Returning from Vienna, where I have been giving some talks and interviews about my recent book, Pussycats, I found the following in my inbox. The author has granted my request and permitted the piece to be posted here. While legal reasons prevent the university in question from being identified by name, the facts have been verified from other sources.
Any other comment is superfluous.
The university is currently going through its second occupation of the year. The first (which as far as I know is continuing) was by a group of students eager to discover “true freedom”. They took over a classroom and began camping there. They covered all windows so no one could see what they were doing inside (although it smelled strongly of pot). The president and her vice-presidents kept meeting with their leaders and kept negotiating agreements that were then repudiated by the occupiers. Then she got a lot of resolutions voted by various instances at the university, all of which were ignored. Then she held a lot of meetings but did absolutely nothing else – even after both she and the chief administrative officer of the university had been slightly injured by the students.
The second occupation started at the end of January when about thirty undocumented immigrants took over two floors of building A, the arts building. They brought in cooking gear and portable beds and began meeting with the press (although the press didn’t show much interest in them). Once again, the president and her vice-presidents negotiated, once again they reached agreements and once again the accords were immediately repudiated. She asked the immigrants to move into the university’s largest auditorium. After initially agreeing, they issued a statement refusing this compromise. Why? Because the auditorium reminded them of the Libyan prisons where they had been held!! Now, I’m the first to complain about our working conditions but that our biggest auditorium, where we hand out honorary degrees, looks like a Libyan prison seems somewhat exaggerated. Or maybe I’m being unfair to Libyan prisons. They also stated that they did not want to move to another building because they wanted residency permits and affordable housing. Do they think the university can supply these? Or that the French government cares enough about this Parisian university being occupied to grant them?
With extension cords all over the place and cooking going on in the hallways, not surprisingly, they blew all the fuses in building A. Then, they graciously agreed to use the auditorium during the day because it had better kitchen facilities. So, not only did the presidential team fail to gain back our classrooms but they also lost us the use of our largest auditorium! Added to that, they offered the gym to the immigrants so they could use the showers. So, what did our leadership then do? They called a lot of meetings and got a lot of resolutions passed – all of which were ignored. And then the heavy snowfall caused all the heating to fail so the president closed the university for two days.
In response the immigrants organized a banquet in front of the library to announce their refusal to leave. The president then sent in the commission for hygiene and security to meet with them. However, their leaders claimed that a member of the commission was actually a police officer in disguise. The whole thing descended into violence with pushing, shoving and some punching. But the immigrants remained and continued occupying the building. They installed beds in some classrooms, which have become dorms while another room is a canteen. They even brought in a sofa so they could have an area to relax. By this time the immigrants had grown to about 80 and their supporters were talking of establishing a permanent refuge at the university.
The presidential team contacted a number of charities. One came in and gave the immigrants medical check-ups while the refugees refused to meet with another, a charity for the homeless, People from one charity I talked to said they would not get involved because in many ways things resembled a hostage situation: the university is of course being held hostage but so, in a way, are the refugees: most of them don’t speak French and blindly follow their leaders who work with people at the university who have a political agenda. Other charities have come to the same conclusion.
So the president and her V-Ps decided to get tough and sent a somewhat threatening letter to the immigrants. The latter responded by going from classroom to classroom at the university asking for money. The president and her V-Ps did nothing.
Meanwhile, the immigrants brought in huge wooden crates, filled with used clothes, that they stock in the stairwells, (blocking the exits, of course). They also blast music during class times (which are still going on on the first floor). The occupiers also broke the locks on one of the side entrances of the university and installed their own (which is clearly illegal). So now they are the only ones able to use that entrance. They also forced the locks on doors to other classrooms. In response the president sent pictures of the broken doors to all members of the university. Then grafitti appeared in the area with anti-Semitic slogans and comments like “Death to all whites”. The presidential team took pictures of these and sent them to all members of the university.
In the current political climate no one wants to deal with the issue of immigration and no one cares about universities. Even the press doesn’t consider the situation worth a news article. This says a lot about the state of French universities and partly explains why, in spite of internationally respected staff, they are so low in the league tables. The government could care less about universities and they are being allowed to fall to pieces.