France. Solemn appeal for the protecting of academic freedom and the right to study

PRESS RELEASE

29 October 2020 – 12:00

On 29 October, a solemn appeal is launched to warn of the general deterioration of academic freedom and the right to study in France.

The Senate, tonight, during the discussions on the research programming law, confirmed in every respect the fears that had motivated the drafting of this appeal on Tuesday 27 October 2020. With the vote of the senators, the attacks on academic freedom are unprecedented, with, on the one hand, the exclusion of the elected and collegiate National Council of Universities ensuring the proper and authentic representation of teacher-researchers, in the recruitment of all the professeur∙es universities, and part of the maîtres∙ses conferences. In another outrageous provision, parliamentarians have — for the first time in the history of the French university — subjected academic freedom to political values, formulated in very vague terms. What happened tonight in the Senate is the worst thing that has happened to higher education and research for a very long time.

This confirms the importance of the appeal initiated by the editorial team of Academia, a monitoring blog on employment conditions in higher education and research, now carried by more than 72 academic journals, and a significant number of learned societies, associations and trade unions, whose support was gathered in less than forty-eight hours.

The signatories of this appeal denounce the wide variety of signals showing the accelerated erosion of academic freedom in France in recent weeks. They refer in particular to the law on research programming, of course, but also to the comments of the Minister of Education on the « intellectual complicity of terrorism », the appointment of an advisor to the President of the Republic at the head of the High Council for the Evaluation of Research and Higher Education, not to mention the very precarious working conditions in educational and research institutions, which the epidemic has highlighted. They are also concerned about the content of the provisions on higher education and research that may be included in the draft law on separatism, as well as the resurgence of discourse questioning the right of men and women to study – regardless of dress – in French universities.

The adoption of measures seriously undermining academic freedom, unexpectedly, makes it indispensable and urgent that this appeal be disseminated as widely as possible.

Academia editorial team calls on senators, who are to meet again this Thursday 29 October and Friday 30 October to discuss the programming bill on research, to reconsider these disastrous decisions for higher education and research.

It also calls on all the signatories of the solemn appeal for the protection of academic freedom and the right to study to disseminate it as widely as possible, and to encourage as many people as possible to show their support for this call by signing the text collectively or individually.

Text of the call (French): https://academia.hypotheses.org/27287
First signatories: https://academia.hypotheses.org/27287#Soutiens
Press release (French): https://academia.hypotheses.org/27418
Contact: academia_redactionATgroupes.renater.fr – Twitter : @Academia_carnet

Update: on Nov. 1, 2020, Thierry Coulhon, Higher Education and Research advisor to Emmanuel Macron has been nominated as head of the French Agency of Higher Education and Research Assessment (Hcéres).

https://www.flickr.com/photos/watsonalan/23830365201/in/photolist-CiNRkx-JHnR3D-2fgqngL-2jQZECo-2gKtkSq-RNtdGc-6KQzN4-2j3kVuo-7nEKK6-7nEJx6-gUTMkD-UVqauf-6KUUm1-BTcooC-274GXjS-MkVcco-pUbQAx-2ju7bif-GQMMpP-NXUk94-Nexu9n-RasoUV-MZ3sVd-2jjVG1A-2jMYwn5-2jGAQh1-2jWXzem-2jNJvsc-2j8Gdzb-2jDtBCn-LPYDZe-2jJ3AKv-RsyMQA-2boDvfi-2jGQhx1-2hfPykN-2h15tEG-Bf7q34-2ikaNAF-Xp8nFB-UMirWk-2gQCa2A-rSPMYi-2eZ9JXE-2j9fmf1-B2UzVY-2jDbVPz-2jN8vPi-2dJUS67-qYGqnk

Dark figure, dark night (c) [Alan], 2015


Solemn call for the protecting of academic freedom and the right to study in France

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We, members of universities and public scientific research institutions, trade unions, learned societies, journals and higher education and research associations, sound the alarm against the general deterioration of the state of academic freedom and the right to study in France, of which the Programming Act for Research 2021-2030, which will be examined this week in the Senate, is only one facet.

In recent days, this degradation has been expressed in a clear manner.

It was explicitly expressed in the words of the Minister of National Education who, in line with the so-called « analyses » of the President of the Republic of 10 June 2020, accused academics of « intellectual complicity of terrorism », the result of an « Islamo-leftism » that « ravages » higher education. What did Mr. Blanquer mean when, on Thursday, October 22, 2020 before the Senate Laws Committee, he envisaged defining « an initial matrix, perfect, impeccably regulated » for the courses delivered at the university, considering that « it is a question of understanding what really happens in the courses that are taught »?

This deterioration also stems from the President of the Republic’s plan to appoint one of his closest advisers to head the High Council for the Evaluation of Research and Higher Education (Hcéres), following a procedure tainted by serious conflicts of interest, and at a time when this authority is called upon to play a leading role in the years to come, insofar as an ever-increasing share of the resources of the ESR will be correlated with the evaluations made by this very High Council.

This deterioration also stems, of course, from the Programming Act for Research that is in the process of being adopted by Parliament, which multiplies the mechanisms of dependence and control within higher education and research institutions, both by weakening statutory protection and by the generalisation of targeted funding and individual premiums.

Finally, this deterioration is the result of the general casualisation of working conditions in higher education and research institutions, which is particularly evident in the health crisis and its chaotic management by the Ministry. Without doubt, this precariousness represents the most direct of all attacks on our academic freedoms, insofar as these presuppose, as Article L. 123-9 of the Education Code reminds us, « conditions of serenity indispensable for reflection and intellectual creation ».

These are some of the converging signals of the accelerated erosion of academic freedom in France.

Let there be no mistake about it: it is not only the professors and researchers who are under attack here, but the very modes of knowledge making, in their necessary plurality, and notably the making of critical academic discourses  that representatives, associations and citizens sometimes use — the wide dissemination of the results of our research is truly one of our most rewarding missions — to counter, through argued discourse, the fractures in society caused by simplifications of all kinds, particularly racist ones, and, more generally, to contribute to the formulation of responses – including political ones — to contemporary issues.

It is now time to collectively counter these developments. Not to counter each of these signals in isolation, but to counter the cluster that they all form together. It is urgent, indeed, to do so now, because the last days of October 2020 represent a pivotal moment.

On Thursday 29 and Friday 30 October, the final debates on the Programming Act for Research will be held in the Senate. Consequently, it is now or never that academic freedom must be reinscribed at the core of the bill.

It is also this week that the President of the Republic may again abandon his plan to appoint his own advisor to head the High Council for the Evaluation of Research and Higher Education.

This very week, finally, Ms Vidal, Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation, must resolve to fully embrace the Bonn Declaration on the Freedom of Scientific Research, which the European Research Ministers adopted on 20 October 2020 and which states that the freedom of scientific research implies “the right to freely define research questions” and the right “to choose and develop any theory […] to question preconceived ideas”.

Decisions must be made now, as the next step looks even worse. We are very concerned and worried about the infringements of academic freedom that may be included in the attacks on academic freedom that are likely to be included in the bill on separatism, which is scheduled for consideration by the Council of Ministers on December 9. Indeed, what meaning should be given to Mr. Blanquer’s latest « releases/ words », again confirmed in Oct. 25 issue of the Journal du Dimanche, if not to be « trial balloons » for this bill? We also know already that during these same debates, the rights of men and women to study – regardless of their dress code – in French universities risks being called into question by discriminatory measures.

In spite of the fatigue of our colleagues who have been mobilised for months in defence of the public service of research and higher education; in spite of a university term that we have to manage in Dantesque epidemic conditions; in spite of other initiatives in progress, which we call on to join, we sound the general alarm about the state of academic freedom and the right to study in France.

We still hope that this alert will be heard.


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