As I sat at home this 4th of February reading the rapidly-circulating opinion article regarding the campus blockades that have occurred the past week, I felt the need to draft a proper response. While the article raises some necessary questions as to the effectiveness of the blockades and their impact on the community, the framing of the issue as one in which “Everyone Is Wrong” makes no logical sense considering the situation. The blockade is not some sort of rash action taken by some small group of students high on power, but a calculated decision to take direct action and put tangible pressure on the administration to respond. This article will attempt to serve as a broad response to arguments against the continuation of the blockades, and hopefully will prove that even if we accept the drawbacks as legitimate, the blockades are a necessary move forward in the fight against the protection of an accused domestic abuser as President of a major educational institution.
A central claim of the article is that the administration has now heard the demands of the student body, and thus the blockade is no longer serving a positive purpose as it may have initially. Yes, of course the administration has heard the dissent amongst the student body, yet they still refuse to turn on Vicherat or take substantive action. In this situation, what is necessary is sustained public attention on the issue, to force the issue and ensure that proper action is taken. The blockades provide this, by directly interrupting the operations of the school and causing the administration to make substantial adjustments to their operation. To be annoying and disruptive to the normal operations of Sciences Po is exactly the purpose of the blockades.
Simply put, allowing everything to act as normal allows Vicherat to weather the scandal far easier, permitting him to wait for the heat to die down and retain his position. Some claim Sciences Po’s structure as a company will prevent Vicherat from avoiding scrutiny, but the fight to make companies bend to popular will has been one of the main reasons for protests since the 20th century, and the rationale behind a plethora of social actions. Even if we believe that being a “company” would make them concerned, Sciences Po’s board is staffed by Vicherat’s allies, thus taking him on without societal pressure — in this case, coming from Sciences Po students — is simply not going to happen, as we are seeing now with their lack of response. Despite how idealistic I want to be, if Sciences Po was going to take the initiative to remove Vicherat, it would have already happened by now, as they already received a blow to their reputation by keeping him this long. Their current strategy is in line with this, as they feign openness to dialogue with the collective and other students regarding the issue, but refuse to take any moves of real substance to address the concerns raised. Thus, student pressure is necessary, in a manner that they cannot simply ignore or push to the side.
Yes, the blockades as a strategy have their downsides. Most of the concerns that have been raised are at least partially legitimate and should be addressed. But to disavow the efforts of the blockading students as harmful ignores the lack of alternatives and the consideration the blockaders have already put into their actions here in Reims. The structure of the blockades already has been built around minimizing the impact on the students while retaining the goal of putting pressure on the administration.
Let it be clear that for our campus, the blockades are on a rolling basis. This is done for multiple reasons: in order for campus to remain accessible to those who rely on it, and due to the amount of effort that it takes to erect the blockade and hold position outside. Critiquing the blockade as contradictory to demands for improved services on campus makes no sense, as these protests have not denied access for weeks on end, but only for less than a day at a time, striking a balance between pressuring the administration to respond, and the needs of the students who rely on campus services. The blockaders are not some people on their high horses: they also pay the tuition and are denying access to the physical campus space to all, including themselves.
The tuition argument is understandable. No one wants to hand over thousands of euros, only to be educated in a sub-optimal setting. Yet, if we look beyond the purely educational view, why are students actually attending Sciences Po? I would argue it is for the prestige that is now being tarnished by Vicherat, and for access to a safe and inclusive learning environment, something that the defense of a domestic abuser calls into question, as does the already dubious quality of the available VSS services. In order to ensure these expectations are met during our time here, direct action must be taken against Vicherat’s continued tenure. This is why we have student collectives, to help organize such actions.
Could the organization be better? Of course it could, but they are working with what tools they have access to, compared to the level of revenue the campus receives from all of those diligently paid tuition fees. The students are limited in their resources and should not be expected to run a perfect operation. The administration, however, has the necessary resources and information to meet student demands, but doesn’t seem to care enough to do so. Thus, we as students need to make them care. That is done by the blockade and has worked in the past, when Mion resigned after the blockades put public attention onto his lack of action. That same sort of pressure is necessary to force Vicherat into resigning.
Alternative strategies would be nice, but due to the nature of the situation, the blockade is the only method that forces the administration to adjust, as it prevents the physical space that they control from being accessed. A student strike would be a good concept, however, attempting to organize this with such a tight budget is a difficult feat. Even if successful, all it takes to come crashing down is for students to get tired of the issue, or for Sciences Po to threaten disciplinary action against those with more than two absences.
For many, it doesn’t make sense to have a small group of students deny access to campus for everyone. In reality, small-group tactics offer the optimal ratio of student effort to impact, as most of us are able to simply adapt to the closure of campus, whilst the few doing the blockade put the real effort in. Alternative strategies require efforts from everyone, which is much harder to commit to.
Further, the blockades remain the only action that has a low enough resource cost and high enough impact rate to remain effective. Thus, as people outside of the blockade, the best thing to do is to express support for the blockades, and not complain about the supposed harm they are causing. Expressing strong public support for the blockade’s cause pressures the administration to take the issue seriously, and listen to the concerns of the students they are meant to provide for.
While it makes perfect sense to be annoyed at the spontaneity of the blockades, and to wish there was a better method that had less of an impact on the students, to call them harmful to the community is a rather ignorant view. While the methods may not be perfectly applied, I would rather have direct action taken by a few than sideline the concerns of many. The response of the administration thus far proves the necessity of real, tangible intervention to force our concerns to the forefront of Sciences Po. The organizers are doing the best they can, which is more than anyone else has been able to manage.
If you have a problem with their methods, I encourage you to suggest further alternatives, since there is no disagreement on the overarching goals, only the approach. The impact on the community should of course be considered, but to frame it as the sole consideration in this debate is a naive point of view. There is more to this than how it impacts us as individuals. What is at stake is our collective experience as students of Sciences Po. The actions being taken are not wrong, but necessary.
Vicherat must resign or be removed, and we as students should support the efforts being made to make that happen.