Thursday, December 11, 2008

Discontent in the Universities

In a previous post I referred to rumors of growing student discontent. It seems that university presidents are also unhappy. The overall university budget has increased, but the increases have been very unequally distributed. At the same time the universities are being asked to compete one another, as greater autonomy is devolved to their presidents. One doesn't have to be a rocket scientist or university president to see the handwriting on the wall: the ministry retains the power to distribute the cash, but the universities are left to use whatever they get to compete with one another. The favored institutions will soon outperform the disfavored ones, and the minister will have every reason to close some of the latter. Punishment is meted out at one remove, and the ministry can disclaim responsibility for choosing winners and losers on the grounds that the losers will have demonstrated their inability to compete.

This may prove to be an effective policy, but it's not a forthright one.

Medvedev Imitates Sarko

Russian president Medvedev imitates Sarko (via Charles Bremner):

Long Hot Winter?

The student riots in Greece have people taking the temperature of "youth" in other countries. The WSJ believes the discontent is not local but general and attributes the restiveness to poor job prospects for graduates. With memories of the 2006 CPE demonstrations still fresh (and recently revived by reports that Sarkozy privately assured Bruno Julliard of his support while publicly backing Villepin, though not very robustly), the French government is undoubtedly among the worriers. The Darcos and Pécresse reforms are enough to stir the pot. Still, I'm skeptical of this "pan-European youth conflagration" theory. On the other hand, I'm over 60, and I remember the days when I believed along with all my equally callow comrades that life ended at 30. So who knows? Any young people out there? Care to weigh in?

A House Divided Against Itself

Yes, these are momentous times. Particularly for certain members of the UMP and Nouveau Centre, who see a threat to the very cornerstone of civilization. I speak, of course, of le repos dominical (and not of that other cornerstone of civilization, commercial-free public television). We are, they say in a philosophical rumination published in the national press, creatures meant to rest on the seventh day in emulation of our Creator in order to preserve eternal French values from the depredations of "Anglo-Saxon neo-liberalism."

The president of the Republic does not share this view. Our great consolation for toil in this vale of tears, he argues, is the right to shop on Sunday. As well as the right to work on Sunday and thus earn more, the better to shop during one's comp time.

And so the great issue of our time was joined in a memorable confrontation at the Elysée, where the dissident deputies of the majority were urged to brave their president's wrath and sit still for his rebukes: "The way you express yourselves is not very proper. It serves our adversaries, not our ideas."

The tenacity with which the dissidents defend Sunday rest might suggest an almost fundamentalist literalism ("... and on the seventh day He rested") were it not for the cynical observation that the same small merchants who pushed the Royer, Raffarin, and Galland laws see yet another threat to their viability if the dread grandes surfaces, hard discounts, et hypermarchés are allowed to desecrate the Sabbath, which the Good Lord of course intended for football, boules, and le pot au feu. I do hope the issue is resolved soon, so deputies can get back to thinking about bailouts for the auto industry and advertising boons for M. Bouygues.