Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Held to ransom

Students demonstrating... students waiting...
It's not just me that's fed up. Although I have two fighting cats in the flat at the moment, and one of them (the bad one) just tore my hand to shreds. I have also done something to my sleeping patterns to which my body has taken great offence. It is therefore retaliating by giving me nightmares, preventing me from getting up in the morning, and generally behaving like a very mad old person's body. Headaches. (Cats also screaming a lot). Swollen glands. I told my body that it was logical, if I needed to be on a picket line at 7am and at a nightclub until gone four, to simply stay up all night. I was nice about it. I offered it tea. It remained unconvinced. I showed it the sunrise in a Unesco World Heritage Site. It made one of my eyes start twitching. Poor, poor me. But there's worse problems round here at the moment. My fellow students, here and in at least 24 other French universities, are in the centre of a power game between the government, faculty administration and teaching staff. It's driving me crazy, and as an Erasmus student, a UK fee-payer and pretty much a dilettante, I'm probably going to get away with attending next-to-no classes, taking no exams, and not receiving any credit for the second semester. For my camarades at Université François Rabelais the outlook is grim. Some students have attended around 6 weeks of some classes. With at least half of the departments of English and French on indefinite strike since January or February, some teachers have not taught at all this semester. The 'rules', here and for most French faculties, state that students must have attended at least three quarters of the 12-week semester to receive credit. Now the swine have extended the teaching semester until the end of May in the hope that they can catch this up, but to what avail? Teachers still aren't teaching, and why should they when the government took advantage of the two weeks' Easter break to push the LRU (Pécresse reforms) even further forward. Exams have been 'scheduled' for early June. Resits for September. Teachers may set exams, or then again they may not. There's a rumour that striking staff will set us blank examination papers. Which they may or may not mark. After which they may or may not release the grades to us and to the administration. At least the teachers are still fighting. A couple have had arrests and court dates after demonstrations. Two went to hospital after clashes with the police last month. And they're fighting for us too, working to get the year validated for all the anxious students waiting to know if they're going to graduate or not. Lucky the teachers are fighting for us, because they seem to hold a little more power than the students in the movement, who are now being attacked on all sides. The president of the university has moved on to tactics against students which amount, quite simply, to strike-breaking. In Monday's General Assembly students voted to continue the blocade of the Lettres et Langues building. After 7 months of action and very little success, its very important to keep up what little pressure we can. The next morning I came in at 7am to help man the pickets. Unfortunately by 10ish I had to urgently go to bed, and during the day's meeting a little later the president invited the police into the building to disperse strikers. 'I have always kept the university open to democratic debate,' he reminds us, smugly, in a general email. Guillaume Cingal, head of English, probably disagrees. After he sent an email to all English students to reassure them that the department would fight to get everyone a pass-mark for the semester he found his right to email his students had been taken away. He has now learnt to use Facebook. On the same day a motion was proposed by Minister Damien Meslot to fine students involved in blocades 1000€. It's all becoming nightmarish. The government has not hesitated to become involved in the 'validation' row. Obviously, students who have spent the year defending the rights of future generations still balk at the thought of not passing their degree. People have already had to cancel holidays, work placements, summer jobs. Everyone's paying an extra month's rent to keep up with the changed timetable. Many can't get their places confirmed for courses in September until they get this year's results. We're being blackmailed. The demands being made of us by the government and the President of the university have no relevance to our academic abilities and knowledge. They amount to
'Stop playing strike now children, or we'll take away something you really need. And don't forget youth unemployment is back up to 23%! Better behave, 'cos you're going to need that degree in today's France!'
It's patronising, and it's dangerous. We're not in Year 9! Most students are here to learn, and this semester we've certainly learnt a lot, even not all of it was on the timetable... But I'm a foreign student, and a lazy bastard, and if I were to take the exams normally tomorrow I would scrape a (pretty low) pass mark in every class. What the hell does M. le President think we've been doing for the last three months? Sunbathing? No, we have been studying the courses at home like adults. And sunbathing a little bit. At least marching in nice short-sleeved t-shirts to get our arms brown. And in general, how much of what one learns at university is actually taught in class? (Talking Lettres et Langues still here, not medicine). If I hear the words 'academic reputation' one more time I'm going to hit someone over the head with a book. Yes, M. le President, defend the academic reputation of an institution you're watching go to the dogs. I don't hear you mouthing off about academic reputation in the face of a thousand academics losing their jobs, or the dumbing-down of a teacher-training degree! Well, I'm a bit sick of it all. The government's taking a gamble on education, and we're the chips. It's not a fun position to be in. I was so happy to come to university in France, where education is not a market, but watching it become one is depressing me even more. Especially now, where the student movement to save the university system is in crisis, the universities themselves are in chaos, and the summer holidays (best time to push through dodgy changes in education law) are approaching far too quickly.

1 comment:

problemshelved said...

Prise entre deux irresponsablités. That's what I'm SAYING!