The Greek government has once again given up efforts to prod that country's
dead university system to life - violent street protests last summer
frightened off political reformers -- but France's aggressive new leader,
Nicholas Sarkozy, is giving it the old college try.
Same deal in France as in Greece. Politicians routinely rewrite the laws so
that a dead, state-controlled system - "the shame of our nation," as the
leader of France's Employers' Union rightly calls it -- can get a little
breathing room in the form of selective admissions, administrative autonomy,
competition among schools, and the ability to charge some tuition. Next
come the violent street protests which shut down reform efforts.
An article in the Times  notes the obvious: "[W]ith their 41 per cent
drop-out rate and abysmal world ranking, French universities are in dire
need of reform." UD sucks at math, but is able to grasp the profound waste
of state funds that drop-out rate represents.
The whole thing's literally a shabby farce. " Libération, the newspaper
that was founded by Maoists in the 1968 student revolt, noted yesterday that
the universities are so decrepit that some academics are ashamed to show
foreign colleagues around their premises." UD taught at the University of
Toulouse for a semester a couple of years ago, and was amazed at its
Since everyone knows the French universities are ridiculous, even many
of those opposed to reforms give lip service to them: "Most ... university
chiefs favour the reforms in outline but they have told Mr Sarkozy that they
are alarmed over what they see as his haste." UD loves the haste bit.
French schools have been moldering for decades and decades. That's why the
campuses look the way they do. French officials have tried fixing them for
The government's real problem lies with the cynical reactionary core of
opposition to reform, the self-serving descendents of the soixante-huitards.
"They want to impose on us an antidemocratic system
that will confiscate . . . the values of collegiality and equality," Jean
Fabri, the secretary-general of Snesup-FSU, the biggest lecturers' union,
said yesterday. "The Government wants to set the universities in competition
among themselves while relinquishing its responsibilities," he said. "It's
an aberrant and dangerous vision."
Anti-democratic? The current French system, with its elegant little
palazzo of great schools and vast trailer park of shitty ones, looks like
something out of Orwell's Animal Farm. Collegiality? The best university
systems in the world know that collegiality can be code for smug well-being
based on universal conformism and laziness. And how aberrant and dangerous
to introduce evil American concepts like competition and ranking and
excellence! Of course the absurdity here is that France, in almost all
other aspects of its public life, enshrines these values, which is why it
remains a strong economy and a strong political player in the world
despite a university system which continues to drag it down. In fact only
the French universities, last hold-outs of a morally and intellectually
corrupt '68ism, refuse entry into this century. Deluded Miss Havishams
powdering their noses in cobwebby backrooms, the schools will have to be
dragged kicking and screaming into the light of knowledge. I doubt even
Sarko will be able to pull this off.