Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sciences Humaines

Sciences humaines. Au-delà de la querelle immobilière en gestation, un autre thème de débat remonte cette semaine : la place des sciences humaines. Après un colloque organisé par le ministère de l'enseignement supérieur, que Le Monde et EducPros ont relaté, un professeur d'histoire contemporaine à l'université de Nancy-II, Didier Francfort (format PDF), pousse un "coup de gueule" contre l'évolution générale du système de recherche, notamment en sciences humaines : financement sur projet, évaluation, etc. "Nous ne demandons qu'à pouvoir travailler sereinement, sans obligation permanente, immédiate et continuelle non pas de résultats mais de justifications de résultats", conclut-il.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Didier Francfort's article is a particularly well-written animadversion of the current government's policies relating to the reform of higher education.
However, I side with Pécresse and company. I do this not in glee but rather out of the sentiment that the government’s reforms are, as a whole, the lesser of two evils. On the one hand, there is a government attempting to adress & resolve problems, howsoever imperfectly it may be. On the other side, opponents without a plan and who contest the pertinence of the problems identified by the government.
Since the de Villepin government, the Right has been making momentous decisions relating to the higher education system but are generally ignorant of the university world & the humanities in general. On the other hand there are opponents of said reforms who harken to a state of things that used to be the status quo but which faultered under the weight of its own contradictions.
When reading Francfort, I kept thinking "I'm with you, I understand you, but do you understand the "enjeux" today?" The higher education system, being the charge of the state (aside from numerous private schools, some of them even counted "grandes écoles"), exists in a context of scarcity of resources.
Tax the rich in order to solve the problem? It just aient that simple.
I often get the impression from proponents of the late, regretted but no-longer-existing status quo (both from the public sphere and my own private circle of friends & colleagues) that they believe that the financing of the higher education system should know no constraints – or at least be relatively free of constraints. They, too, see there are problems in the university. But the questions they ask themselves pre-determine answers which will not go far to resolving not only the problems that they identified, but also the problems that exist in reality but which they don’t see.
Meaning that for them, it's often a question of how much? How much money? - for Francfort, the answer is more. More money. More taxpayer money. And without the hassle of having to justify why so much money goes into research whose benefits to society, by definition, cannot be immediately quantifiable.
Note, however, the American model of exceptionally well-endowed research universities is to be used as a reference under extreme caution, because even there the existing structure is likely not sustainable. Maybe its because I’m an American familiar to the US model that I can also note its shortcomings. The French are clever enough, and endowed with an autonomous intellectual history such that they don’t need to copy & paste a foreign model to help them out of their current rut.
We are becoming more and more sensitive & aware, in the West (Europe & the Americas) to the underlying problems of excess vis-à-vis waste and the scarcity of resources, be they natural or man-made. Extrapolated ten-fold, the enormous economic & intellectual infrastructure that is the higher education (in France & the US) is not immune to such deviant tendencies.
Humanities scholars are sympathetic to the problem of sustainability and keen on reducing waste. But they generally don’t see that the resolution to such problems has got to be across the board and applied to all the institutions that make up a social fabric, such as the universities.
They may retort with a cry of “justice and fairness” in light of the unfair and preferential treatment given to their colleagues in the grandes écoles, but the public has difficulty hearing this cry. How can one bemoan someone who has life-time job security and a middle-class salary package?