The recruitment of research professors was qualified as a competition by the Council of State (EC, February 25, 2015, University of Nice Sophia-Antipolis, Req n°374002). Consequently, the principle of equality of candidates in competition, itself deriving from the constitutional principle of equal access to public employment, implies that candidates must be treated in the same way throughout the selection process.
In addition to the still embryonic derogatory modalities, it is a question of asking whether national procedures make it possible to guarantee the scientific quality of the recruitment of professors-researchers but also the equality of candidates in the face of public tenders and, therefore, to question endo-recruitment.
Read more: Academic recruitment: gender quotas, stepping stones to equality?
Research professors are civil servants recruited by universities after a demanding process. Your course is first submitted to prior evaluation and validation by the CNU (National Council of Universities), a collegiate body of university professors and lecturers that judges whether the candidate’s profile meets the criteria defined at the national level. Then you can apply to universities according to the needs they express by publishing job descriptions.
Selection committees (COS) are then drawn up by a COS president, a professor at the recruiting university, and validated by the University authorities. COS members are research professors of the discipline or disciplines required by the position. The constitution rules of these COS impose gender quorum requirements and fixation quorum requirements (at least half of the COS members must not be a member of the recruiting university).
These rules aim to limit “localism” (tendency to favor applicants from the recruiting university) and co-optative clientelism in recruitment. The COS proceeds with a pre-selection of the files and then audits the pre-selected candidates. On paper, everything seems to fall into place for fair recruitment. The CNU emerges as the guarantor of the quality of the courses and the COS guarantees the adaptation of the candidate to the needs. But the devil is in the details and several questions need to be answered: who defines the job description? Who chooses COS members?
Failures in the guarantees of equality
The vacancies in the competition are intended to respond to the training needs of the components and the research needs of the laboratories, materialized by the job description.
The presidents of the COS have important means of action: to define the members of the COS, a composition then validated by an organ of the University, multidisciplinary by definition and, therefore, far from the power bets of the discipline. Each COS member is assigned the candidates on which to write a report on the dossier sent by the candidate.
In a first session, the COS decides on the candidates selected for the audition. At the end of the hearings, the COS prepares a ranking of candidates suitable for the position. The university decision-making body either approves this list or not. It is very rare that it is not approved.
Are the guarantees of equality of candidates respected?
Flaws exist. So, to create a screen of respectability to unethical practices, one of the simple ways is to use the definition of needs thanks to a job description corresponding to a single candidate. The job description is then so specific that only one pre-defined local candidate will be able to fill it: the positions that university jargon calls “mustache positions”.
The second flaw is due to the important means of action of the COS presidents: the definition of COS members, a composition generally validated by a university authority, multidisciplinary by definition and, therefore, distant from the power issues of the discipline. The choice of COS members but also the power to assign the reports of each of the candidates to two rapporteurs, COS members then become opaque means of influencing the jury’s final decision.
The reform of the Law on the Freedoms and Responsibilities of Universities (LRU) aimed to combat the local variant of clientelism, providing for the condition of exteriority provided for in article L. 952-6-1 . Should the principle of collegiate co-option by peers, a university rule, be better framed? Is the spirit of the law respected?
According to Professor Charles Fortier in University recruitment: accelerating change (AJFP 2015) remains characterized by “market closure” and a “mastery of patronage practices, which undermine not only equality between candidates, but also the objectivity of recruitment (to use the Weberian criterion of good recruitment)”. It indicates that one of the dysfunctions is due to the fact that the external members are proposed, for each competition, by local nationals of the discipline in question, so “nothing could exclude that they were chosen according to personal relationships depending on the issues involved. ends up being, at best, “insufficient and, at worst, counterproductive”
His argument resonates with that of Olivier Beaud: with an ad hoc committee, the famous selection committee, nothing can prevent a committee from being formed according to the desired result: after the so-called “mustache” job profiles, here now are the “selection committees with mustache”. Everything is, therefore, calibrated to recruit the already identified person that we want to recruit, in a predetermined profile. This person being, as if by chance, from the university or the establishment he recruits… not to mention the networks and territorial conflicts of powers within the laboratories.
Read more: To what extent can academic freedom be invoked?
According to an information note from the DGRH of the Ministry of Higher Education, published in June 2017, respectively 20% of faculty (MCF) and 44% of university faculty (PR) were endo-recruited and data have changed only slightly since then. 2000: these are MCFs who have passed their thesis at the institution where they are recruited and, for teachers, they are MCFs in an exercise prior to recruitment, already exercising functions in the same establishment.
But these data hide an important part of the practices… and the question of the definition of the concept and, therefore, of the endo-recruitment numbers of universities deserves a really in-depth analysis. It is true that forms of misuse of power are sometimes difficult to prove, but it is up to academics to think about this issue… Anyway, academic freedom cannot be a screen behind which those who do not respect university ethics.
Design the recruitment jury?
Faced with the two main factors of opacity, what can be done? The BONHEURS-EA 7517 laboratory at CY PARIS University decided on an experimental procedure to recruit an MCF. First, the definition of the job description was broad, to allow many candidates to apply: what was needed was to enrich the laboratory’s scientific project with their work, which allowed candidates from different disciplines, from different research objects apply, arguing about what he could bring to the research team. No “mustache profile”, so and in fact 68 candidates applied for this position.
Then the second lever was the constitution of the COS. So we have :
integrated more outer than inner members into the COS (in this case 6 inner and 10 outer)
randomly selected external COS members
assigned the files to the rapporteurs according to an alphabetical rule
This draw had the challenge of preventing the COS from being formed by “family members” of the president or the laboratory.
The first difficulty was to establish a lottery basis, namely the academics of the disciplines identified by the recruitment. No institution (ministries, National Council of Universities, Directorate General for School Education) was able to communicate with us.
Therefore, we had to establish this basis for lottery, using our research resources, from a list of professor-researchers (EC) compiled from the websites of French education science laboratories, including all members, except for the removal of interns. emeritus and MCF who cannot be members of the COS. It was not exhaustive, due to lack of access to such a national list, especially professors-researchers in laboratories of other disciplines, which could not be found by “artisanal” means, but it was substantial (730 names of professors-researchers).
We also integrated a colleague from a foreign university (Romanian) that we did not know, whose work theme was the same as our laboratory and whose university is a partner of ours, a colleague identified by the department of international relations of our university.
The actual draw was conducted by our university’s Vice President of Research. It required two steps: a first draw did not obtain sufficient acceptance of participation by professors-researchers (three, only one PR and two MCF were accepted immediately): this high rate of refusal due to the “destination drawn” deserves analysis.
The final COS consisted of a second identical draw. Recruitment then took place according to the modality of listening with class.
No recruitment system is perfect. The European label HRS 4R (“Human Resources Strategy for Researcher”) aims, in particular, to improve the practices of organizations and research establishments in terms of recruitment. This label imposes conditions for the opening of competitions and fairness of candidates, in particular a code of conduct for the recruitment of researchers, and calls on Member States to ensure that employers of researchers improve recruitment methods. The aim is to create a more transparent, open, fair and internationally recognized recruitment system, as a prerequisite for a true European job market for researchers.
Could the lottery of COS members be generalized? The new Minister of Higher Education may perhaps be able to answer this question.