French students occupy prestigious university after director's arrest

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DEC 8, 2023 LISTEN
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Students at one of France's prestigious Sciences Po university held a sit-in protest on Thursday to demand the departure of the director following his arrest on suspicion of domestic violence.

Up to 100 students staged a sit-in at the main university building in Paris on Thursday, in the left-bank area of Saint-Germain, according to student organisations, backed by a vote at the student body's general assembly.

Mathias Vicherat, director of the Sciences Po social sciences university, and his partner Anissa Bonnefont were arrested on Sunday, each accusing the other of domestic violence. They were released on Monday.

"The only possible response by the administration is to suspend Mathias Vicherat from all his duties, and his resignation," a text approved by the student body said.

Climate of impunity

Students were "indignant" at the "persistent climate of impunity" at Sciences Po, it said.

The action ended at midday on Thursday following negotiations, a union representative and Sciences Po's administration said.

Vicherat has written to students, teachers and staff, promising to meet with them "very soon".

Vicherat was appointed head of Sciences Po after the forced resignation of his predecessor Frederic Mion, accused of covering up incest allegations against star political scientist Olivier Duhamel who was head of the Sciences Po Foundation which has strategic oversight over the university.

"He was elected following the Duhamel-Mion scandal, almost entirely on the strength of a plan to fight sexual and sexist violence," said one fifth-year student who asked not to be named. "He no longer has any legitimacy to carry out this programme."

He should at least be suspended, she said, "or even better, resign".

Fundamental change needed

Another student belonging to a student union, who gave only his first name Tristan, said "more than anything we want the school to fundamentally change the way it functions".

Sciences Po counts several leading personalities from politics, business and culture among its alumni.

They include former French presidents Jacques Chirac, Georges Pompidou and Francois Mitterrand, as well as current President Emmanuel Macron.

Former UN chief Boutros Boutros-Ghali also went to Sciences Po, as did former Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh and Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau.

Designer Christian Dior, director Louis Malle and writer Marcel Proust are also alumni.

Sciences Po was founded in 1872 to train civil servants, but gradually opened up to students seeking careers in the private sector.

(with AFP)