Friday, December 28, 2012

Casanova Targeted at Sciences Po

The struggle over the leadership of Sciences Po continues. Three prominent intellectuals--Claire Andrieu, Olivier Borraz, and Karoline Postel-Vinay--have published a manifesto in Le Monde calling for the ouster of Jean-Claude Casanova as head of the foundation that oversees the management of the institution. (Full disclosure: I know Andrieu, Borraz, and Casanova personally.) Readers can evaluate for themselves the reasoning with which they back up their call for Casanova's ouster. Casanova's admission that he was not aware of certain irregularities in the management of Sciences Po during a lengthy period in which it seems to an outside observer that he should have known more suggests that, in the interest of greater transparency, it might be a good time to install a new board of directors.

On the other hand, a group of distinguished outside observers insists, in yet another Le Monde op-ed, that many reforms of the "Descoings era," which coincides with the period of "irregularities" in the management of Sciences Po, are worth preserving. The question is how to preserve the achievements (and to identify those worth preserving) without also preserving the "irregularities," some of which seem to have been necessary to making the reforms work. Clearly, this is not a matter that can be settled by op-eds directed to a general public that has no knowledge of the inside workings of Sciences Po. An infusion of new blood does seem essential, but the choice of which new blood to infuse will also weigh heavily on the ultimate outcome of the "reform of the reforms."

What is needed is strong but impartial leadership from both the state and the intellectual community, both of which are deeply compromised by past partialities in regard to the Descoings era. Is there a way to slice through this Gordian knot? In the US, in situations like this, academic departments are sometimes placed "in receivership" by their tutelary institutiions. A period of "extraordinary measures" seems inevitable for Sciences Po, but it is hard to be sanguine about the outcome, siince any number of the players are consummate insiders who know well how seemingly impartial processes can be rigged to achieve desired results. I think it is safe to say, however, that a new Sciences Po will eventually emerge. Exactly what its character will be is difficult to say at this point. Yet this is an issue of great public importance, since Sciences Po, as much as any other single institution, selects the French elite and therefore weighs inordinately on the kind of thinking that is considered legitimate in contemplating new public policies. Ideas matter in politics, and Sciences Po plays a disproportionate role in determining what ideas matter and what kinds of state action are legitimate.

It should be noted, moreover, that generational change seems to be an important factor in this struggle. Although Descoings himself was fairly young at the time of his death, his backing at the FNSP came largely from an older generation. Casanova, for instance, is 78. Retirement rules concerning French professors are fairly strict, but no such rules apply to the governing board of a private foundation like the FNSP. The younger generation may feel stifled by the kind of recruitment favored by the old regime at Sciences Po, and this feeling of institutional blockage may contribute to the evident bitterness of the debate.

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