Crafting Gentleness

Monday, December 31, 2007

from the staff and students of The University of Paris VIII Vincennes-Saint Denis

What scares me about the following is that these people in France are fighting to defend something which we have relinquished in our own universities, without as much as a peep. I'm going have to think about this for a while.

From the edu-factory list:

for some more info (mostly in french) see

An announcement from the students and staff of The University of Paris VIII Vincennes-Saint Denis

For seven weeks, a massive movement has been growing within the French University system, uniting professors, students and staff in a struggle against Sarkozy's new university reform law, the law concerning the "Liberties and Responsabilities of the Universities" (LRU).

The University of Paris VIII Vincennes-Saint Denis, with the support of University administration and personnel, has been on "active strike", offering alternative classes and workshops open to all. Today the movement is at a turning point, revealing the depth of the crisis.

In most of the French Universities, with the exception of our own due to this administrative support, riot police are present on the campuses and their buses line the surrounding streets. Aided by private "security" guards, the riot police have entered the campuses in order to violently break the strikes, occupations and picket lines.

Plainclothes police patrol the corridors. During the protests, students have been targeted, beaten and arrested, sometimes resulting in major injuries. Some of the University presidents are therefore closing the campuses preventatively, while others call upon such public or private "forces of order", and create a climate of fear. Despite this situation we are confronted with a near-total media blackout, as to the movement's size and its demands (the abrogation ofthe law LRU), as well as the violent repression, due to the fact that the dominant media are friendly with the government.

The law LRU was adopted by Parliament on August 10, 2007, in the height of the summer vacation, without consulting the university community. It attacks the foundations of the French University system as a public institution with a scientific and cultural mission. Although the system is arguably far from perfect, it has remained an institution of higher learning that is accessible to all, without entrance examinations or elevated tuition.

This law imposes the logic of the market onto the Universities, on many levels. It forces them into competition with one another for students, financing and prestige, thus turning them into enterprises and creating a classist hierarchization between campuses. The few democratic administrative structures that currently exist will disappear, centralizing power in the hands of the president and a board that will include representatives from private firms. Professors and staff will be threatened with job insecurity, with the new possibility of hiring adjuncts and temporary workers. Even theacademic departments are forced to compete with one another for students and financing, allowing private interests to help determine course content, and offering classes in function of the needs of thecurrent job market. The door is opened to elevated tuition. Students thus become clients, and the university an enterprise.

We believe that a democratic society needs public universities whose mission it is to develop the critical spirit of all citizens, and that access to the university is a fundamental right for all. This is why our movement is essential for the future of the University, in France and beyond.

We are therefore calling upon you to ask for your solidarity and support, by inviting you to take part in our movement. At the University of Paris VIII Vincennes-Saint Denis, a university with a radical history and situated in the richly diverse North-eastern suburbs of Paris, we have set up an "open university".

We would like to invite you to come and lead a workshop, consisting in giving a talk and opening up a debate. Your work has inspired us and we have taken it seriously; we therefore invite you to come and put it into practice with us. Together we can discuss issues relating to the University even beyond the abrogation of the LRU.

Your participation would be a great help to our movement, which is in need of exterior support. We thank you very much, and greatly hope to receive your positive response.


The collective of students, professors and staff of the University Paris VIII Vincennes-Saint Denis


  • Hi Anthony, it is indeed scary! Looking forward to see more about your reflections on this. It's a global trend we should oppose. See also the new blog University Politics - Universities as a public good.

    By Blogger Claus Emmeche, at Tuesday, 01 January, 2008  

  • Yes, if term was starting next week (it won't be for another month) I would try to organise an information evening in a room somewhere about what's going on in Paris. I'll maybe do it anyway! :)

    I'm right behind the critique offered on the 'public good' blog, but after trawling through a field like Common Property Studies, which is full of similarly-weighted new institutional analysis, I am not a great fan of public good approaches as alternatives to rampant capitalism, mainly because for me most of the underlying economic structures, methodologies, and assumptions of aggressive capitalism remain untouched by public good analysis, because it often uses many of the same structures, methodologies, and assumptions. For example, public goods analysis still encourages us to think about knowledge as a thing to be managed, rather than focusing instead on other ways of thinking as approaches or attitudes or textures of relationship to be fostered. In this way public goods analysis for me, yes, offers an alternative management regime, but doesn't allow us to question the centrality or desirability of management regimes or of institutional management structures in themselves at all.

    I find it interesting that while cutting-edge management theory moves away from resources and towards relationships, at the same time the appropriation and application of management theory in the so-called 'cultural sector' is moving strongly in the direction of resources (informational, cultural, public goods, etc.). Something very odd going on there. I've thought about writing a paper about this, but I never seem to get around to it.

    But yes, the questioning of rampant capitalism is an important place to start :)

    A more complex critique I offer of some similar public goods approaches offered in response to the enclosures of capitalism can be found in my article 'Enclosure Without and Within the Information Commons' on Cheers!

    By Blogger Anthony, at Tuesday, 01 January, 2008  

  • I've just read the article, and it's interesting. I wonder to what extent the line, 'Perhaps the greatest threat posed by academic capitalism in the new economy
    is that it is becoming part of the way we talk about and define ourselves' is even at the heart of some of the responses we have to increasing managerialism in universities. I suppose for me the priority is focusing on the particular attitudes in pedagogy that I wish to foster, and the particular kinds of collegial relations I wish to maintain. If I can get some clarity about that, about what kinds of pedagogies and relationships I wish to embody as an educator, then I will happily live with the consequences if that clarity in time leads me away from profoundly commercial university education towards some less institutional form of pedagogical engagement. I don't have to work in a university, I can do other things. It might take some time to work out exactly what those other things might look like (and how they might pay my bills), but I trust that it will all work out one way or another :)

    By Blogger Anthony, at Tuesday, 01 January, 2008  

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