He's Notre Dame clever, not in Seine

April 14, 2006

In a scenario that would not look out of place in The Da Vinci Code , a French professor has used secret codes to arrange meetings with students amid the protests in Paris, making him a potential inspiration to academics in the UK who wish to circumvent the forthcoming pay disputes.

Like Jacques Sauni re, the fictional curator in Dan Brown's bestselling book, Jean-Yves Ruaux, a professor of publishing studies at the University of Rennes, has communicated through encoded messages.

One message on his website read: "When the postprandial hour strikes, the assembly will welcome the conquering king of Macedonia and son of Philip to the chair."

Dr Ruaux was not inviting his students to a gathering in honour of Alexander the Great but rather to a class with his assistant Alexander Chaise.

Though Dr Ruaux supports the student protests that have led to new youth employment laws being scrapped, he does not believe they should paralyse French universities. When he was informed in February that his publishing course would be blocked, he decided to organise clandestine classes for his masters students.

Every week, Dr Ruaux challenged his students with references to Masonic rituals, Catholic prayers and French medieval literature. The names of Catholic saints, historical figures and local landmarks replaced the dates and places of his MA classes.

Dr Ruaux said: "I was inspired by The Da Vinci Code . My students had great fun deciphering the messages."

The riddles were set so that only his students could solve them, which "guaranteed perfect confidentiality".

Dr Ruaux said his tactics surprised his French colleagues. "They don't like anything too fanciful," he said. "I guess the British appreciate eccentricity and nonsense a lot more."

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