As actions against the new status of university lecturers and professors continue in French universities, with some places being on strike for the 8th consecutive week and La Sorbonne being briefly “occupied” by part of its faculty earlier this week, some of my colleagues in the Math department drafted a motion in support of the protests that called for (a) advertising this motion on the webpage of the department, (b) cancelling all seminars, and (c) not returning students’ grades.
As posted earlier, I thought a reform on the status of lecturers and professors that would account for the research activities in setting the teaching duties was a step in the right direction, but, when faced with strong protests from faculty members, the government backed up so much on this that it is hardly worth mentioning any longer and definitely not worth going on industrial action at this (late) stage… Further, I find those calls for closing seminars both ridiculous and disturbing: ridiculous because no one in the administration cares a fig about whether or not a seminar in differential geometry stopped meeting, disturbing because it constitutes a first degree of picketing and, as such, that it is an attack (of a very mild sort) against my freedom of thought, work, and action, in that the motion does not recognise me a right to think differently! Each time I am faced with this kind of situation, as during the harsh strikes of the 1990’s, I tend to react by taking systematically the opposite stand: then to keep teaching despite disruptions by strikers and now to start a stat seminar as a defiance to orders… This is obviously quite a childish reaction, as I do not think my colleagues would do anything to prevent the putative seminar from going on! Similarly, nobody barred me from handling my (ok, by the way!) R grades back to the administration. But I also think this motion and more generally a lot of actions reported on that site have been equally childish and that the goals of the protests have gone so wide that they are now completely inaudible.
A radicalisation of the university protests is very unlikely to gain more sympathy from a general public who is currently facing layoffs and mortgage issues: discussions about the number of teaching hours or the role of the local administration for allocating promotions are not bound to appeal to outsiders enough to justify violent occupations or fights with the police.