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(en) France, UCL AL #316 - Antipatriarchy, Agathe Keller, on harassment at university: "impunity has made them enterprising" (ca, de, it, fr, pt)[machine translation]

Date Tue, 4 May 2021 10:58:08 +0300

In 2018, the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation commissioned an investigation with the General Inspectorate for Education, Sport and Research (IGÉSR), after being referred to by the President of the University of Paris (merger in 2019 of the universities of Paris-Descartes, Paris-Diderot and the Institut de physique du globe de Paris). ---- The latter followed a movement of grouped complaints filed a few months earlier by members of the Department of Psychoanalytic Studies of the UFR Institute Humanities, Sciences and Societies (IHSS), relating to sexual and moral harassment and implicating several members. of this department, including the director of the UFR himself. Since then, the university tries somehow to bury the case. Agathe Keller, member of the intersyndicale for the National Union of Scientific Research Workers (SNTRS-CGT) recounts.

Alternative Libertaire: How can you explain the impunity with which the attackers were able to act within the university for many years ?

Agathe Keller : The stories of blackmail and sexual harassment at the origin of the investigation by the General Inspectorate of Education, Sport and Research (IGÉSR) have existed for a very long time within the university, higher education and research, as elsewhere in society. According to the testimonies we have gathered (and which are undoubtedly in the IGESR investigation, but we do not have access to it), it would seem that the abuses of power were often exercised on very fragile and isolated, especially foreign students who came to Paris to study.

So the question would probably be the other way around: how is it that in the end we ended up knowing something? I believe that impunity has made some enterprising, to the point of attacking not only weakened students but also a post-doctoral student, a lecturer in post, less inclined to let it go. And then the gender equality pole of the former Paris-VII University was very active, and the #MeToo atmosphere must have played a role.

Finally, there was the suicide of a former student of the department, in 2017, who threw herself into the Seine with her thesis, in front of the university. All of this seems to have catalyzed the desire to file a criminal complaint, then testify to the number of abuses that existed in this department - abuse that was not just sexual, and that the university had known well and for a long time - to compel the presidency Act.

What explains the inaction of the university and its lack of support for victims ?

Agathe Keller : It's a real question, she keeps asking us questions. To revolt us too. We can answer in terms of the university's internal policy: that the successive presidencies have been strongly supported by this department and therefore have in return protected it, by covering what was happening there. The stories of sexual assault that have leaked out are just the tip of the iceberg of a more systemic dysfunction of the department and the laboratory associated with it.

It is a more global system of abuse of power which is also based on a deviation from university democracy; with questionable operation, particularly in terms of recruitments. On this scale, perhaps the university could be considered criminally responsible. She would therefore seek to cover up the affair ...

But when you see the governance of the current presidency, you wonder if in fact, in truth, it just doesn't care. As long as it doesn't tarnish her image, that we don't talk about it, we just have the impression that she doesn't care.

How do the students and staff experience the situation ?

Agathe Keller : Very, very badly. The current health situation is obviously not helping. But nothing, absolutely nothing, despite the recommendations of the IGESR, has been put in place to help the victims. Those who have had the courage to testify, to resist, or to speak out in protest are placarded when it comes to personnel, and have been threatened when it comes to students, who are worried about being able to secure their diplomas, their scholarships... and to be sued for defamation.

But since the beginning of the year that has changed a bit, a new collective legal action has just been launched. The former director of the department has posted a site where he accuses these colleagues at length and by name of having lied about him. They decided to sue him for libel together. This union in action has revived everyone a bit.

What was the action of trade unions and trade unionists in this affair ?

Agathe Keller : First of all historically, one of the harassed was an elected SNESUP. She was a well-known voice of dissent in the lab. It had already been followed by elected officials of the university's CHSCT, who had therefore for a long time alerted and relayed the dysfunctions of this department. I got into the story after the investigation.

When I had the opportunity to meet a group of students and staff mobilized but scared by legal proceedings, I thought of an inter-union both as a lever and as a shield. Leverage so that people outside the UFR and even the university are interested in this story. Shield, to denounce facts without being afraid of legal proceedings. Support from the unions took a long time to put in place, but in the end, the distribution of our leaflet gave us all strength.

In conjunction with the elected officials of the CHSCT, this really gave weight to the collective's demands. The joint reflection with elected officials and seasoned activists on the actions to be taken, the demands to be made, has been invaluable and a source of hope. The stake now is twofold. There is an institutional part: we have to find a way to break the system, to rebuild the UFR.

We are here at a time of crisis, with a standoff between the presidency of the university, the directorates of the components, the staff and the students around the organization of elections ; we have to fight to make the need for democratic procedures heard from below. On the other hand, it is a matter of supporting victims who so wish, both in their personal trajectories and in legal proceedings. In both cases, we would very much like to have the support of the central unions, to see !

Interview by Lucie (UCL Amiens)

Contacted by email on March 19, 2021, the University of Paris did not respond to our request for an interview on this subject.

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