We must defend the autonomy of research and teaching

[Version française ici]

It would be an understatement to say that the reforms imposed on our research system and carried out over the past fifteen years in the name of excellence have not produced the desired effects. Aiming to strengthen France’s international scientific position, they only led to a drop in the number of French publications — the performance indicator chosen by the reformers themselves! No wonder — statistics concerning the assessment of public policy demonstrate that the quantity of scientific publications is proportional to the money invested in research, but that it is practically insensitive to structural reforms. However, over the past fifteen years, the financial effort focused on establishing a tax niche, called the Research Tax Credit, intended to circumvent the European ban on direct public aid to businesses. Yet, the assessment report published by France Stratégie of the impact of the Research Tax Credit is final – its leverage effect on private investment has been… negative.

The reorganization of universities and research centers also have profound systemic effects, which can be observed when one pays attention to the quality of the knowledge produced and transmitted and not just to bibliometric measures. Structural reforms have led to a decline in the quality and demand for scientific production, along with the multiplication of fraud scandals. This institutional crisis of the French academic world is all the more dramatic because it occurs in a phase of social, climatic and democratic crises, the resolution of which can only come from the production, transmission, and preservation of critical knowledge.
Because it is based on the pursuit of truth as a common horizon, science presupposes the autonomy of scientists, researchers and academics, vis-à-vis all forms of power on which its development depends, whether they are political, economic or religious. This academic freedom should not be thought of as an absence of barriers but as a type of positive action guaranteed by effective means. It must therefore start with the reaffirmation of the practical conditions for its autonomy.

The first condition is budgetary: to encourage inventiveness and creation, it is essential to endow research with sustained funding, therefore breaking with the bureaucratic pattern of short-term “calls for projects”, which encourage conformism and incremental research.

The second condition is related to time. To maintain the biodiversity necessary for a thriving research ecosystem, it is necessary to legally guarantee the possibility of long periods of time dedicated for research. The Spencerian selection promoted in the highest spheres of power, based on fragmentation and the generalization of contract-based projects, kills this diversity and supports the qualitative crisis. The solution lies in opening long-term quality recruitments for both research and administrative staff, which are also a condition of attractiveness for junior researchers, so that the system can flourish with new ideas and aspirations.

The third condition is to reduce the fragmentation of scholarly work, and to prevent by all means the separation between those carrying out the assessment work, namely managers close to power, and dispossessed researchers and academics, who have become mere executors. This separation is the strict definition of a bureaucracy. It is essential to carry out an audit of all these assessment structures which have been piling up one on top of the other for the fifteen years and to quantify their operating costs in order to re-channel the financial and human resources and eliminate unnecessary or even harmful layers.

In terms of practices, the originality and strength of scientific productions have been assessed and guaranteed for centuries by one standard, which is collegial controversy, the disputatio of the classics, namely contradictory and free discussion within a community of peers. This principle of social gratification based on the recognition of the intellectual value of work, cannot be reduced to a managerial “evaluation”, the foundations of which are based on a system of external quantitative standards, determined by the interests of investors. These external standards quickly cease to be a simple measure and become the objective to be achieved. In reality, we should be clear that it is incumbent upon any monitoring, recruitment or promotion committee to base their deliberations and evaluations after having read the work presented, and not after having computed figures. For this to be feasible and cogent, the number of works submitted for examination must be drastically reduced.

Finally, the autonomy of the academic world requires the re-establishment of demanding scientific probation standards, taking into account the specificities of our day and age. There is an urgent need for research communities to restore their control of scientific journals, and to oust the publishing oligopoly on which the current evaluation policies are based technically and economically.

To carry out these reforms, we are running for the presidency of the institution in charge of defining the standards and procedures that regulate, organize and determine scholarly production, namely the Hcéres. Our collective candidacy aims to reestablish the principles of autonomy and responsibility of the researchers who make science. There cannot be a separate administration endowed with a “president” to supervise these practices. It is the whole of the scientific community who must preside over the qualitative evaluation of its production.

Without independent research, we have no future. 

Names of the first hundred participants

Emmanuel Agullo, informatique, INRIA | Bruno Andreotti, physique, Université Paris 7 | Dominique Archambault, informatique, Université Paris 8-Vincennes-Saint-Denis  | Pierre Arnoux, mathémathiques, Aix-Marseille Université | Isabelle Backouche, histoire, EHESS | Anne-Sophie Beignon, biologie, CNRS, CEA/INSERM/Univ. Paris-Saclay | Olivier Berné, astrophysique, CNRS, Observatoire Midi-Pyrénées | Bertrand Binoche, philosophie,Université Paris 1 | Yann Bisiou, droit privé, Université Paul Valéry – Montpellier 3 | Alexis Blanchet, sciences de l’information et de la communication, Université Sorbonne nouvelle Paris 3 | François Bon, archéologie, Université de Toulouse Jean Jaurès | François Boulogne, physique, CNRS, Université Paris-Saclay | Catherine Bourgain, génétique humaine, INSERM | Guillaume Bridet, lettres, Université de Bourgogne | Mathieu Brunet, lettres, Université d’Aix-Marseille | Yann Bugeaud, mathématiques, Université de Strasbourg | Mathilde Carpentier, bioinformatique, Sorbonne Université | Antoine Chambert-Loir, mathématiques, Université de Paris | Francis Chateauraynaud, sociologie, EHESS | Guillaume Coqui, philosophie, université de Bourgogne | Fanny Cosandey, histoire, EHESS | Sandrine Costamagno, archéologie, CNRS, Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès | François-Xavier Coudert, chimie, CNRS | Françoise Crémoux, études hispaniques, Université de Paris 8 | Gabriella Crocco, philosophie, Université d’Aix-Marseille | Pascal David, physique, Université Paris Diderot | Steeves Demazeux, philosophie, Université Bordeaux-Montaigne | Pascale Dubus, histoire de l’art, Université Paris 1  | Sébastien Dutreuil, philosophie, CNRS, Centre Gilles Gaston Granger.  | Florence Elias, physique, Université de Paris | Marianne Elias, biologie evolutive, CNRS, Paris | Estelle Forey, écologie, Université de Rouen | Jean-Louis Fournel, études italiennes/histoire de la pensée politique, Université de Paris 8 | Sara Franceschelli, épistémologie, ENS de Lyon | Claudia Fritz, acoustique, Sorbonne Université et CNRS | Nelly Frossard, pharmacologie, Université de Strasbourg | Fanny Gallot, historienne, Université Paris Est Créteil. | Jean-Luc Galzi, pharmacologie, Université de Strasbourg | Stéphane Gançarski, informatique, Sorbonne Université | Laurence Giavarini, lettres, Université de Bourgogne | Pierre Gilliot, physique, Université de Strasbourg | Julien Gossa, informatique, Université de Strasbourg | François Graner, physique, Université de Paris Diderot | Elie Haddad, histoire, CNRS/ EHESS | Jacques Haiech, biologie, Université de Strasbourg | Hugo Harari-Kermadec, économiste, ENS Paris-Saclay | Sarah Hatchuel, cinéma et audiovisuel, Université Paul Valéry Montpellier III | Myriam Housssay-Holzschuch, géographie, université Grenoble-Alpes | Philippe Huneman, philosophie, CNRS/Paris I | Yacine Iklef, physique, CNRS / Sorbonne Université | Sabina Issehnane, économie, Université Paris Diderot | Vincent Jacques, physique, Université Paris Saclay | Sophie Jallais, économie, Université Paris 1 | Chantal Jaquet, philosophie, Université Paris 1 | Philippe Jarne, écologie & évolution, CNRS, Montpellier | François Jarrige, histoire, Université de Bourgogne | Solenne Jouanneau, science politique, IEP de Strasbourg | Arne Keller, physique, Université Paris Saclay | Benoît Kloeckner, mathématiques, Université Paris-Est Créteil | Joël Laillier, sociologie, Université d’Orléans | Jérôme Lamy, histoire et sociologie, CNRS, UT2J | Sylvain Laurens, sociologie, EHESS | Guillaume Lecointre, systématique, Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle | Jacques Le Bourlot, physique, Université Paris-Diderot & Observatoire de Paris | Nathalie Lidgi-Guigui, sciences des matériaux, Université Sorbonne Paris Nord | Olivier Long, arts plastiques, Université Paris 1 | Jean-Marie Maillard, physique, CNRS et Sorbonne Université | Corinne Maitte, histoire, Université de Marne-la-Vallée | Christine Marcandier, lettres, Aix-Marseille Université | François Marchal, paléoanthropologie, CNRS, AMU, EFS | Christophe Martin, Littérature, Sorbonne Université | François Massol, écologie, CNRS | Hélène Michel, science politique, Université de Strasbourg | Monica Michlin, études américaines contemporaines, Université Paul Valéry Montpellier 3  | Christophe Mileschi, études italiennes, Université Paris Nanterre | Pérola Milman, physique, CNRS/Université de Paris.  | Guillaume Miquelard-Garnier, science des matériaux, Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers | Pierre-Yves Modicom, linguistique germanique, Bordeaux-Montaigne | François Munoz, écologie, Université Grenoble-Alpes | Magali Nachtergael, lettres, Université Sorbonne Paris Nord | Antonine Nicoglou, philosophie, Université de Tours | Christine Noille, lettres, Sorbonne Université | Georges Orfanoudakis, biologie, Université de Strasbourg | Hervé Perdry, génétique humaine, Université Paris-Saclay | Joël Pothier, bioinformatique, Sorbonne Université | Emmanuelle Porcher, écologie, Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle | Dominique Pradelle, philosophie, Sorbonne Université et CNRS | Sophie Rabau, littérature générale et comparée, Université de Paris 3 Sorbonne Nouvelle | Christelle Rabier, histoire des sciences et des techniques, EHESS | Bertrand Rémy, mathématiques, École polytechnique | Frédéric Restagno, physique, CNRS et Université Paris-Saclay | Emmanuelle Rio, physique, Université Paris-Saclay | Dinah Ribard, histoire, EHESS | Antoine Roullet, histoire, CNRS | Marine Roussillon, lettres, Université d’Artois | Sophie Sacquin-Mora, biochimie, CNRS | Arnaud Saint-Martin, sociologie, CNRS | Johanna Siméant-Germanos, science politique, ENS | Barbara Stiegler, philosophie, Université Bordeaux Montaigne | Isabelle Théry-Parisot, bioarchéologie, CNRS, Université Côte d’Azur | Christian Topalov, sociologie, EHESS | Jean-Louis Tornatore, anthropologie, Université de Bourgogne | Nicolas Valdeyron, archéologie, Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès  | Boris Valentin, archéologie, Université Paris 1 | Franck Varenne, philosophie, Université de Rouen | Nicolas Verzelen, mathématiques, INRAE | Guy Zuber, chimie, Université de Strasbourg.

Extended list of the 5418 participants to the collective candidacy