Monday, June 01, 2009


I’ve been sick in bed since Friday afternoon with a mild fever and a serious case of self-pity. Other symptoms included a throbbing head-ache, undefined pains all over and disturbingly high (for me!) rage levels. Outside my tiny window the blazing sunshine mocked me as I shivered under my duvet. Finally I had finished my play, handed in my dissertation, been given my grades for the year and I had to start my holiday in bed. I often get sick after long periods of sustained effort, especially when I don’t let my work-load stop me partying. (A maths friend: ‘Eight hours a day, six days a week, for a month? You call that a long period of sustained effort?’ ‘Well, I am taking literature. Things are different for us.’) But personally I blame my sickness on the events of Friday morning, which was when that pain in my stomach set in. (I have such funny, funny buddies in Tours. This one: ‘Sure, Frances always ends up sick in bed when she has to get up before 9am.’ Ok, I know my weaknesses. I’m not cut out for the working world. Point duly noted.)
Yes, I had bought my croissant by 9. 15 on Friday. Me and at least 400 other students from Lettres et Langues. We had a rendezvous with Loïc Vaillant, le President of Université François Rabelais. The bastard. If you read this blog (bless your heart) semi-regularly you’ll know that Loïc has already fucked my camarades over good and proper. He effectively broke the strike. He started last month by blackmailing teachers back to work, and carried on by blackmailing students into taking exams. Five weeks ago he and his Conseil d’Administration (French for pack of over-paid bastards) tucked their beer-guts under some meeting-table for long enough to decide that the semester should continue until the 12th June. We all got an email. Screwing. But not much anyone could do about it, and since said Conseil has insists that exams must take place, a necessary(ish) evil. Teachers reacted to the strike being broken by the pragmatic method of attending class, but not teaching. Students, whether pro or anti-strike, have however been forced to spend the last couple of weeks speed-revising a semester they have never been taught. Now this week, a new offensive from Loïc. On the 27th May he emails students- not ALL students, just those in Lettres et Langues (Literature and Modern Languages), although ALL of Arts and Humanities has been blockaded for the same amount of time. NEW SCHEDULE for L&L students- an extra 2 weeks of ‘teaching’ semester, followed by an exam period from the 15th June to the 3rd JULY!!!!! There is no logical reason for this. Two more weeks of term make no difference when teachers are at most pretending to teach. Loïc quoted ‘parents of students’ who were anxious that grades should not be given without due work. Complete bollocks? I think so. Especially since he added that teachers didn’t want students to pass exams they didn’t merit to pass. My arse. The only reason teachers are back at work at all is because they want us to pass exams for which we haven’t studied. This move is a deliberate plot to save face for the university’s academic reputation at the expense of its most vulnerable students. They can no longer punish strikers and pass anti-strikers. What they can and will do, is make it as difficult as possible for any student to actually attend exams, so that when they fail the rest, they can pretend those who passed were the only ones with the requisite academic proficiency. Academic proficiency, I repeat, my arse. Some True Stories
  • Student A, like many others, gave 3 months’ notice on his flat in March. His parents live in Bordeaux, 250 miles away. If he stays for the exams, he has to find a sofa to crash on- not ideal for revision.
  • Student B has booked plane tickets to Cuba for herself and her boyfriend for the 1st July. Absolute bargain, only 750€ each, non-refundable. Either she repeats her year, or she misses out on her ‘graduation trip’ and loses her money.
  • Student C would normally have a couple of weeks holiday between the end of exams and leaving for his summer job, in a hotel in Cannes. (All summer jobs in France start the 1st July, same as the school holidays.) He has signed a contract and his hotel boss refuses to allow him to start his post late. He must choose between exams and two months’ work. He needs the two months’ work because he lives off his grant, 500€ a month, 10 months a year.
  • Student D has applied for masters programmes in several UK universities. They normally need her grades by the 10th June. Several weeks ago she phoned them up and asked for an extra two weeks to send the grades- three out of four agreed, but grudgingly. The fourth already told her they would not consider her application after that date: now she must phone the others and try to explain.
  • Student E wants to be an English teacher, and had a placement in a school in Leeds for a month, starting mid-June.
  • Student F has an interview in Lyon for the teacher-training Concours on the 17th June. Twenty people were selected out of hundreds for the interview stage, and they won’t change dates. However, if she doesn’t pass her exams, she won’t get in either.
Question: Which of the above is going to pass their year? Answer: The one who has (or whose parents have) the most money. Everyone else is going to re-take the year or drop out, with the smug tones of Loïc ‘We gave you the chance to sit the exams with every regard for our academic reputation’ Vaillant ringing dourly in their ears. So the swine, accompanied by his fat-jowled puppet, Heinz Raschel, doyen of Lettres et Langues, granted us a ‘meeting’ Thursday afternoon to discuss these changes. Meeting postponed at last minute after Monsieur le President had qualms about his personal safety in our building and was escorted back to his chauffeured silver Audi. New meeting- 9.30 Friday morning. Oh dear, I feel ill again already. The hall designated for the meeting was far too small for the four or five hundred who showed up. The president and the doyen sat at the front, surrounded by students sitting up the aisles, on the stage itself and spilling for metres out of the double doors. Discipline there was none. Student after student explained their personal complete inability to attend exams after mid-June, and were met by LIE after LIE after LIE from the podgy mouths of the president and his toad. One thing is clear- the rhetorical powers of Arts undergraduates easily overpowers that of Loïc, a dermatologist by profession. One student finished his speech to overwhelming applause by saying ‘This faculty has developed an allergy to its own president- you should at least be able to understand that.’ Calls of ‘Demission!’ (resign!) turned into chanting. We sat in that baking hot hall for over FIVE hours. How they had the EFFRONTERY to even address us is a mystery to me. Two fat old men, each on well over four grand a month, treating the student summer holiday as though it still really were a holiday, to be given and repealed at the will of a committee of other fat old men (there are also fat old women on the Conseil d’Administration). People were screaming, and in tears. Where were these bastards when we were on picket lines and marching for the independent status of the University system for the past 6 months? Some (five or six) presidents across the country made a stand for the strikers. It didn’t cost much. Loïc’s response has been a thin stream of emails urging us to attend classes that weren’t actually taking place in the Pharmacy campus way over the other side of town. And the day he brought in a team of security guards to unblock the faculty, easily outwitted by peaceful protests around the outside of the building. This man is meant to have the best interest of the... too depressed by managerial hypocrisy to even finish that sentence. The lies they told varied across the five hours. It started with ‘teaching staff asked us to change the timetable’. Teaching staff were at that moment sitting in their offices in the same building so it didn’t take long for someone to pop and disprove that. Then it was ‘parents’ who had forced the semester to be pushed back. I laughed, but it wasn’t funny. (Whoever heard of people coming back from a strike because their parents told them to?) Next they said that the original email sent five weeks ago had warned the semester might go on until July. There’s wi-fi in the building! Five minutes later a girl was writing up the exact words of the original on the whiteboard behind their heads. They tried claiming it was the faculty’s right to examine students up to and including the 2nd July. A quick check of the university website proved that in fact it was the university’s right not to give grades until after the 2nd July, meaning that students were officially enrolled until then, not obliged to attend. The only people I’ve ever seen lie so barefacedly are politicians at the very end of their careers and small children. After 5 hours the crowd was wearing almost as thin as Loïc’s lies. He kept the damn thing going so long because he would have wet his pants walking out of a hall so full of angry students. At nearly 3 o’clock, he made a sign to Raschel and the two of them ran in an undignified manner to the door. A throng rushed to stop him. He hadn’t even given us answers, let alone results. They pushed and shoved their way out. Loïc tried to stop outside the back door for an interview op with TV-Tours, but the cries of ‘demission!’ were too loud. His Audi backed up with a squeal of brakes- hopefully that’s the last I’ll see of one of the most disgusting men it has ever been my misfortune to encounter. And that’s why I was ill. Report on Friday's meeting (in French) from TV-Tours.


problemshelved said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
problemshelved said...

Good article by Sud Etudiants, a big union comprising student union with branch in Tours

Sicily said...

I think this is the best thing you've written so far. You are a very talented satirist.

problemshelved said...

Thanks... although I'm deadly serious!