“Last week, we saw an escalation which put Sciences Po at the heart of a political battle in this country,” the Dean of the Paris School of International Affairs (PSIA) Arancha Gonzalez said, addressing students during a “town hall” assembly on Monday, March 18. “Let’s accept that Sciences Po, which has always been a political object, has now become a political target in the elections to the European Parliament in June.” 

Gonzalez and Vice Dean Mark Maloney held the Town Hall meeting in response to recent events including student activism regarding Palestine, the university’s stance on Palestine, ongoing investigations into student conduct, statements made by French public figures about Sciences Po, and  the abrupt closure of the Paris campus buildings on March 14 after French police banned a pro-Palestine protest planned to be held near Sciences Po’s campus.

The town hall meeting was held in Amphitheatre Boutmy from 17:45 to 18:45. Gonzales opened the town hall with prepared statements addressing the various controversies before opening the floor to students’ statements, concerns, and questions

At 18:20 the same evening, the deans and other high-ranking Sciences Po faculty released a statement to “express in the strongest terms [their] indignation at the unannounced visit of the French Prime Minister at the Board of Directors meeting of the FNSP on 13 March 2024.” They further expressed that “Allusions to a possible ‘takeover’ of [Sciences Po] during the 13 March Board of Directors meeting blatantly call into question the commitment to this fundamental principle [of academic freedom].” The statement goes on to denounce “false information and often politically opportunistic discussion surrounding […] the occupation of Emile Boutmy lecture hall by students on 12 March.”

Students speak out about Sciences Po’s public communications 

At the town hall, some students expressed that they felt “thrown under the bus” by the administration’s handling of recent events, and that Sciences Po had not done enough to protect them, even putting them at risk by spreading misinformation. “I want an explanation as to why this was made within 24 hours without speaking to both sides. Why wasn’t an internal investigation held first? Second of all, why was it publicized on your Instagram?” one student said. “Are you aware of the effect this is having on students who are already subject to hate speech online, attacks, and defamation?”

The student continued: “There are two facts that are going around in the media that are completely defamatory and untrue: Number one, that students here have any connection to a terrorist organization, which should have been refuted by the university to protect its students. Number two, that this conference prohibited the presence of Jewish students which was not true. Whatever happened with this one isolated incident, we all know that there were Jewish speakers and students attending.” The student concluded by demanding clarification from the administration: “Why has the university not refuted these two facts in the media, and why have you not defended your students? Why have you thrown us under the bus to be absolutely ravaged by the media in this response when you know it’s not true?” 

Another student referenced a comment by essayist Chloé Morin criticizing Sciences Po students on CNEWS. “Many of us listened to, and read, respected figures of French politics saying that the original problem at Sciences Po is that 50 percent of their students are international,” the student said. “We come here to study, we come here to learn, we appreciate French culture, we appreciate what this country and Europe have to offer, and it’s very sad to be targeted as an international student in that way… As a general note, we felt that Sciences Po did not defend us in that way.” At the time of this student’s comment, the statements from the PSIA deans had not yet been released. 

In response, the deans acknowledged the politicization of the investigations and the exaggerated media coverage surrounding the incident, implying that some unnamed political actors were using the March 12 events as an opportunistic political tool. They went on to warn students to be cautious about their actions and statements. “As students are being portrayed as antisemitic, let me tell you, professors are being portrayed as islamo-gauchistes… Let me tell you that all of this is a gross exaggeration in the middle of a political battle. Let’s try not to fall into that trap,” Gonzalez said. 

Campus closure on March 14

Gonzalez shared that she was taken by surprise by the decision to close campus, and that she was not involved in that decision. “As for what happened on Thursday: Let me tell you that I was miffed because I was sitting with the finance minister of Somalia in a room and I couldn’t leave the building, so I feel your pain. I asked what had happened, why do I have to open the door with my badge to let the guy exit when he is a dignitary visiting this university? I was told that the police sent us a warning that ‘this may get hot,’” Gonzalez said. “Now, they didn’t close the door without informing all of us, I just was not checking my email, so I got the same surprise that you did.”

Concerns about the campus shutdown and heightened police presence near campus on March 14 were also voiced, with students expressing their frustration about how the incident was handled. “On the day of the rally that happened [March 14], there were rumors that far-right groups were going to come to the rally and there was going to be violence. If violence had broken out, do people realize that Sciences Po students would have had nowhere to go?”  one student asked. “Please provide a clear answer on how the administration made the decision for campus to be shut down, what was the cause, and where do we go?”

The deans responded to student concerns at the town hall, stating they are very concerned about student safety, but stating that their responsibility for student safety does not extend beyond the walls of the school. 

“I want to tell you that police outside of Sciences Po is not the responsibility of Sciences Po. So, when there is a demonstration outside of the walls of Sciences Po, the responsibility is the city of Paris or the Ministry of the Interior. They decide the level of risk, and they decide on the level of police presence around campus,” Gonzalez said. “In [campus] is at the discretion of Sciences Po. So outside of our campus, authorizations to demonstrate, denial to demonstrate, protection or lack thereof, is not in our hands. What is in our hands is to make sure that those that are making us safe outside, do precisely that, and are courteous. And if they are not, and some of you have brought to our attention that some of them have not been courteous, it’s our obligation to bring it to [their] attention, which we have.” 

Ongoing investigations and student activism

During the town hall, the PSIA deans confirmed once again the existence of two ongoing investigations into student conduct surrounding the events of March 12: a legal investigation conducted by the French Public Prosecutor, and an internal, Sciences Po administration-led investigation into student conduct. 

“We have an obligation to investigate any question that is brought to our attention that has prima facie evidence of violation of the rules of Sciences Po… A complaint is not a statement of right or wrong, it is a statement of facts that we are to investigate, which is what’s happening right now.” Gonzalez said. “Now in addition to this, there is a request from the government to the procureur de la République. It’s up to the procureur de la République to decide what he does with this. On that, we have no say. We have a say on the cases that are brought to us, which by our own statutes, we are obliged to investigate, Gonzalez said. “Unless proven guilty, people are presumed innocent. An investigation has been opened and we will see what happens.” 

One student questioned Sciences Po’s communications policies, particularly in reference to an email sent to the entire institution on March 13, 2024, at 21:28 which stated that “Sciences Po is referring the case to the Public Prosecutor (le procureur de la République) for acts of an anti-semetic nature.” As stated by the student, “One thing we haven’t gotten a clear answer to is the issue of an accusation being presented as a fact in an email sent by Sciences Po, in an email that was only sent in French and was an accusation. There is an investigation, which means there is no conclusion on what happened, but this email presents this instance as a fact of antisemitism. And with that, put Sciences Po students at risk.” 

The Deans also attempted to clarify the bounds of accepted protest on campus. “At Sciences Po, students are free to express their views…but always within three conditions: that you respect each other, that you accept a plurality of views, and that the rules of this house are not breached – in particular as regards to common spaces,” Gonzalez said. “You don’t need authorization to protest. You need authorization to occupy a space which was used for something else.”

PSIA’s stance on Palestine 

On the subject of Palestine and student activism regarding the topic, Gonzalez opened the session by acknowledging the “killing of thousands of innocent citizens, women and children, many of them as a response to the Hamas attack on the 7th of October” She added that as an individual, she shares students’ anger at the injustice of violent conflict in the region, while as a PSIA dean she cannot take a stance. 

The first student to speak called for “a minute of silence for the 31,000 murdered, 8,000 lost in the rubble, 70,000 injured or maimed, and 2 million displaced in Gaza that Sciences Po’s administration has refused to give.” The students in the room stood, holding two fingers in the air to symbolize peace, and the room was silent. 

The student said:

Our demands remain the same: We want a university-wide minute of silence to commemorate the Palestinian victims and an acknowledgement of the genocide; Sciences Po’s public recognition and denunciation of Israel’s severe violations of international law in Palestine; Sciences Po’s sentiments of support to Palestinians and other students; and the end of Sciences Po’s unjustified repression and marginalization of March 12 peaceful protesters, and a public statement of solidarity with its students, unbiased academic material on the history of Palestine and the most pressing current international events in the form of courses, lectures, conferences, and more. 

Another student criticized Sciences Po’s treatment of the Palestinian cause, comparing it to the university’s public stances on other issues. “Sciences Po’s stance towards Palestinian and other affected communities at Sciences Po, when contrasted with the institution’s swift action to support other identities in this crisis, highlights a clear pattern of discrimination, unequal treatment, and neglect,” the student said. 

The student continued, citing examples of past university statements on political turmoil and asking again for Sciences Po to call for a ceasefire. “Notably, Sciences Po promptly reached out to Israeli students following the events of October 7, organized support for Ukrainian students at the onset of the war in February 2022, and even observed moments of silence for Israel, for Morocco, for Syria and Turkey, and called for ceasefires in various global conflicts. The absence of equivalent gestures towards Palestinians, despite all the evidence of genocide unfolding before our eyes in Gaza, speaks volumes, and reveals the conditional approach to empathy and support seemingly influenced by geopolitical biases or the convenience and cost to Sciences Po’s administration. How many more days need to go by before Sciences Po realizes the urgency and severity of the issue? How many more Palestinians need to be killed before Sciences Po acknowledges the ongoing genocide and calls for a ceasefire?”

The deans addressed the demands by stating that Sciences Po was unlikely to openly support a ceasefire. “Will Sciences Po come out with a statement calling for a ceasefire? Very unlikely. Our experience is that Sciences Po should not take a stance on every right and wrong that happens in the world, that Sciences Po should care about the rights and the wrongs that happen on what is our core business,” Gonzalez said. “As an individual, not as a dean of Sciences Po… I have already said what I think on the ceasefire, and I said this on week two after the October attacks. As the Dean of Sciences Po, I have no opinion on this matter,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez also addressed the double standard between Ukraine and Palestine and announced a program of support for students in Gaza. “Yes, it is true we have done something for Ukraine that we have not done for Palestine… What I asked on Friday from the COMEX [Comité Exécutif] was that Sciences Po put together a program of support to students in Gaza and the West Bank who are impacted by the situation on the ground. The good news is that the University has accepted… Thank you, your numerous messages to this effect helped me make this case with Sciences Po. I do hope that we can soon send a communication to all of you announcing that the program is set up,” Gonzalez said.

As of March 26, no announcements to Sciences Po students regarding a program of support have been made. 

While some students expressed gratitude to PSIA for holding the town hall, students also expressed that they will continue to mobilize and pressure the Sciences Po administration. One student announced that a student union-organized “general assembly” was to be held the next evening on March 19. 

“We would like to make it clear that this meeting does not absolve Sciences Po’s central administration from answering us directly, nor will it lessen our determination to see our demands met. We have communicated them to the central administration directly and have not received a single reply. We will continue our pressure and mobilization until our demands are met and satisfied,” a student said. 

The town hall ended with a chorus of “on est là” followed by some students chanting:

“Sciences Po, Sciences Po, you can’t hide, 

You’re supporting genocide.” 



Other posts that may interest you: