What will Sciences Po Paris “town hall” look like?

When it comes to activism, Sciences Po students have their eyes on America. On Wednesday, April 24, the Palestinian Committee protested the Israeli intervention in Gaza by pitching tents on the lawns of the IEP. A method New York students from Columbia are used to. After a day of blocking last Friday, these activists got the administration to organize a “town hall.” This public meeting will be held on Thursday, May 2 at 10:15 am at the Émile Boutmy IEP amphitheater.

“Town Halls” are part of America’s purest democratic tradition. During these “meetings,” America’s elected officials respond directly to their constituents on local and national issues. Following the pattern of these meetings, Sciences Po students wanted to publicly debate their IEP management.

“No Banner or Flag” Debate

After adopting the “town hall” principle, Sciences Po Paris, which uses the American term in its communication, wanted to set the conditions. In an email to students, Jean Bassère, the school’s administrator, said a confrontation would occur “in accordance with the classical rules of debate”. “No banners, flags or slogans”, “with limited talk time for each hit” and accessible to students “Within the limit of available seats”. He adds that there will have to be changes “French”specifying that it will be possible “ask questions in English.”

During the meeting, the administration announced to the five Sciences Po student organizations (Nova, Solidaires Student.es, Student Union, UNI and Unef) that they would be allocated three minutes of speaking time, each in turn. The floor will then be given to the assembly, which will have free questions.

Only members of Sciences Po Paris (students, staff and faculty) can participate in the debate, which will last two hours. The event arouses great interest in the student community. According to Maxime Pontey, Syndicat Nova’s representative at Sciences Po – an organization that aims to be apolitical – the places offered to participate online “were gone in 13 minutes”.

Partnership at the center of the debate

During the debate, Sciences Po will have to answer several allegations. As stated in a leaflet in Le Figaro’s possession, at the time of the blockade the activists asked in particular: “an immediate halt to disciplinary proceedings against pro-Palestinian students”. The administration has already partially complied with this request. In an email sent on April 26, she announced to students “suspension of recommendations (…) started from April 17.” However, other procedures are still ongoing before this date. And students could prioritize their cancellations over demands.

But the next request will not be processed. This applies “an investigation into the school’s partnership with universities and organizations supporting the State of Israel”. The Palestinian Committee specifically demands that the institution sever all or part of its ties with Israeli universities. A decision that Sciences Po categorically rejects. In an interview with Le Monde newspaper, Jean Bassère stated: “I see that when I talk to our academics, they say how important these partnerships are and that it would be harmful to stop them. I’m ready to explain my position, but I’m not going to give up on these partnerships.

Towards new blockades?

Most trade unions at Sciences Po view the organization of the debate favorably. “We believe that canceling the partnership would be a mistake. Sciences Po is not an embassy and may not systematically take a position, explains Maxime Pontey from Nova. But we understand that some say otherwise and that they can argue about it. The student union, a union close to France’s Insoumise, which supports the blockades, hopes “that management will respond to legitimate questions from students.” “We want all issues to be addressed without taboos so we can move forward together”declared the Le Figaro organization.

However, according to Quentin Coton of the right-wing union UNI, there remains a misunderstanding about the purpose of the debate. “During Monday’s meeting, members of the Palestinian committee did not understand that it would primarily serve to exchange positions and not to make decisions.”, the student explains. An alleged misunderstanding that could lead to new blockades in the coming days. “During the meeting, the Palestinian Committee and Solidaire students indicated that if no decision is reached, the IEP should ”accept the consequences” », Quentin Coton reports. And to add: “Everybody knows very well what that means.”

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