Wednesday, February 28, 2007


From the Chronicle:

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin presided over the inauguration last week of the Paris School of Economics, a new institution that its founders hope will eventually rival economics powerhouses like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the London School of Economics and Political Science.

The new institution was formed through the collaboration of six existing French universities and research institutions, including the prestigious École Normale Supérieure and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, or National Center for Scientific Research. All six partner institutions are public, but the new institution will be run by a newly created private foundation.

The school's semiprivate status is such a rarity in France that a special government decree was required to create the foundation to run it. The status will give the new institution more flexibility in hiring and firing, admissions, and day-to-day operations. Almost all French universities are public and therefore subject to the same regulations that govern other public-sector institutions. That model "makes it very cumbersome and gives universities a very low margin of maneuver," said Claudia Senik, a professor of economics at the Sorbonne who also teaches at the new institution. "It's very difficult to hire people, and is not very efficient."

[...]The Paris School's semiprivate status will also free it from some restrictions that public institutions find burdensome.[...] In another departure for a French university, the new institution will prioritize fund-raising from the outset. The government has given $26-million to start an endowment, but that capital will remain untouched, Ms. Senik said. Private donors, including the European insurance giant AXA, have also given a total of $5.3-million, and the institution hopes to raise an additional $53-million by 2010. "The idea is to build an important endowment so as to be able to function with the interest and to be sure that we can make long-term offers to people," Ms. Senik said.

The snark would be easy here; but I think it should be skipped. It's good news for France, French higher education, and French intellectual life. That a new commitment to the study of economics also corresponds with a discovery that private institutions have advantages, French regulations can be burdensome, etc., feels like it ought to be ironic but it's really not. Cheers for the PSE, and best wishes for its success.

Here is The Paris School of Economics website. Right away one notices a difference from other French institutions: The Paris School of Economics actually shows up on the top of the page as one of the institution's names, along with l'Ecole d'économie de Paris. The institution plans to develop programs in public policy, development, quantitative sociology, economic history, economic demography, and law and economics (I strongly suspect that one will be the first such in France).

But not everything changes. The statement from Villepin's office said "L’Ecole d’économie de Paris contribuera à l’élaboration d’une doctrine économique à part entière, dont l’objectif sera de mieux analyser le fonctionnement de la vie économique. Une plus grande place devra être donnée aux modèles de développement qui intègrent la protection de l’environnement, la justice sociale et le respect des identités. La France pourra ainsi davantage peser dans les grands débats économiques internationaux."

[The Paris School of Economics will contribute to the elaboration of a full-fledged economic doctrine, of which the objective will be to better analyze the functionning of economic life. A larger place must be given to models of development which incorporate the protection of the environment, social justice, and respect for identities*. In that fashion, France will be able to carry more weight in the great international economic debates.]

*To my ear, c'est bizarre to hear Villepin talking about respectiong identities as a central goal, since I think that's the language of multiculturalism and accommodation for internal cultural minorities, whether religious or linguistic-- the kind of thing that republican France is dead set against by both official constitutional law and deep political norms. But that's presumably not what he means by them'; rather, he means national level identity, such that all of France is a beleaguered minority in the face of the onslaught of American capitalism.

I liked these bits from the Figaro article:

« Si on ne fait rien, dans cinq ou dix ans, les seuls chercheurs qui viendront à Paris sont ceux qui auront une petite copine en France », plaisante Thomas Piketty.

"If we do nothing, in five or ten years, the only researchers who will come to Paris will be those who have a girlfriend in France," warned Thomas Picketty.

Apparently no economists have French boyfriends.

Tout le monde ne partage pas cet enthousiasme. Michel Lussault, vice-président de la Conférence des présidents d'université, voit mal « comment on va pouvoir boulversifier la recherche en économie » avec cette école. « Comparer l'EEP avec LSE, on est en plein fantasme ! Au mieux, on atteindra la taille d'un tout petit département de Harvard. » Même dans le monde universitaire, la nouveauté dérange..

Not everyone shares this enthusiasm. Michel Lussault, vice-president of the Conference of University Presidents, can't see "how one will be able transform research in economics" with the new institution. "To compare the EEP with LSE, one would have to be delusional. At best, one will reach the size of a very small Harvard department." Even in the university world, innovations disturb.

Even in the university world?

Monday, February 26, 2007

Not quite Herouxville, but...

Muslim girl ejected from [soccer] tournament for wearing hijab

Five young teams from across Canada walked out of a Quebec soccer tournament Sunday because a young Muslim girl was ejected for wearing a hijab.

Calling the rule banning the headscarf worn by Muslim women racist, four other teams followed Asmahan Mansour's team, the Nepean Selects from Ottawa, after she was thrown out for running afoul of a Quebec Soccer Association rule.

"The referee was staring and pointing. 'She can't play,'" said Asmahan, Asi to her friends. "I was like why? Why can't I play?"

Because of a safety rule, league spokesman Lyes Arfa said. He pointed out that the referee is Muslim himself, and that the ban on hijabs is to protect children from being accidentally strangled.

Ah. Well, that might be unfortunate but I guess I could see hwy there might be a safety issue there, and why a children's sports league would have to prioritize safety. There's a picture at the link, and, yes, I guess I could see the hijab she's wearing getting twisted around her neck.

And the league had told organizers about the rule — "The wearing of the Islamic veil or any other religious item is not permitted" — before the game.

Ah. Never mind.

Unless there's some perfect correlation of which I was previously unaware between "religious items" and "things that could accidentally strangle you," the safety rationale offered was pretextual. It's unrelated to the rule that was actually applied, which singles out religious items and particularly the "veil," which I doubt is being worn by any girls who are running around a soccer field exposing their limbs anyway. It's not a rule against items tied around the neck.

This will no doubt get spun as a "reasonable accommodations" dispute. As I've written before, issues of exemptions and reasonable accommodations arise when a generally neutral rule, such as a safety rule, incidentally impacts on cultural or religious activities. Then one has to figure out the importance of the rule, the importance of the activity, and so on. When the rule directly targets activities on the basis of their religious character, it's not a case calling for exemption; it's a case calling for repeal of an illiberal rule.

In a setting in which one may not wear any hat, or must wear prescribed headgear such as a helmet, the question of whether one may wear a hijab, turban, or yarmulke requires balancing and may but may not require an exemption. But if one is allowed to wear any hat except for a hijab, turba, or yarmulke, then what's at issue is simple discrimination against religion and violation of religious freedom.