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French Universities; Less protest and a lot more study

''Capitalism must die.'' ''Halt US intervention in El Salvador.'' Posters and subwaylike graffiti blaring these slogans are smeared all over the concrete walls of University of Paris VI and VII at Jussieu.

Downstairs in a literature seminar students sit around the room discussing utopias. With Beatle records playing, it seems more like a party than a class.

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On the other side of Paris's student Latin Quarter, University of Paris II on the Rue d'Assas is also covered with posters. But here the posters have a decidedly different tone.

''Socialists, you have once again fooled the French.'' ''All is not rosy at the university.'' Indeed, if one decided to wear a socialist rose here, he would risk a beating by the groups of leather-jacketed, right-wing toughs who hang out at the school.

Unlike American universities, French universities are often labeled by the political bent of their student bodies and faculties. Jussieu and Assas are extreme cases; Jussieu is known as the prototypical ''leftist'' university and Assas as the ''rightist'' stronghold.

Both graphically depict the extreme politicalization of this country.

But, ironically, a close look at Jussieu and Assas shows that despite the posters, French students, like their American counterparts, are becoming less political and more preprofessional.

Jussieu, the sight of frequent mass demonstrations during the early 1970s, has experienced only one large demonstration since 1976. Lack of support forced its daily newspaper, a Maoist-Trotskyite organ aptly named Rouge, to become an underground weekly in 1977. Students who come to Jussieu now give reasons such as ''It's the best in my subjects,'' or ''It's close to home.''

Assas, traditionally an upper-class refuge because of its fine legal curriculum, was the only Paris university that did not rebel in 1968. In the early 1970s extreme right groups such as the Groupement Union Defense, Fond des Etudiants Nationalistes, and Mouvement Nationaliste Revolutionnaire, established their headquarters here. They intimidated left-leaning students, actually beating up many of them.

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In the last few years, however, the violence has been toned down, and an apolitical group won a huge plurality in the last student elections. Even a socialist student group, Union National des Etudiants Socialistes, chased away from Assas at the beginning of 1970s, is trying to reestablish itself on campus.

''Only 3 to 4 percent of the students are extremists,'' says Assas' former director, Berthold Goldman. ''There are very few problems now.'' Students agree, explaining that they chose to attend Assas because it is known as the best law school in the country.

The decreasing importance of politics on campus ''is a result of the tightening job market, which forces students to be more preprofessional,'' explains Patrick Friedenson of the Syndicat General Education Nationale.

Students also have less time to think about politics today. Although there is still no tuition at France's government-operated universities, many students have to take part-time jobs to meet their board expenses as a result of the diminishing number of scholarships offered, Mr. Friedenson said.

In contrast, the rebellious students of 1968 spent their time fighting over liberalizing the French educational system. They wanted more papers and fewer exams; more seminars and fewer 1,000-person lectures. They also wanted more universities to accommodate the growing student population.

The political cleavages at the universities were a byproduct of the reforms the government adopted to satisfy the student demands. Assas had always been conservative, Mr. Goldman said. But with the creation of a new law school, it lost most of its leftist students and teachers and ''got this reputation as an extreme-right university,'' he explained. Only at this time did the right-wing groups begin to proliferate and grow on campus, he added.

Jussieu was born of the 1968 reforms, but it soon became the haven for disillusioned leftists from the Sorbonne, Friedenson said. Extreme-left Marxists and Trotskyites wielded enormous power on campus, mobilizing frequent strikes among students and professors. Last year they held their first strike in four years to protest the treatment of immigrant students, but it did not receive much student support and lasted only a few days.

Still, it shows that some of the sentiments of 1968 continue at Jussieu. For example, there is Paul Rozenberg's utopia seminar. One of the leaders of the 1968 uprisings, Mr. Rozenberg continues to be decidedly nonconventional. At the first meeting of the class he tells students to give themselves their own grades and to decide what they want to read. ''But if they just want to discuss a current event, that's OK,'' Rozenberg said. And during the discussions, the class plays music.

Most classes at Jussieu are more conventional than Rozenberg's, but Marxist historians, philosophers, and critics still flourish there, and a large majority of the students seem to support socialist President Mitterrand.

While Jussieu remains known as leftist, conservative elements continue to predominate at Assas. ''I haven't had a leftist teacher in my two years here,'' Marc Higgonet said. Violence from the right- wing groups has decreased, but many students remain cautious. ''I wouldn't bring a copy of Liberation (a socialist newspaper) to the school,'' Mr. Higgonet said.

As could be expected, then, students from each of these two universities do not admire the other school too much. ''Jussieu, c'est Marxiste,'' an Assas student said. ''Assas, c'est Fasciste,'' a Jussieu student replied.