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Top French University Faces Yet Another Crisis as Leader Resigns

WorldEuropeTop French University Faces Yet Another Crisis as Leader Resigns


One of France’s most elite universities found itself without a leader for the second time in just three years on Wednesday after its director, Mathias Vicherat, resigned to face a court case over accusations of domestic violence.

The university, Sciences Po in Paris, has produced five of France’s last eight presidents and over a dozen prime ministers, as well as top business leaders, well-known journalists and scores of high-ranking civil servants. It has been striving to grow even stronger by diversifying its student body and competing internationally for students.

But the resignation of Mr. Vicherat, 45, who denied any wrongdoing and said he was stepping down to protect Sciences Po’s standing, was the latest in a series of episodes of internal turmoil that have tarnished the school’s reputation.

Mr. Vicherat’s predecessor, Frédéric Mion, stepped down in 2021 after admitting that he had not taken action against a longtime professor and board member despite knowing of incest allegations against him; an investigation into the professor by prosecutors was later dropped because the statute of limitations had expired. The school’s previous director, Richard Descoings, was found dead in a Manhattan hotel room in 2012 — a death that was followed by an embarrassing government audit over the school’s use of public funds.

Sciences Po said in a statement on Wednesday that it had “taken note” of Mr. Vicherat’s resignation “to safeguard the institution,” but did not comment on the unrest surrounding his departure.

Laurence Bertrand Dorléac, who heads the National Foundation of Political Sciences, a private entity that oversees the university’s budget and governing strategy, said in a message to faculty members and students that a provisional administration would be appointed in the coming days.

“We will all be united around our core values, our missions of research, teaching and support for our students, the smooth running of the institution and the best choice for its leadership,” Ms. Bertrand Dorléac said.

Mr. Vicherat, a civil servant who previously worked at Paris’s City Hall, France’s national railway company and Danone, a French food giant, took the helm of Sciences Po in 2021, vowing to prioritize efforts to prevent sexual violence and sexism. But that promise was marred in December when the French news media reported that he and his former partner, the film director Anissa Bonnefont, had briefly been detained by the police after each accused the other of domestic violence.

Although neither filed formal charges, prosecutors pursued the case. On Wednesday, the Paris prosecutor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and it was not clear when a trial might be held.

Ms. Bonnefont posted on social media in December expressing shock and asking for privacy. “Couples’ sadness belongs to couples,” she wrote, “and it is never all white on one side and all black on the other.”

The accusations led to an outcry against Mr. Vicherat, who temporarily stepped aside before returning to the school in late January under certain conditions set by school officials. Some students led sit-ins or put up posters to demand his departure.

In an emailed statement to students and faculty members on Wednesday, Mr. Vicherat said that he had decided to step down because he and Ms. Bonnefont had been ordered to stand trial before a criminal court.

“I still deny the accusations of violence that have been made against me,” he said, noting that the court case was proceeding “without any complaint ever being filed by either side.”

“As I have already written, it is less my person than the institution that matters to me, which is why I have decided, in order to preserve it, to resign from my duties as president of the Institut d’études politiques de Paris,” he added, using the formal name for Sciences Po, which he called an “admirable institution.”

Student unions that had expressed anger over his brief return welcomed his resignation. One, the Union Étudiante, called his departure “late” but “unavoidable.”

Mr. Vicherat’s resignation occurred amid “a particularly tense climate for the institution, whose management has completely lost legitimacy in the seriousness and sincerity of its fight against sexist and sexual violence,” the union said in a statement, adding that his successor would have to “actively engage” in that fight.





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