By Celeste Abourjeili.
Students Compensate for Weak Administration
*Many students quoted in this article have decided to remain anonymous to avoid facing repercussions from the administration which have been observed in the past. As the author, I have decided to leave my name on the article and defend my position in spite of the potential consequences.*
For many students, the excitement of being accepted at Sciences Po quickly turned into a self-deprecating humor as the true nature of the school’s administration was revealed. While Sciences Po likens itself to the “Harvard of France,” most students would argue that the Menton administration does not live up to this reputation.
In fact, it seems that students have taken it upon themselves to do the job of administering when possible. The Menton Policy Review, for instance, is an initiative launched by students this year which sends a weekly bulletin to the entire student body on Sunday of each week. The bulletin includes updates about COVID-19 and local policies, news from student associations, and information about school events that pertain to 1As, 2As, and exchange students. However, at most institutions, this information is communicated directly from the school.
Students enrolled in the Sciences Po-Columbia Dual BA, for example, are used to receiving frequent updates about security in France (sometimes several a day) and general information from the Columbia administration—and this is without even having reached the Columbia portion of their education.
The constant slew of emails from Columbia stands in stark contrast to the silence of the Sciences Po administration. Perhaps the lack of administrative prowess comes from the $90,000 difference in tuition between the two institutions. But the staggering prices of American universities should not serve as reference to the rest of the world, especially not in Europe where comparable top universities are considerably cheaper than universities in the US. One would expect €10,000 to at least cover email responses from the school, yet the Menton administration is known for its poor response rate.
When student Ada Baser tested positive for COVID-19 in the middle of finals week, she received a limited response from the administration. “It was incredibly frustrating to be sick while simultaneously trying to get responses from administration regarding my health and taking my finals,” Baser said.
“I can understand the difficulty of managing the school on a limited staff, but a responsive staff would have gone a long way to help a sick student feel at ease.”
The night before the Media in the Middle East seminar was scheduled to begin this semester, students were frantically searching for a Zoom link or information on whether the class would be in-person. “I just emailed the administration [to find out if there is a link], but I don’t expect a response,” an anonymous student said in the group chat that night. The administration responded to tell the student that the class would be online, but did not provide a link. Just 11 hours before the class’s debut, another student messaged in the group chat stating that it was postponed. There had been no formal communication to all the students in the course from the teacher or the administration by this point, and without the student body’s self-support, most would probably have been fooled by their schedule which still displayed the course.
Those students can consider themselves lucky for even having heard any information in advance. For English Track 1As, it became clear that the first Arab Spring seminar course would not be taking place only after it was meant to begin. With no notification from the teacher nor the administration, the student body once again relied on itself to ensure that it wasn’t collectively going crazy.
The very next day, a student singlehandedly notified the entire 1A class that the Sociology lecture scheduled for that day would also be cancelled. When Sociology seminar teacher Isaac Lambert came to class the following week, his whole lesson plan had to be modified on the spot when students told him the first lecture had not occurred — apparently nobody informed him either.
One week later, the night before what should have been the second Sociology lecture, students were once more uncertain whether the class would take place, still having heard nothing from the teacher. A student in the 1A group chat asked, “Is there any info[rmation] on whether or not the Sociology lecture is happening tomorrow?”
While the sense of camaraderie the student body has developed is inspiring, the fact that students regularly turn to each other in desperation instead of simply receiving information and support from the administration is disheartening.
An anonymous student representative commented on this element of self-reliance among the student body. “What shocked me the most was that when a student brought up the fact the administration [is understaffed,] the director, Yasmina, said that we as students could contact unions and try to make the change,” said the student. “It’s frustrating because we are not paid for this, we are not paid to do the administration’s work, and it is shocking that they all know they are understaffed but they don’t do anything about it…. we, the pupils, are the victims.”
Most Sciences Pistes are now accustomed to the shortcomings of the Sciences Po Menton administration and it has become somewhat of a joke among students when the administration is responsible for just about anything.
Course registration in mid-January was no exception — the 1A Facebook Messenger chat exploded on January 12 as many students were unable to sign up for all their classes in the 1-hour allotted time slot, which was not accommodated for students in different time zones.
For some, the issue was that their triplette classes—mandatory core classes—conflicted with their choice of exploratory and art seminars. In many cases this was hard to foresee as course schedules changed just the night before course selection. In other cases, the classes that students were eligible for became full before they could sign up, and they were left with no options that fit into their schedules.
The scheduling conflict was only exacerbated by the fact that students had only two pieces of information to base their choices on: the course name and the time. 1As had no course descriptions to help with their choices and since the seminar classes were all new, 2As, who are the usual source of help, were unavailable. For 2As, course descriptions were made available, but only the night before course registration.
Language registration, which was the responsibility of the students this semester for the first time ever, came with similar shortcomings.
Student Jenna Leguellec said, “I am still not registered…. when I clicked on the languages I needed to register there were no courses at all. I just couldn’t do anything…. I wrote to the admin [immediately] and they never responded to me.”
One student found herself as the only Mentonnaise Sciences Piste in B2 English. Since the school could not make a class for one person in Menton, the student has to take classes with the Paris campus. For the student, this has resulted in many schedule conflicts and they have multiple classes at the same time. “For [the administration] to actually notice that [it] couldn’t put me in B1, I had to call multiple times,” said the student. The small size of the campus may be one struggle that the administration has to tackle, but for many students it is the unresponsiveness that bothers them the most.
Even so, the Sciences Po Menton administration does seem to work for certain students. Lionel Chambon received help from the administration when he lost his power during a storm. “They called me immediately and asked if I was okay, offering the assistance I needed,” Chambon said. The administration also quickly reached out to Chambon when he was sick. “Of course I also have my share of emails that go unanswered, but I was never left alone when I had a serious problem,” he said.
For students like Leander Heblich, the administration also proved to be helpful, but only after persistent effort on his part. “I had an issue as I wanted to register for an anglophone Arabic course, but the only one without schedule conflict was already full when I logged in… I sent three emails throughout the hour of registration. There wasn’t any reply until 2 minutes before the end of registration, when I was told I would have a sufficient language level to follow a class in French.” Heblich explained that, beyond being unable to register for the anglophone class, “the bigger issue was that [by that point] I couldn’t even register for a French one without [a] schedule conflict. I definitely didn’t appreciate our academic advisor’s communication at that moment.”
A few days later, however, the administration resolved Heblich’s problems and he was happy with his course schedule. Even though he “expected more attentiveness in the situation,” Heblich believes that it is not merely the job of one individual faculty member of the administration to improve. “I rather think the university could establish a more anticipated approach to course registration and designate more than one person as an immediate contact, considering that we only have one hour of registration.”
The administration can be incredibly effective and helpful when it wants to be, but its inconsistent work ethic and lack of responsiveness pose major problems for students.
An anonymous student representative said it best: “the administration doesn’t realize how [its] inefficiency affects us because [it is] always late… [it] is stressing us… it’s not a little problem to do everything last minute, it’s actually impacting [the students in Menton] so much.”
At the end of the day, the message from the Mentonnaise Sciences Pistes to their administration is clear: for a school that cares so much about reputation, you could do the bare minimum of responding to your students’ emails.
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