A chaotic return to high school for college kids at La Sorbonne Nouvelle

After two years behind schedule, the Sorbonne Nouvelle University is finally returning to a new building in the 12th arrondissement of Paris. But about thirty classrooms are missing to accommodate 16,500 students.

With its wavy lines and white facade pierced with trapezoidal windows, it is a building that cannot be overlooked in the Nation neighborhood (12).e). Designed by Christian de Portzampark, the first Frenchman to receive the Pritzker Prize in 1994 (equivalent to the Nobel Prize in architecture), the new campus of the Sorbonne Nouvelle University has it all on paper. It has a 1100-seat triplex library, theater, cinema. Also three amphitheatres, 146 classrooms, two gymnasiums, a large university restaurant… A project worth about 150 million euros intended for the students of Paris 3, who were forced to move from the old and asbestos-filled historical site of Censier.

“It’s so beautiful, it throws”, raves 18-year-old Marina, who discovered these buildings for the first time last February. The first-year student of the Faculty of Literature says that he is discouraged. “I was supposed to continue yesterday, but two weeks ago we learned that the start of the school year has been postponed to October 3. For organizational problems, I believe. I’m a little worried and I’m waiting to see how it will turn out.”

Because, despite the fact that the Sorbonne Nouvelle University building has 35,000 m2, including 25,000 m2 of useful space, it currently cannot accommodate 16,500 students. According to Emma Rubio-Milet, a Spanish teacher who followed the construction project from the beginning due to lack of space. “30 classrooms are missing. It seems that since we saw the plans of the first architect, it has been more than 8 years since we said this in June, the university understood this.” In 2016, CHSCT members (health, safety and working conditions committee) The university had given a special task to the firm to conduct an examination. “He demonstrated that of course we will have space problems, but the previous University Board of Trustees team ignored the recommendations.” continues Evelyne Payen-Variéras, teacher of English and elected CGT of the board of directors.

To overcome these difficulties, the university had to find another 12 classrooms to rent this summer: in La Défense or in high schools located in the south of Paris. Rebuild the new tables in a hurry. Also, set up distance learning courses for “displaced” classes.

Temporary measures according to the President of the University Jamil Jean-Marc Dakhlia. “Each school year is a challenge in itself. There is also the capture of completely different buildings. It takes time to get used to it.” If Jamil acknowledges the lack of rooms for Jean-Marc Dakhlia capable of accommodating groups of about forty students, it is above all an organizational issue. “We cannot rely only on the number of rooms. There are also specialized rooms that need to be factored into the calculations, which are art practice rooms or computer rooms, which we didn’t have before, or not in the same proportions. And it completely changes the way buildings are used, because these are rooms that can be shared at certain times. It is as if we have completely changed the software.”

The university’s president this summer asked teachers to rearrange their schedules, which he said were too late, extending time slots to optimize space. Impossible for Evelyne Payen-Variéras, teacher.

In English we used to have 13 rooms. Today we have eight. If we are talking about planning, it is not serious. Not eligible and all slots already taken.

Evelyne Payen-Variéras, teacher

Not all buildings are accessible, especially nowadays, such as the cinema or the two amphitheatres, the largest of which has 500 seats. And more serious problems appeared during the reception of students last week. A wooden cornice element, weighing several kilograms, dislodged and grazed a student. An event “unacceptable and cruel” For the chancellor of the University who asked the ministry whether legal action would be taken against the construction company.

A chaotic return to school that irritates the already tense staff. This Tuesday afternoon, about fifty members and students of the University came together to enumerate in a general meeting all the difficulties they have faced and the working conditions which they believe have degraded over several years. Two motions were accepted. One pleads to return to a calmer climate with the presidency of the University. The other end of distance learning courses established in September.

“We have already seen in the Covid era that distance learning leads to a real social disconnect with the lack of contact with teachers, with other students. This also leads to problems in terms of access to digital technology. This is understandable during a health crisis. But this is no longer the case today, the size not because of small buildings”, says Paul Malherbe, president of Sorbonne Nouvelle UNef. The union organization is also asking that other classrooms be found in the neighborhood so that students can eat lunch on site and use its state-of-the-art equipment.

In turn, the residency of the University decided to create a working group to analyze the actual occupancy of the rooms. It also engaged an outside service provider to analyze building occupancy and make recommendations.

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