rises, promotions and teaching duties to university presidents, rather than the present use of a national standard for teaching loads and of a national committee for research evaluation and promotions. This may sound weird to US and UK academics, for whom local bargaining is the rule, but most French academics fear that the complete delegation of those powers to the sole president of their university without any counter-power will leave them unprotected, because of the small size of most universities and of the danger of nepotism and of field bias. (The presidents of French universities being elected from the faculty, they are necessarily from one field…) While I do not think strikes or demonstrations are of much use, and that an increased autonomy of our universities is a good think, I tend to agree with this analysis that university presidents suddenly got much too much power in their hand with no independent body to balance this power. The proposed changes are both too narrow (no autonomy for degrees, fees, salaries) and too broad (reduced budgets for more expenses and less positions for more duties on both administrators and faculty). Being imposed from the top in a traditional French way does not either make them more palatable nor intelligible to the community.

An aggravating factor in this crisis is a speech given by President Sarkozy on January 22 and discussed here in Nature. The tone of this speech was so scathingly dismissive of researchers and of their “petty conservatism” and so misrepresentative of a complex reality that it set most of the academic community against the speaker and obviously against the on-going project…. The most recent French Field medalist, Wendelin Werner, just published an open letter to the President in Le Monde that, given its moderate and non-agressive tone, shows how deep a drift President Sarkozy’s speech has induced between his government and the researchers’ community. I am afraid that the withdrawal of the current project will not, by itself, suffice to reconcile the community.

One Response to “Just another strike?”

  1. […] day of my large (156 students) R exam, I am prevented from attending a speech that could prove as disastrous as last year. But could also see concrete measures towards the finalisation of a mega campus on the […]

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