By Gianmaria Amodeo
Let’s all be honest, nobody ever thought that the Undergraduate College at Sciences Po was perfect. Like anything relatively new, adjustments were needed to be put in place. However, many among its faculty and students have been critical of the new reform of the undergraduate program and the unsettling changes which have taken place at the Campus of Reims. Despite the alleged neutrality of these adjustments, undoubtedly they created a substantial deal of uncertainty for students and they contributed to the overall perceived worsening of campus relationship with its administration.
Sciences Po – LSE Dilemma?
Undoubtedly, Sciences Po’s Undergraduate College campuses showed evident discrepancies in terms of their pedagogical content. This was somehow slowing down Sciences Po’s ambitions to make its way to the top tier of the big undergraduate programs in the social sciences. However, the question could have been dealt with in a different manner, by avoiding the jeopardization of what the Euro-American Campus in Reims had been building for the good of its students and faculty. Even so, during the brief experiment of the regional campuses at Sciences Po Paris, the idea of a geopolitical area study campus within a broader social sciences program was very popular among high school candidates. Scrolling through the web, one can see frequent questions asking for suggestions on whether to choose the Sciences Po or LSE undergraduate programs. Critics may argue that Sciences Po has a better social aid program, hence chances are that a dilemma arises in terms of financing education in the social sciences, because life in London costs the earth (would Paris be cheaper?). Nonetheless, what was really made the future top social sciences candidate vacillate between the two was that LSE did not have the same global multicultural flavor that Sciences Po has.
The New Reform and the Disappearance of the Regional Focuses
Now the new Dean of the Undergraduate College of Sciences Po has recently affirmed that Sciences Po will maintain its regional focus but that it is not a university for area studies. I have never heard of an undergraduate program completely dedicated to area studies. Middle East and North African Studies, North-American Studies, European Studies, are typical courses found in American colleges of arts and sciences. Nowadays, global society requires students of social sciences to examine global issues which not only are interdependent on a multidisciplinary level but also specific to certain regional problems. This ultimately contributes to the increasing awareness that in order to examine global issues, from Business Administration to International Affairs, one needs to begin from understanding how particular problems are different around the globe.
This is the only information available from the page of the Undergraduate College of Sciences Po. Looking at the courses we may see how the regional focus is immediately lost in the process of harmonizing Sciences Po’s regional campuses programs. In 2015 the first semester provided solid foundations in the basic social sciences subjects of Law, Economics, History and Political Science, adding an Anglo-Saxon flavour to Sciences Po’s commitment to the five social sciences by introducing topics in Transatlantic history and offering a broad base of electives. Under the current system the five social sciences are mixed together in new multidisciplinary subjects under broad titles. The strong foundation in Political Theory, which is widely held to be fundamental to the understanding of Political Science, International Relations, Economic Theory, Sociology and Philosophy of Law, now has been replaced by the less serious “Evils in Politics” course. Will new Sciences Pistes learn how to use their jedi-powers?
Better Reforms Were Possible…
So why instead of weaken, not strengthen the regional focus? What the past academic director of the Euram program did was to blend two worlds and put them into dialogue. What was special about Sciences Po was the feeling that building bridges was possible, or at least necessary, for a solid global undergraduate education.
So what are the elements that could have been improved within the old framework? First of all, increasing the presence of a permanent faculty. The relationship between students and professors should not to be sporadic, especially during undergraduate years, when students need mentors rather than teachers. The expansion of the Reims Campus would have been the best occasion for starting to establish such a permanent faculty. Building a bigger, more independent library, area studies research centers where a hand of scholars could have carried research in the area study of the campus, and small amenities for student and faculty could have attracted attention to Reims, a city which for non-French and French alike is sometimes not appealing. Secondly, creating a harmonized undergraduate college is possible without destroying the integrity of the subjects of study and the focus of interest. For instance, from the five core social sciences let’s draw a set of possible subjects which could create a common foundation in first year and contribute to the newly multidisciplinary majors of the Sciences Po bachelor’s program in Economy and Society, Political Humanities and Politics and Government. Moreover, certain courses, such as math and electives could be considered as prerequisites towards obtaining multidisciplinary majors. At least Calculus 1 would be required for the major in Economy and Society, “Statistics” for Politics and Government, and what about devoting the winter school to methods of research in Economics, Political Science or Sociology, by bringing some of Sciences Po’s famous researchers to teach hard skills to its students?
The new reforms taking place in Reims are out of touch with the history of Sciences Po in recent years. Its ambition is to rival other top social sciences institutions, but the new framework will chain the undergraduate college to an increasingly French approach with its prépa-oriented triplette. The new reform fails to consider the human side of Sciences Po as it does not address the lack of permanent faculty at the university. Some of the doctoral students teaching in Reims are encountering growing difficulties with their job in Reims such as achieving a permanent position after years of teaching or just getting used to the Rémois lifestyle. This has a great impact on the quality of teaching on the campus and appears in stark contradiction with the new “learning citizenship and giving back” philosophy. What is Sciences Po giving back to its doctoral students and research faculty, as well as international students that put faith in this French institution?
Sciences Po Paris looks as it is out of its right mind as far as the administration of its Undergraduate Colleges is concerned; the positive aspects of the reform are being overwhelmingly overtaken by its incoherences.
Gianmaria Amodeo is a third year student at Sciences Po Campus of Reims currently on his exchange year at Northwestern University.