Minister blocks top appointment at elite institute

France’s Higher Education and Research Minister Geneviève Fioraso has blocked the appointment of a provisional director of the elite Institute of Political Science, known as Sciences Po.

Her action followed the official publication on Thursday of a damning report by the Cour des Comptes – the state auditor – on the financial management of the institute, and the auditor’s decision to refer matters to the state Budget and Finance Disciplinary Court.

The provisional report was leaked in October to the newspaper Le Monde. At that time Fioraso pointed out that the findings were provisional and said she would wait for the definitive version before taking any decisions or action.

However, against her instructions the two governing bodies – the board of directors, whose president is Michel Pébereau, and the Fondation National des Sciences Politiques, headed by Jean-Claude Casanova – went ahead and appointed Hervé Crès as provisional administrator on 30 October.

Crès had been the deputy of the former director, Richard Descoings, and had taken over as acting head of Sciences Po after Descoings’death in April.

Within the institute, tensions and criticisms of Crès’ appointment surfaced at a general meeting called by some lecturers and students on 14 November, when the resignations of Casanova, Pébereau and Crès were called for.

Fioraso said the final report, Sciences Po: Une forte ambition, une gestion défaillante, confirmed the “anomalies and malfunctions” at Sciences Po, and it would not be appropriate for the Crès appointment to continue.

Within a few days, after consultations with the presidents of the two boards, she would name a new provisional administrator.

The minister concluded her statement: “I very much hope the conditions for a smooth functioning will be restored, appropriate to the acknowledged quality of Sciences Po.

“In this spirit, I am therefore asking everyone to contribute to the success of the reforms, and I assure the students and their families of my attention so conditions for success are guaranteed during this transition period.”

Following its findings of “recurring management irregularities” during the years 2005-11, the Cour des Comptes has decided to open the way for proceedings before the state financial jurisdiction, the Budget and Finance Disciplinary Court, which can impose penalties. No individuals have yet been named.