Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Supiot on Reforming the University

For an excellent overview of the condition of the French universities (82 in number and not 34 as I said in an earlier post), see this article by Alain Supiot.

Rebuilding the Socialist Party 3

The Socialist Party is better at governing than at winning elections. So says Daniel Cohen. Why? Consider an element common to the background of nearly all the party leadership, the Ecole Nationale d'Administration:

Laurent Fabius, ENA 1973
François Hollande, ENA promotion Voltaire
Lionel Jospin, ENA 1961
Michel Rocard, ENA promotion "18 juin"
Ségolène Royal, ENA promotion Voltaire
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, professor at ENA

Among the main "ténors," only Jack Lang, the thespian, stands out.

De Gaulle famously said that "if you want to build the French autoroutes, you have to give them poetry." The technical details of governance bore them. Enarques are long on technical details, short on poetry. For this generation of énarques, who came into the political mainstream under Mitterrand, le Florentin supplied the poetry. But they were not content to remain, as an earlier generation of technocrats had done, in the wings of power. In the rebuilding of postwar France, during the first twenty or so of les trente glorieuses, the ideal of public service had been austere and antipolitical. The war had discredited the parties, the Fourth Republic finished the job, and de Gaulle's otherworldly prestige provided democratic cover for a technocratic regime, in which devoted civil servants decided what was best.

By the time the current generation of socialist leaders was coming of age in the mid-60s to mid-70s, however, this austere ideal had run its course. The ENA might be the route to the kind of influence once exercised by grands commis de l'Etat such as Pisani, Nora, and Bloch-Lainé, but that kind of influence had lost some of its appeal for a generation caught up in the turbulence of the anticolonial struggle, the thirst for participation, the politics of the street, and change from the bottom up. Mitterrand's ascendancy offered a bridge from the cabinet ministériel to the circonscription (a route quite different from the pantouflage, or move from government into private industry, followed by so many other énarques). Who can forget the television footage of the young Ségolène Royal asking Mitterrand, during an inaugural reception at the Elysée and right in the middle of a receiving line, for a circonscription of her own? Though nonplussed by the impudence of such a request in such a setting, Mitterrand nevertheless granted his young collaborator's wish, launching her on the career that brought her where she is today.

On the whole, the énarques of the 60s and 70s have not proved to be gifted politicians. Royal, up to a point, is the exception that proves the rule. Mitterrand recognized this deficiency in many of his brainy collaborators and tried to expose them to the promiscuous acquaintance that builds political savvy. Like Sarkozy, he had a taste for a range of humanity extending well beyond la gauche caviare: think of Bernard Tapie (under Sarko we have the equivalent with the deferred nomination of another costaud, the sélectionneur of the XV de France, to a position in the sports ministry) or the ineffable Michel Charasse, tonton's bosom pal, who, incidentally, gave his endorsement to Sarkozy (O! the ingratitude!). But the lesson of the master went unlearned. And the socialist énarques seem to hope that the party can be repaired without politics, as if a clever technical fix, a rejiggering of internal procedures, a new proportional formula for apportioning power among the various courants, a tinkering with the calendar of meetings and congresses and summer universities, can do the trick.

Jacques Attali remarked the other day that ENA graduates are no longer drawn to government. There are greater opportunities in business, he averred in an attempt to explain why there are so few énarques in power under Sarkozy. This is an important observation, and Attali's argument deserves close scrutiny. One can see it as a version of a pattern Albert Hirschman described in Shifting Involvements. But it suggests that the Socialists' plight is even deeper than it might appear. Not only does the training of the current leadership deprive it of the political skills to fight its way out of the impasse in which it is currently trapped. Its formation also leaves it unprepared to comprehend the shift from an administered to an entrepreneurial economy. The forces vives today are not what they were in the 50s, when Nora and Bloch-Lainé governed as technocrats in sublime indifference to the parties; nor are they what they were in the 80s, when Rocard and Jospin governed as technocrats in symbiosis with their party. Sarkozy's intimates are buccaneer capitalists and ambitious lawyers, not énarques (for further comment on this, see here). The Socialist leadership is confused by the ascendancy of a group it disdained as intellectually inferior and dominated from within the apparatus of government. Now outside the apparatus and out of phase even with the younger generation of ENA graduates, it finds itself disarmed.

The Governator Approves le Présideur

Arnold Schwarzenegger is in Paris and says he really admires Sarkozy, especially for his "inclusiveness" and infusion of "new blood" into French political life.

Budgetary Oversight

Both Sarkozy and Royal promised to introduce a measure of parliamentary oversight into the budgetary process by making a member of the opposition chair of the Assembly's Finance Committee. The PS has now designated Didier Migaud, a Fabiusien who nevertheless served as Royal's advisor on the budget during the campaign, to assume this post. Is this a real reform? The editors of Libé and Le Figaro agree that it is.

Reforming the University

Sarkozy and Pécresse--I feel for them, I really do. Having witnessed attempts to reform one university at a time, I would not wish the ordeal of reforming 34 at once on anyone. Yet reform is necessary. Everyone knows that. Everyone has known it for 50 years. Et pourtant ...

Initial signs are that things are not going well. The minister herself is only "reasonably optimistic" about the chance of success. The president has already been obliged to step in and lend her a hand, postponing discussion of the bill by the Council of Ministers for at least a week. Bruno Julliard, the head of the national student union UNEF, who earned his arms as a leader of the anti-CPE demonstrations, is back in front of the cameras and micros and in the press, proclaiming the reform "totally unacceptable" and raising the prospect of a rentrée chaude or even--a thing most unusual for France--a "long hot summer" of demonstrations by students so incensed at the idea of selection to master's programs that they will consider interrupting their vacations to take to the streets. (As I write these words, blocks away from Harvard University, which this year rejected 93 percent of its applicants for undergraduate education, I am only too aware of the abyss that separates the American from its sister republic across the sea.) And yet--remarkable thing--Julliard is in favor of giving more power to university presidents as opposed to faculties, in order to "battle against corporatism and the mandarinate." His other bêtes noires include "the competitive Anglo-Saxon model, profoundly inegalitarian and elitist." Yet he also opposes the opt-out provision, which would allow individual universities to decline the opportunity to manage their budgets autonomously, on the grounds that this would lead to the channeling of the bulk of funds to a "handful of elite universities."

If M. Julliard is going to be hard to satisfy, the university presidents of the CPU (Conference of University Presidents) are also reticent. Indeed, it was their vote against the proposed bill--19 opposed, 12 for, 3 abstentions--that obliged Sarkozy to step in. As with university presidents everywhere, their chief concern is money: which will get it, which won't. Unlike M. Julliard, they are under no illusion that there is anything profoundly egalitarian and anti-elitist about the current system. What guarantees they want from the state is less clear, but one can easily imagine that the smaller and weaker institutions fear starvation of funds and ultimate extinction, while the stronger ones want assurances that with autonomy will come the necessary funds to compete, not just domestically but internationally, for the best faculty, up-to-date laboratories, libraries, and all the rest. Sarkozy, in his televised interview on TF1, waxed lyrical about the French universities of the future, able to rival the best in the world, with verdant campuses and well-stocked libraries and abundant staff and modern facilities, but he seemed to suggest that all that would be required to achieve this goal was the requisite will and not an endowment on the order of $28 billion per institution (to take Harvard's endowment as a touchstone).

Also untouched by the current reform is the separate but related issue of reform of research. A complete revamping of the CNRS is under discussion. Instead of a collection of labos, as at present, the CNRS would become a mere funding agency, akin to the National Science Foundation in the US. Personnel would be transferred to the faculties and perhaps--mirabile dictu!--even required to teach. This would affect the universities more profoundly than the structural reforms now under discussion, but the government's approach is to fix the administrative contours first before tackling the thorny personnel issues. Another unresolved question is the perennial one of the relation of the Grandes Ecoles to the universities. The elitism that M. Julliard deplores is so profoundly a part of the existing two-track system that he doesn't even mention it. But even Sarkozy recognizes that Rome wasn't built in a day, and nothing can be built or unbuilt in France against the opposition of an aroused phalanx of anciens élèves of Polytechnique and Normale Sup--an even more frightening prospect than a Boul' Mich' packed with followers of M. Julliard.

For a succinct summary of the primary points of the reform, see here.

Labor's Representatives

Labor unions have an important and legally-recognized place in the French institutional structure. As one of the "social partners," for example, they help to administer the various retirement regimes. Some of the reforms that loom large on Sarkozy's agenda will further enhance the unions' institutional role. For instance, the minimum service reform will, if adopted, require prior notice of a strike and formal negotiations aimed at avoiding a walkout. Hence the questions of exactly whom the unions represent and what their various interests may be takes on new importance.

Guy Groux addresses this question in a very interesting article here. As is well known, only 8 percent of French workers are members of unions, a very low figure compared to other European countries--and this despite the unions' powerful institutional role. Are the remaining 92 percent simply free riders, availing themselves of the benefits without paying the dues, or do their interests diverge from those of their supposed representatives? Groux notes that public-sector workers are overrepresented in unions compared with private-sector workers. More serious still, categories of workers most exposed to the vagaries of the market, such as women, younger workers, and foreign-born workers, are underrepresented.

More controversially, Groux contends that union militants often see themselves as the avant-garde of the working class and press for what they believe other workers ought to want rather than what they do want. Hence a certain tendency to radicalize conflicts rather than seek agreement. He cites European Social Survey data suggesting that union militants are more anti-market and anti-capitalist than other workers, and that this gap is wider in France than in other countries.