University

lack of rooms delays the primary return of the Sorbonne-Nouvelle – Salvation

Sorbonne-Nouvelle University makes its first return to its new Paris Nation campus. But a shortage of classrooms in the building forced the institution on Friday to postpone the start of the school year by two weeks.

Two weeks before the start of the school year, the ax fell. The resumption of classes at the Sorbonne-Nouvelle University (formerly Paris III) has been postponed for two weeks, we learned this Friday. The event scheduled for September 19 should finally take place on October 3. The problem? The institution is finalizing its move to new buildings that began in January, but… no classrooms. The management team had to find fourteen rooms to rent outside the new campus. Now all that’s left to do is notify students and staff, decide which courses will be held at these leased locations, one of which is more than 40 minutes from the new campus near the Place de la Nation, and redo all the work of the cycle. A “crisis situation”Recognizes Benedict Durand, deputy director of higher education, research and innovation for the academic region of Ile-de-France.

Pierre Gervais, professor of the English-speaking world department and elected CGT, laughs yellow. “My colleagues tell me that for 6 years you have been telling us that the building will be too small, but we did not believe you., he recalls. The lack of rooms and space quickly became apparent to this elected official who had been following this project from the beginning. An observation far from being shared since Epurif, the government agency in charge of project management, said to itself “surprise» with needs for additional rooms expressed by the university.

Movement, not expansion

For Pierre Gervais, the situation is explained by a combination of three elements. The overall dimensions of the project are in question. The Sorbonne-Nouvelle was torn apart in several places, and its main site, Censier, was dilapidated and covered in asbestos. But “The Ministry of Finance introduced a building with the same surface to save maintenance costs”, Pierre Gervais remembers. Therefore, in 2013, despite the rapid increase in student demographics and the policy of massification of higher education, it was decided to move a university without expecting a possible increase in students. “During the programming work, the number of rooms was taken by the university and the new campus has 1 and 6% more area than the same number of rooms”, says Jérôme Masclaux, general manager of Epaurif. Budget constraints are partly at the origin of the surface shortage noted today. It is true that land in Paris is very expensive and the cost of the project is currently estimated at 150 million euros.

The allocation of square meters inside the new building has also changed over time. For example, we had to include a university restaurant that was not on the previous site. The university itself has made choices. New buildings designed by the architect Christian de Portzampark, especially the theater, editing rooms, conference rooms with translation booths, etc. “These choices were made before we took office. We don’t regret it, because they’re great equipment, but they’re made to the detriment of classes.”explains Thibaud Harrois, vice president of the university.

Reservations and litigation

The last stumbling block was the implementation of the site, which was delayed for more than two years. If the Rector’s office talks about the normal number of reserves for this type of sites (25,000, all the same), the employees do not count the small errors that have already accumulated and become problems. As the delays continued, the heating system shut down and several offices were flooded when they had to be turned on. There is no water access in the corridors for coffee machines and in the restaurant room for water fountains. More frustratingly, two amphitheatres, including the largest, are unusable due to their 500-seat capacity. “It was a very complex project consisting of 16 lots”, president Jamil Dakhlia notes. The legal dispute is also ongoing.

Jamil Dakhlia, who was elected in 2019, claims to have warned his guardian about the lack of a future place. “I did not have any documents confirming the occupancy rate of the rooms in the old building. My contacts [au rectorat et au ministère] objected to the underutilization of our buildings, The president of the new Sorbonne continues. From our side, the university was not reliable to express more important needs.

A note that is a teasing gift from lecturer and elected CGT Evelyne Payen-Variéras. “There is a systematic distrust of the needs expressed by the workers. We do not take their requests and comments seriously., is sorry. The university’s CHSCT did indeed request an external review in 2016, and its results went in its direction. But he did not convince the ministry and the rector to expand the project.

“The management asked for an extension of the time intervals. Adding more on Mondays and Fridays. In their simulations, courses were held in existing rooms with over 90% occupancy.” For his part, I chose Thierry Fratti, Sgen-CFDT.

“True will speak”

Furthermore, these simulations do not take into account all educational constraints. In the summer, the university administration realizes that there is a shortage of rooms. On July 11, the president then released the distance card. Offers departments to schedule online courses. A possibility rejected by teacher-researchers tired of two years of video lessons due to Covid-19. The Commission on Learning and University Life, which faces the wall, agreed to buy interdisciplinary courses (English, IT) on September 2.

Here, the management team is forced to ask at the last moment what combinations can give their direction in the rented rooms in La Défense at the other end of Paris. Not having an expectation of something going wrong internally. Jamil Dakhlia hopes that these difficulties will last only until the first half, when the buildings are seized, and the “working group” will investigate their real use. It would be premature to say that the campus is under-calibrated for the chancellor: “Universities still need to improve the space management information system. We will observe the actual use of the rooms in the first semester to ensure that there is an adequacy between the places and the number of students. The truth will speak”Benedicte Durand explains.

On the union side, they fear that the problems will go deeper: there are no rooms to conduct individual interviews with students, the school offices are too small to accommodate them during registration… Another problem is that some adjoining rooms belong to the high school. its internal rules prohibit female students from wearing headscarves. The coming weeks will put the beautiful view of the university to the reality test.

This return to school eventually takes place in a tense social environment within the Sorbonne-Nouvelle. In recent years, the General Inspectorate has been sent there twice. Several resignations threaten the proper functioning of administrative services. Long-standing tensions where the president and the unions are not on the same page. In the first case, when the situation is bad, it gets better. Here again, the wall of reality will quickly reveal itself. The mandate of the presidential team ends in 2023 and the elections are approaching. Meanwhile, the unions are calling for a general meeting next Tuesday.

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