'Crisis' forces president to quit

November 21, 1997

EUROPE. The president of Paris-X Nanterre University, Michel Imberty, has resigned after being forced to enroll extra students with no extra resources.

Francoise Renversez, a 64-year-old economics professor, has been named temporary administrator by the education authority and will organise the election of a new president.

Explaining his departure in an open letter to Le Monde last week, Professor Imberty accused the education ministry of "precipitating a crisis which ultimately poses the question of the exercise of power in universities". The ministry has refused to comment.

Professor Imberty said the events leading up to his resignation were the "sign of a profound crisis which no hasty reform of the higher education system can resolve".

Like many other universities, Nanterre comes under pressure each summer to take on more students than it can cater for.

After agreeing to enrol extra students on its overcrowded undergraduate courses, the university called a halt to the process in September. After a one night sit-in, the negotiations resumed and by mid-October another trickle of students had been enrolled and admissions were again stopped.

Some of those still without a place then occupied the main computer room, bringing the university administration to a halt. Professor Imberty resigned after those who took part in the sit-in were given places over his head. Other applications remained outstanding.

"We have this battle for places every year, but it dragged on this year because Imberty was trying to renegotiate the university's four-year funding contract with the ministry. He was caught between the two," commented Renaud Soumare, president of the Nanterre section of the UNEF student union.

UNEF organised the first sit-in in the administration block, but a union which split with UNEF led the sit-in in the computer room.

"The negotiations were very tough; it was difficult because the university had no margin for manoeuvre on the budget and got no support from the ministry," explained Mr Soumare, who said he was "shocked" when Professor Imberty quit.

"It's frustrating to see the president resign over an issue of resources. He could have got the whole university behind him to back demands for more money."

In the past, university presidents have closed their universities for a day in protest at lack of resources or carried out other forms of joint action with students.

In his letter Professor Imberty warned that mass access to higher education was bringing in a new type of student with no "cultural and social references" to guide them and for whom "defiance, provocation and even violence are the only means of expression". Announcing his resignation, he explained that "alongside (his) refusal to see the university turned into an arena outside the law, are disillusion and anxiety caused by the four-year contract offered to the university which does not give it the financial means to realise a real project for the future".

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