February 9 and 10/2009 were not ordinary university days: in most universities of France courses were replaced by General Assemblies in which students and professors expressed their anger towards the Sarkozy reform plan concerning universities.
A rare scene was witnessed in La Sorbonne where the presidents of many prominent public universities declared their full support for the demands of the teachers and students' movement. And they solemnly demanded, in a declaration called the "appel de Paris", the repeal of the LRU.
The LRU or the Law about the Liberties and Responsibilities of the Universities, threatens what the French university stands for and the social value it advances. In fact, this reform promotes for the financial autonomy of the univesity which by itself destroys the fundamental right to a free and equal education which has been one of the main pillars of the french social system for decades. The french government will withdraw a considerable funding it currently provides for the university, forcing it to seek this vital money elsewhere: who else can provide other than firms?! Thus, the enterprises will systematically submit the acadamic sphere to the logic of the market, i.e. the university will have to obey to the law of market profit when offering its majors to the students. therefore, "unnecessary" majors such as philosophy, theater, humanities etc... will simply disappear and university fees will rise pushing students with limited financial possibilities to the margin of education. Moreover, universities will be forced into competition in order to attract funding, putting in danger the principal of equality amongst the diplomas they deliver.
another aspect of the reform seeks to generalize the model of the Sarkozy governance to the university: the power of the university presidents will accrue considerably in such a way that they will have the "privilege" to recruit and to decide on the path of staff careers and more importantly on the remuneration.
A third aspect deals with the status of the teacher-researcher: the law suggests an increased production of publications and in the same time more charges in terms of teaching. These requirements are added to the fact that 3 thousand positions are threatened by suppression increasing the burdens on the teacher- researchers.
The LRU has provoked a large resentment among the students last year when it was first proposed: demonstrations were held but they were ineffective due to the absence of professors and researchers.This year, the law was voted with amendments concerning the status of professors and without any kind of negotiations with the parties concerned. this is what pushed the teachers to react and declare a general, unlimited , and reconductible strike starting from the 2nd of February 2009.
The 9th and 10th of February were crucial to this movement. in fact, the general assemblies that were held witnessed the generalization of the movement to the whole academic community.
the students voted on the general strike calling for the repeal of the law.
the voting on the general strike was followed by a large demonstration in which 50 .000 teachers and students marched from the Pantheon to the National Assembly in Paris.
the movement is gaining scale due to the fact that it was launched by the teaching body which is a first since many years. However, the survival of the movement depends on the student-teacher solidarity (where Sarkozy will probably seek to break in order to liquidate the movement) and more importantly on the linkage with other sectors like transportation, the heavy industries, and more generally the public and the private sectors.
In launching these major reforms, Sarkozy is unknowingly catalyzing and radicalizing the protestation movement and generalizing it to certain categories that were for long time on the margin of any mobilization. This is an opportunity for the Left in order to regain the trust of the people and to present a real alternative to the current system.