Grande école staff quit in protest over director

December 8, 2006

The Ecole Normale Superieure, one of France's most prestigious grandes écoles , is in turmoil after about 15 senior academics resigned as a protest against the school's director.

The resignations, all in humanities departments, include departmental and library heads and directors of studies. Most staff and students support the action against the management of Monique Canto-Sperber.

The appointment of Ms Canto-Sperber, a philosopher, in November 2005 was controversial from the outset. A committee set up to advise Jacques Chirac, the French President, on the appointment opposed her nomination.

The dissenting departmental directors said they resigned to express their "profound disagreement with the management methods of Ms Canto-Sperber", who had "repeatedly carried out personal initiatives and decisions... without preliminary consultation and often without any profound knowledge of the issues". They could no longer work "in a climate of trust", they said.

Accusations and grievances include excessive secrecy and lack of consultation, which were compounded by Ms Canto-Sperber's recent decision to raise library charges "against the advice of the committee appointed to examine the question" and her "unexpected and brutal repudiation" of colleagues during a meeting at the Education Ministry.

In November, a general meeting of staff overwhelmingly passed motions to cancel some decisions by the governing board, including the library charges; to support those who had resigned; and to express distrust of Ms Canto-Sperber.

Ms Canto-Sperber's office declined an invitation to comment. The directors'

resignations were still "on the table, neither withdrawn nor accepted", according to a notice on the school's weblog.

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