Sorbonne en grève

The Place de la Sorbonne rebaptized as Place de la PrécaritéWe were in Paris this week and stayed at a little hotel in the Rue de Cujas. Beneath our window, whenever we looked, were two French policemen of the CRS, armed with clubs and shields. Our hotel was opposite the Sorbonne, which has been on strike for the past months.

The reason for the strike are proposed reforms in the French university system, which would involve job cuts, changes in the distribution of research and teaching time of lecturers, as well as changes in the teacher training system.

Protesters occupied the university earlier this year, and the strong police force was there to prevent that from happening again. They failed, because on Thursday afternoon strikers re-entered the Sorbonne  — see the pictures below. On the Place de la Sorbonne, rebaptized earlier this year as Precarity Square (the graffiti is gone now) a historian gave an open-air lecture on meritocracy in Middle Ages, with clear political intent.

Le Monde reported on a convention of the European University Association in Prague, where chancellors of European universities were sceptical about the liberal model of financing research and teaching. If it didn’t work for banks, why should it work for universities, asked Peter Scott of Kingston University:

Parallèlement, les universités croient moins que jamais à une approche libérale de leurs modes de financement. “Cela n’a pas marché avec les banques; pourquoi cela marcherait-il pour les universités ?”, a fait valoir Peter Scott, de l’université de Kingston en Grande-Bretagne. D’où l’insistance de tous les recteurs à demander une hausse des dépenses publiques en leur faveur.

This is an argument also made by the Dutch Historian Chris Lorenz at a recent talk I attended. Lorenz edited a volume If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich? that provides a critical analysis of the growth of market thinking and corporate logic in  universities. In an earlier publication in 1993, he wondered why faculty at Dutch universities do not protest against the reforms that keep on being imposed on them. While I stood in the Place de la Sorbonne, I asked myself the same thing.


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