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In Paris, numbers – and spirits – of student strikers are waning

The protests that blocked classes at dozens of colleges ended up underscoring the need for reform in a university system that the government says is outmoded and underperforming.

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After four months of marching in circles, 24/7 protest readings of 19th-century French novels, text messages, and long meetings, the French student strikes of 2009 are slowly becoming more whimper than bang. While a hard-core set of students vows to carry on opposition to a major government reform of higher learning, their numbers and spirit are waning.

Ironically, perhaps, the chaotic protests that blocked classes at more than 50 of 85 French universities, "became their own advertisement for the need for reform," says international relations professor Frederic Bozo of the Sorbonne, a moderate.

As 29 leading French scientists and intellectuals noted in a statement a week ago that found flaws with both students and government: "It is now obvious that the French university is not only in crisis ... it is nearing a state of agony."

Off Avenue Saint Germain, at the grand courtyard inside the Sorbonne, students clustering beneath a statue of Victor Hugo are despondent and angry that their effort to oppose got no traction.

Unlike the famed May 1968 student protests, when police stormed the Sorbonne, public support for these strikes is low.

"We've met twice a week since February, I've been here every day," says Pauline, an education major at the school. "Everything about the [reform] law is wrong."

Students at a nearby medical college said their peers were trying to relive the 1968 protest, urged on by professors.

But not all students claimed to be leftists and not all opposed President Nicolas Sarkozy – though all did say the president's January speech about an "infantilizing system" of "weak universities" inflamed the situation.


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