05 June 2007

With only 6 school days remaining of spring semester at Sciences Po, my workload of the past few weeks is finally winding down. I’ve completed all my exposés, débats and dissertations, and with the exception of a one-page note de travail due on Thursday, all I have left to look forward to are completing three finals and the freedom of Paris without classes getting in the way of my fun.

The past few days have been particularly busy, as 10h this morning was the deadline for my final 15-page Urban Governance paper. To earn a francophone dîplome from Sciences Po, you can take up to one elective in a language other than French, but everything else must be strictly français. This is lucky for me, because it saved me from having to register for a French finance class when I was missing 5 credits in my schedule at the beginning of the semester.

I signed up for “Urban Governance: Steering the complex city” with absolutely no clue what I was getting myself into – all I knew was that whatever it was, it would be better than finance in French (or in English, for that matter). After the first class I still had no idea what the course was going to be about, but the instructor was a visiting professor from Germany and was super tall and one of the nicest people I’ve encountered at Sciences Po.

Okay technically after 13 classes, I still have no idea what we were learning all this time – something about case studies, subsidiarity and the L.A. school versus the Chicago school of thought. All I know is that we each chose a city to study for the semester, our own hometowns or any urban area we found particularly interesting. I chose Seattle (surprise, surprise), without any real idea of what I was supposed to focus my essay and research paper on. We were supposed to focus on some political or planning issue in our selected city and prepare both an exposé and an analytic paper on it. I decided that the Alaskan Way Viaduct debate would at least be interesting to research, even if it turned out to be the opposite of what Professor E wanted.

I spent weeks of my semester trekking all over the city looking for some kind of resource to use for my paper. The Sciences Po library actually had a few books that discussed Seattle’s urban government, but the most recent was written in 1968. Not only were they devoid of any mention of the viaduct, but they devoted pages to the “negro and oriental” communities developing around the city. I went to the library at the Pompidou center, the Bibliothèque Nationale and poured over the University of Washington online journal catalogue (thank you jstor). Finally I had scraped together enough information out of books, the website of the Washington State Department of Transporation and the Seattle Times archives to put together a respectable exposé. I thought the subject was interesting, but up until I actually stood in front of the class to talk about the deterioration of the seawall that supports the Seattle waterfront and part of downtown I was terrified that I’d created a presentation that had nothing to do with anything we’d studied in class.

The class seemed riveted, but that was probably due more to the horrifying sequence of slides I’d just shown them of the collapse of the Cypress Street Viaduct in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.


As the lights came up, Professor E gave me his feedback. At first I was thinking, earthquakes and bridges, what does that have to do with Urban Governance?. I could feel myself blushing and braced myself for what was coming next. But after a moment it becomes very clear – this is a perfect example of the failures of a city’s politics in… What? He’d liked it? I’d succeeded in giving an exposé that fit perfectly a course that I didn’t even understand? Victory! He gave me a few suggestions for the paper and I went home thrilled and feeling like I might actually know what I was doing.

And just because I love this view:

Creative Commons Attribution 2.5

That was three weeks ago. Ever since then, I’ve been working away at my final paper, much more diligently than I’d ever manage to be in an environment with an abundance of useful sources – if I was actually writing about Seattle in Seattle, for instance. I stayed up until 4h the past three nights in a row revising and finishing my paper – I need all the points I can get if this is half of my final grade. I got myself out of bed after 4 hours of sleep this morning and made it down to Sciences Po a half hour before class started to print my paper and highlight State Route 99 and the Seattle Fault Zone on the graphics I was including with the project.

Feeling exhausted but like I was one huge leap closer to summer vacation, I handed in my paper with what I thought was the rest of the class. After counting the stack though, Professor E looked back up at us and wanted to know why he only had seven final papers out of a 15-person class. Two people immediately raised their hands to tell him that they didn’t have printers and that they’d emailed their papers to him this morning. That was fine. One girl raised her hand to say she had believed the deadline to be next week but was almost done with her paper and could email it in that night. That left five people unaccounted for. Poor Professor E looked around the classroom looking very confused. Does anyone have a problem turning in their paper today? he asked.

At that, four people raised their hands. I plan to send you my paper tomorrow evening or Thursday morning, said one French boy who was wearing a dark red velvety blazer, I’ll send it tonight if I can manage, but it’s more likely to be sent tomorrow night. Our professor looked so bewildered by this casual and unapologetic announcement that he couldn’t say anything. Then the next girl spoke up. Yeah, I’m going to need to take a few more days on mine. Professor E couldn’t believe this and neither could I. Being an English elective, the class is full of French students. French students who have to pass an incredibly selective concours to be admitted to Sciences Po. French students who supposedly carry around a grudge toward the international students who have lighter workloads and can get away with much more. French or not, I couldn’t believe that anyone could have such a lack of respect for a professor that they would demand extensions on the papers they’d supposedly been working on all semester without even a please or I’m sorry.

When Professor E, who’d finally regained his voice, began to question the fairness of allowing half the class to turn in late finals for full credit he was pounced on by the two remaining students. According to these girls, it was Professor E’s fault that they hadn’t completed their papers. He’d set a due date of June 12th and been terribly unclear about requirements for the paper. Their arguments made even less sense – if they were true, how did most of the class know when and how to turn in their final papers?

The icing on the cake was when our final classmate arrived panting 45 minutes late. He burst into the classroom, found a seat and quickly pulled out his notebook. Professor E paused the discussion to ask if he had his paper to turn in. Oh sure, was the reply. I can email it to you later.

Professor E was so taken aback by the number of incomplete papers that he merely set the late deadline for Friday afternoon and told us he needed to think about grades. I was so confused by the whole situation that I came straight home and emailed him with the reassurance that the deadline and requirements had been absolutely clear (even if the subject of the class had not been) from the get-go.

Dear Mrs Griffin, [sic, sic, SIC! I am so not married. Yet.]
Thank you very much for your feedback which is very important for me. I was
really confused about the statement that this was not clear.
Kind regards,
Prof E


I’m glad I could make him feel better, but now I feel worse – it seems that half of our class thought they could take advantage of both our prof’s niceness and the fact that he’s a visiting professor and unfamiliar with the Sciences Po system. I kind of want to write him back demanding half-credit for all the jerks who are trying to play him, but I don’t think that’s really my most, uh, mature option.


And a few more odd Google searches:
temperatures, anecdotes
cashier had cut on hand hiv risk
my revenge most embarrassing moment
SKIPPY peanut butter Light pARIS
crazy exercises

5 comments:

parisian cowboy said...

Too bad. I still have one week to go to finish my program and can't wait till it's over....

Laz said...

You've just summed up the coolest and the worst of Sciences-Po in a single post!

I'm talking about the classes with subjects so whacky you just end up writing an exposé the way you want and write about what you want, and, surprise, the class loves it and so does the teacher.

I'm also talking about the spoiled brats who behave like they own the place and who'll just make up any sorry excuse for submitting their papers late. Yes, it sucks, but no, it's not just the French students, I've seen many an international student do it as well!

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose...

Thanks for the great blog, keep it up!

Laz,
ex-Sciences-Po student :)

Halley said...

So is it the grand écoles and idea of the politico-elite that is creating these monsters, or are these jerks the ones creating the elitism problem?

spencer said...

thanks for the heads up on the porn spam on my blog... hmm. i bet i'll never write that sentence again.

Laz said...

Good question, Halley...

From my (limited, I arrived in Paris at age 17) experience, the bigger jerks are those who grew up in the downtown Paris cocoon (5è, 6è, 7è, 16è arrondissement), went to the best high schools and classes préparatoires, and are raised from the very start with the idea that, no matter how they behave, they already are the elite.

This creates a tremendous sense of entitlement, and it only gets worse when they enter Sciences-Po or any other elite institution.*
For many, fortunately, the third year abroad (ie, being treated as a lowly intern or regular int'l student in some foreign country where no-one even knows what Sciences-Po is) acts as an eye-opener for many. (no all, unfortunately).

Some blame also lies squarely at the teachers' feet - many have no educational background and simply don't know how to react when conronted with a crowd of rude students. In my 4 years of Sciences-Po, I've witnessed so many obviously-copy-pasted exposés it's not even funny, but only once did I see a teacher that had the balls to ask the student to pack up, leave, and never come back to his class again. (if you ever have to take a conférence of "Enjeux politique", try to take Josselin Bordat's class - amazing teacher.)

*(Let's not generalize, of course: I also made plenty of astounding friends in the Parisian left bank / Sciences-Po crowd, and many DO realize how privileged they are and most definitely do NOT behave as all-round assholes.)