French Scientists Will Strike Next Week

January 30th, 2009

Posted by: admin

ScienceInsider has all the gritty details, but there are a series of policy changes on the books in France that have its country’s scientists set to strike next week.  In short, France is trying to shift its state-controlled research system to a more traditional Western model.  What strikes me as particularly odd, and perhaps uniquely French, is the tone taken by both sides (or their representatives) in this debate.  The ScienceInsider piece has English translations of the argument (and if accurate, that seems the best word for it), but those that can parlez francais should read the speech by French President Sarkozy and the response from the scientists’ groups to get a better sense of the nuances involved.

I just have a hard time seeing how a dispute of this tenor could happen anywhere else.  Maybe it’s because I’ve spent my graduate education as a non-resident and haven’t been directly exposed to American academic squabbles.  Of course, it’s also a bit of a struggle for me to get my mind around a researchers’ union (not in the sense of it being a good or bad idea, but simply in its existence).  But the equivalent of shouting matches via public statement?  I have a hard time seeing anyone from the Union of Concerned Scientists or Research!America or any other science advocacy organization doing something like this in the United States, their obvious frustration with American research aside.

The issues in France are certainly serious, as what is under consideration is a significant shift in organization and traditional employment expectations.  French research is not organized through the universities but through the state, and there is growing concern that such a system is not sufficiently competitive in the 21st century (this concern predates the current economic crisis).  The specific rationale behind the strike is a reversal of a decision that would allow university presidents to determine how researchers divide their time between research and teaching.  If you’ve reacted with something like “this is a big deal?” then it probably demonstrates the very different ways in which various countries can organize their research systems.

One Response to “French Scientists Will Strike Next Week”

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