Sciences Po ― an elite institution's introspection on its power, position and worth in French society
By Marjorie Conley
Their first day done, their first assignment announced 37 students spilled out of the classroom at L'Institut d'etudes politiques, (IEP), more commonly known as Sciences Po this September. They set out into the city to discover a monument, a building, a boulevard or a bridge to examine the historical significance behind these Parisian symbols as their first exercise in higher education.
"Most of these students come from either the provinces or from the Paris banlieues (the impoverished suburbs surrounding France's glittering inner-cities). Some of them have never been to Paris or Sciences Po. We are trying to familiarize them with their new environment," Jean-Claude Lescure a history professor at Sciences Po said.
"This is an exercise in teaching. It serves two purposes, first to get the students to discover Paris, and, because I ask them to write a historical analysis, they learn too," he said while packing his briefcase and rolling up his aerial maps of Paris.
These 37 students are the third wave of those admitted by the Conventions d'Education Prioritaire (CEP), an innovative new policy established by Sciences Po in 2001, which created new entrance criteria for students coming from less economically favored social strata. This program seeks to diversify the school's student body by providing keys to students who have traditionally found the doors to Sciences Po locked.
In another corner of the university, on rue Saint Guillaume, Sciences Po administration is discussing the implementation of another strategy for social diversification, a proposed tuition increase, which will ask more money from families, who can afford to meet the high cost of attending this type of school, to provide financial aid for those who cannot.
Sciences Po's diversification policies are the subject of many polemics as they have challenged the traditional process of entrance into the grandes ecoles, elite higher education institutions in France such as Sciences Po. The system of admission, which is ostensibly a meritocracy based on academic performance in a set of exams that are open to everyone, has been assailed as discriminatory in favor of the wealthy and the ruling intelligentsia.
The main criticism of the system centers on the high overall cost of education (especially in regard to living in Paris), which may deter brilliant, but financially strapped, students from even attempting entry, which culminates in the degradation of not only social but intellectual diversity as well.
Sciences Po, the gateway to elitism
Founded in 1872 as the École Libre des Sciences Politiques, Sciences Po had the responsibility of training merit-based elite for leadership in the Third Republic. The school's founder, Emile Boutmy, developed the school to educate the best minds for leadership, in the French Republican fashion -- based on a meritocracy -- aiming to replace a failing old guard, which was based on social status.
This objective is enshrined in its mission, which can be summed up by the following statement in its Web site: "Sciences Po forms citizens and active members of the social community. At the same time the university is forming professional elites. These students will occupy decision-making positions in the future. Therefore what Sciences Po is doing today has important affects on the society of tomorrow." This claim appears validated in practice - two of the past three presidents of France, Valery Giscard d'Estaing and Jacques Chirac, and also half of the chief executive of France's top 200 companies are Sciences Po alumni.
"Sciences Po is prestigious because we are good," Xavier Brunschvicg, the school's director of communication said. "We have excellent professors, the best students, the best service to find internships, and more resources."
The curriculum at Sciences Po, which is designed to cultivate bright students, is not for the faint-hearted, Brunschvicg said. During the first three years, students are encouraged to learn all aspects of history, economics, politics, sociology and culture, so that they can think critically and discuss intelligently important topics in the contemporary world. Students must master two foreign languages, spend a mandatory year studying abroad and display an analytic and persuasive writing style in French.
During the last two years, students take courses concentrating on the field they will enter after crossing the threshold into the professional world. A diploma from Science Po almost guarantees a well-paid and well-respected career ― 75 percent of Sciences Po students go into enterprise, 20 percent into public administration and 5 percent into research.
A diploma from Science Po or one of the other grandes ecoles, like l'École Normale Superieure, l'École Nationale d'Administration and l'École Polytechnique, bestows a much higher level of prestige than a diploma from French universities, which are free, public, with the only entrance criteria being a high school diploma.
The Sciences Po sister schools in the provinces, like in Grenoble or Bordeaux, although they share the same name, do not share the prestige. The curriculum is not the same, the quality is not the same and if you want to be successful, it is better if you speak with a Parisian accent, Brunschvicg said.
"The universities can't touch us, and the provincial Science Pos are no where near us," Brunschvicg said. "You say you graduated from Sciences Po, people are impressed. You are part of the club."
The price of membership
The grandes ecoles are all located in Paris, are smaller and have highly competitive entrance criteria ― a student must have a stellar academic record, including a good score from the baccalaureate (bac), a national exam created by Napoleon in 1808, that students, wishing to enter higher education, take.
The bac itself is a rigorous test of educational endurance, but the grandes ecoles also subject students to an even tougher proof of their mental mettle - the concours, a highly competitive entrance exam. The Sciences Po concours consists of four elements, an essay on 20th century history, an essay analyzing texts with historic, economic, and/or geographic relevance, a foreign language test, and, finally, and an essay based on a mystery question, posed by the school. All of these tests are subject to stringent time limits.
To succeed at these brutal exams, students enroll in preparatory schools, which have limited slots and impose rigorous entrance requirements. However, the aside from weeding out the unprepared, many bright minds that might not have had the same cultivation as those from socially, economically and culturally favored social classes are alleged to be collateral damage to this ritual.
These schools provide the first stage of initiation, concentrating on the inner-workings of the exam, molding essay writing skills and providing exhaustive reading lists. Students who have not attended the preparatory schools usually do not pass the concours, and are left doomed to receive less-prestigious degrees from the regular universities.
Privilege of education or education for the privileged?
"It is clear that socially favored students whose parents are teachers, or lawyers or business executives will do better in school and in the concours than students from the popular classes whose parents come from the working class," Cyril Delhay, a professor at Sciences Po and the CEP's director said. "The socially favored student will have greater access to culture. Maybe his or her parents will talk about intellectually stimulating things around the dinner table. It's evident that they will have the edge."
A study conducted by two Sciences Po researchers, Madani Cheurfa and Vincent Tiberj, published in 2001, "The Concours: Inequality of Access and Social Inequality", detailed the inequality of access to Sciences Po. They concluded that the grandes ecoles are more discriminatory than French universities, and the rather low chances for students of socially modest means to integrate into the elite higher education system have stagnated since the 1950s.
There is evidence that the vast majority of those admitted to Sciences Po through the concours predominantly come from the favored social classes. For example, 81 percent of the students admitted in 1998 came from favored social classes, judging from the fact that the head-of-household of 56 percent of the students were of an intellectually superior profession, 15.5 percent were teachers and 9.5 percent were business executives. Students coming from the popular classes only represented 19 percent, according to the study.
When Sciences Po professors or administrators bring up the problem of inequality of access in this debate it is usually an implicit or explicit reference to the work of Pierre Bourdieu. This controversial sociologist, who died in 2002, was a pioneer in examining the idea of education as modern society's means of social domination. Bourdieu, himself a successful product of the grandes ecoles system, was highly critical of this exclusive higher education system that leads to a preservation of the elite.
In his books "The State Nobility", "Reproduction" and "Homo Academicus", Bourdieu argues that the school, instead of being the integrator it set out to be, has become a vehicle for social divisions. In his view, the grandes ecoles, because of their entrance criteria, make it necessary for students to possess both economic and cultural capital to reach exclusive schools leading to positions of power.
Social order, rooted in economic and political power in French history, has evolved into a sort of intellectual aristocracy, bequeathing social standing to its heirs through cultural capital, Bourdieu maintained. The case in point being that most students attending France's elite grandes ecoles are from an educational legacy and high social standing. Students from the same social class attend the same universities and take over the key-decision making roles in society, creating a cycle of exclusion for those of more disadvantaged backgrounds.
This social reproduction also produces a fracture in society, where the elite classes in France, who usually make decisions about the nation, are disconnected from the rest of society, and thereby their legitimacy is questioned. Bourdieu's theories were so controversial because he attacked the very powerful French concept of equality in education.
The notion of equal opportunity for education is deeply rooted in the desire to create a cohesive French society. In order to uphold Republican principles, all citizens should receive the same education, dictated by the highly-centralized State education system. In theory, this would encourage egalite des chances, the ideal that all citizens should have the same opportunities and the same rights no matter what creed, color or social standing.
The French education laws, developed by Jules Ferry between 1881 and 1884, guaranteed free, compulsory and secular education for all French citizens, turning the Republican ideal into an institution.
Tackling the educational enigma
According to Delhay, the four major obstacles identified by Science Po for the underprivileged to study at grandes ecoles are lack of financial means, the absence of specialized information, social bias linked to the concours, and autocensure ― students thinking that the grandes ecoles are not for them.
To combat these obstacles the CEP program has lobbied for money from the National Minister of Education and Sciences Po's board of directors to provide financial aid for students to defray the cost of tuition, books and the general cost of living in one of the world's most expensive cities. To curtail the psychological barriers (such as the autocensure attitude) Sciences Po is working closely with the partner high schools in order to demystify the school's admission process.
The information campaign and the organized visit program are only the beginning. Sciences Po realizes that one of the most important factors lies in the admission criteria.
"The amount of students interested in the long studies at Sciences Po diminishes at every level, high school, the bac and then the preparatory school, but it is the concours that more seriously block students from the working classes from entering the school," Delhay said.
Delhay has some stories of his own to tell. He was a teacher at a technical high school in La Courneuve, a massive housing project in the Paris banlieue that is notorious for being a seedbed of unemployed and undereducated disaffected youth. He said he knows full well the barriers to Sciences Po.
"Even if students from less-favored classes are bright, if they have the raw potential, they still may not be able to succeed. Often they are the children of immigrants, and they don't speak French in the home. Therefore their mastery of the language is not of the same standards as a student living, say in the 16th arrondissement of Paris," he said. "The concours, is socially biased, we know that. With the CEP we want to take into account the potential of strong and remarkable personality, as an asset to a good academic record."
This is why the CEP formed partnerships with high schools in traditionally disadvantaged areas, or Zone d'Education Prioritaire (Zones of Priority Education or ZEP).
The ZEP, which was institutionalized in the early 1980s, sparked from the idea that social inequalities affected education. These inequalities were usually present in areas with economic difficulties like the banlieues and de-industrialized urban areas and thinly populated rural areas. The ZEP defined these areas and allotted special resources, like extra staff, teaching hours or budget, to high schools in these areas.
According to the French Ministry of Education, ZEP policies try to strengthen the partnership between schools and local authorities, local associations, families and other relevant protagonists in order to create a cohesive, dynamic and non-violent educational environment, which can effectively facilitate learning.
Into academia through the back door
In Mid-July, 2003, 60 students passed before juries, made up of professors, administrators, and business professionals, in the hopes of becoming part of the Sciences Po's class of 2008. Dominique Colas, a politics professor at Sciences Po, was a member of this jury, deciding the fate of hopeful students.
"We do not want to take these students based strictly on their academic record. We want to know their curiosity and their potential, and see if they can make an organized and intelligent argument. We want to make sure they are ready for long and arduous studies at Sciences Po, and that they can live in Paris away from home in a very different environment. We are trying to make sure that they do not fail after one year, which is sometimes the case," Colas said.
Colas has been passionately involved in the CEP program since its conception. For 10 years Colas was a high school teacher in the industrial region of Picardie, and he knows the obstacles students face coming from less-favored, socio-economic backgrounds. "Maybe I was more interested in this policy because my roots are in secondary education, so I know more about secondary schooling, and the problems that arise there, than most of my colleagues," Colas said.
Because of the special status of these students they are not required to take the concours and instead prepare a paper, half analysis, half resume, on a subject, of their choosing, from newspapers. They present this paper, during a 40 minute interview, to a jury that evaluates their potential, their motivation, and their ability to succeed at long studies at a difficult university.
In 2003, 17 high schools in the Ile-de-France and of the Academie de Metz-Nancy are partners in the CEP program. At the beginning, in 2001, 17 out of 96 students were admitted into Sciences Po. In 2002, 218 candidates had the chance, and 33 were admitted. This year 37 joined the ranks. Delhay remarked that the number of students have increased because, through the years, the number of partner high schools has increased.
Emerging statistics show that the non-traditional entrance method has worked to diminish the class divide at Sciences Po. For example, whereas only 2.5 percent of the students who entered the school through the concours came from a family where the head-of-household are just common employees, the corresponding statistic from those that entered through the CEP was 34 percent. On the other hand the number of students coming from the more privileged classes went from 83.5 percent through traditional methods to 16.5 percent, according to a report issued from Sciences Po on the success of the CEP program in 2001.
Affirmative action by any other name
When Sciences Po openly and publicly admitted the inequalities of access to the grandes ecoles, educators, administrators and the nation were shocked. "We broke a taboo, the taboo of the concours," Brunschvicg said. "The concours is sacred in French education. A merit-based, anonymous exam, it's hard to touch the myth that surrounds it."
When the CEP policies were implemented in 2001, there was much criticism from the outside world and internally, according to "Affirmative Action at Sciences Po" a paper written by Daniel Sabbagh, researcher, professor at and former student of Sciences Po, published in "French, Politics, Culture and Society" in the fall 2002. Some argued that departure from the practice of universal competitive entrance exams is contrary to the principles of equal treatment as understood within the French Republican conception of citizenship, Sabbagh maintained.
Others contended that the CEP just creates another form of exclusion because the selection of the partner high schools is opaque, Delhay said. Newspapers questioned the authority of Sciences Po to try and correct the injustices of French society. Others wondered if the bar of excellence had been dropped, letting the CEP students slack a bit, a criticism that Delhay fiercely combats.
"CEP students only have differences of entrance. Their academic career here is the same, with the same anonymous exams," he said.
Some left-wing student unions have denounced the policy as a cheap substitute for the much more demanding changes required, namely, the nature of the entrance exam itself, according to Sabbagh's research.
The student union from the right also denounced the policy. When the Board of Directors of Sciences Po adopted the CEP program in 2001 only two students representing the L'UNI, a radical far-right student union, out of 29 members voted against the measure. L'UNI presented three procedures to the Administrative Tribunal of Paris asking for the cancellation of the program. The tribunal rejected all three procedures.
The initiative was further justified by the National Assembly and the Senate in 2001. Both said that the Board of Directors at Sciences Po was able to determine the conditions and modalities of admission, and it would be allowed to adopt procedures of admission to assure diverse recruitment. These decisions preserved Sciences Po's autonomy, and assured its ability to diversify the student body and the right to experiment.
One of the most contentious issues, though, has been the program's parallel to the positive discrimination objective under the American affirmative action policy.
America's affirmative action, which was recently justified as the Supreme Court preserved the policies in university admissions by a one-vote margin, is seen as nothing but a negative model in France. According to Gwenaële Calvès' book "L'Affirmative Action dans la Jurisprudence de la Cour Suprême des Etats-Unis", the American policy is, in the strict sense of the expression, a policy that instates a racial preference to redress socio-economic inequalities and the persistence of racial prejudices, giving compensation to groups who have for a long time had the status of second class citizen.
Because of the quota systems and racial implications, CEP supporters such as Delhay, Colas and Lescure are reluctant to label the program positive discrimination because of the links to affirmative action.
When the program was instituted in 2001 "affirmative action à la française" was emblazoned in newspaper headlines, in France and abroad, pushing to the debate a racial element that has never been explicitly voiced in France. Sciences Po and the program's supporters rushed to the forefront to deny any racial character, citing France's long history of never recognizing race, ethnicity or sex as a legitimate category.
The first article of the French Constitution says that the Republic assures the equality before the law of all citizens without distinction of origin or race. It is not only forbidden to discriminate, to make distinctions that disadvantage a category in regards to another, but also to make all distinctions. The traditional French Republican ideal is that all citizens are French and nothing but, not Catholic, nor Muslim, not of Algerian nor Portuguese descent, not woman nor man, only citizens.
The racial issue is important not only because of the link to American affirmative action, but because it also seems to be an actual unintended consequence.
According to the ministry of education possible criteria to receive ZEP funding is that more than 30 percent of the school's student body is of immigrant background. Because Sciences Po recruits only ZEP student for the CEP program, which in effect discriminates in favor of students from immigrant backgrounds, many of the students admitted into Sciences Po from the CEP program have been first or second generation Algerians and Moroccans, who can be clearly identified in France as being of a different race.
The issue of the existence of racial discrimination in France has been brought to the surface. "It is debatable that positive discrimination is diversity by stealth," Sabbagh said in an interview. "It is not a conspiracy. People frequently allude to this side effect, being that it is a positive side effect. People are noticing it, making references to it as a good unintended consequence. It tends to legitimize the program as well."
"In France only those who oppose the reform openly discuss what they consider to be its unspoken racial subtext, while supporters usually avoid the topic altogether by pretending not to notice that a substantial proportion of ZEP residents are also of North African extraction," according to Sabbagh's article.
But even so, the French refuse to recognize the unintended consequences as it would be an implicit acceptance of a failure to implement the ideal equality. Dr. Ariane Chebel d'Appollonia, the executive director of the Center for American Studies at Sciences Po explained that it is impossible to have dialogue surrounding ethnic and racial diversity in France because it has never been an open issue. Even at the national level there are no statistics discussing race and ethnicity because, to the French State, these differences do not exist.
"France's political, cultural and social history makes it impossible to call the CEP positive discrimination. America has a history and culture linked to race and racism, in France race is not even identified," Delhay said.
Even so, journalists and even the French Ministry of Education have labeled Sciences Po's efforts to diversify positive discrimination.
"If you want to call the CEP something, it should be called 'justified discrimination'," Delhay said. "Because it has been justified by the French State Council and ideologically the policy is just."
Sabbagh comes from a different camp. "Cyril Delhay doesn't have a good understanding of positive discrimination," he said in an interview. "There is no real, common definition of positive discrimination; it comes from the idea of unequal treatment to redress inequality. There is nothing to do, at least officially, with race, Sabbagh said. "Therefore, in my mind, CEP is positive discrimination just like the ZEP as well."
The CEP justifies itself by making concessions to students according to their social milieu. This kind of categorization is the only type possible within the French Republican model. French people can be classified by social class, socio-professional categories or geography. In the French model this is where the inequalities come from, not from race, ethnicity or sex.
Although there has been much controversy surrounding the CEP program, Chebel d'Appollonia is for it, but not without hesitations. "I worry about the future of these students, how are we going to integrate them and what way? They carry the weight of the debate on their shoulders, and the success or the failure of the program could rest with them," she said.
Delhay feels that the program is already a success. "The proof is that they are already here at the school, they are taking classes they are integrating," he said. "To see the real success we will have to wait, though, until they graduate and move into the professional world."
Stephane Beaud, a researcher and professor at one of the other grandes ecoles, L'Ecole Normale Superieure remarked that the most disturbing thing surrounding this policy is that none of the other grandes ecoles are following Sciences Po's example. "So Sciences Po asked the question, why do we educate only the sons of the bourgeoisie? That opened up a window to students that was closed before. But the other schools aren't following, so you wonder how much effect this program will actually have."
Take from the rich to educate the poor
This fall another tool to support the policy of diversification will be discussed. The possibility of raising annual tuition from €1,050 to €4,000 will be the main issue on the table at Sciences Po. The proposed tuition increase may not seem much compared with American standards, but for the French system it is not the money that sparks the debate, it is the idea.
In a letter from Richard Descoings, the head of Sciences Po, written in April 2003, he appealed to administrators and professors to back his initiative to raise tuition saying that relatively free education does not guarantee the democratization of knowledge.
Massive but uncontrolled educational democratization has been linked to the State policies to push high school students to pursue long studies. This initiative was instituted partially as a means to counter the unemployment rate, by pushing youth to stay in school longer and being more qualified when they exit, according to the book "80 percent au bac... et après" (80 percent taking the bac, and then after?), by Beaud.
However, in practice, the result has also been a strain on the free, or almost free, higher education system. Impoverished universities struggled to deal with the masses of students who entered their doors. Even though Sciences Po accepts a limited number of students and charges a tuition fee, it nevertheless suffers from this fallout.
Science Po's proposal to increase tuition triggered an outcry from students and the nation alike. Free education for French citizens has been seen as a right and is seen to be relatively untouchable. In these times where a bac or a technical degree does not guarantee a place in the job market it is hard to tinker with the democratic French higher education system, Beaud said in an interview.
The student unions are saying that free schooling has always been an unassailable right, and that the most democratic method of schooling is free schooling for all.
Descoings' proposal has three objectives, to reinforce excellence at Sciences Po, to sharpen the university's edge in the face of international competition and to facilitate a system of redistribution in order to increase financial aid for students with the greatest need.
"In order to amplify the democratization of knowledge we have to raise tuition," according to Descoings.
Chebel d'Appollonia explained that Science Po lacks the means to finance students who do not have the personal resources for five years of long and arduous studies in Paris.
"Compared with American tuition, here it is not much, but many students cannot afford to spend an obligatory year abroad, the cost of books and the high cost of living in Paris. The best way to preserve the democratization of education is to raise tuition in order to redistribute funds," she said. "The free schooling doesn't benefit everyone, just those who can afford it."
The argument is circular, the administration saying raising tuition will diversify and contribute to democratization, while students argue that higher fees make it more difficult to attend universities and will exclude students from higher education.
"Free school permits massification of higher education but one has serious doubts as to whether it has contributed to democratization. How can we explain the high number of students from the upper echelon of society in Sciences Po? Free schooling does not ensure equal opportunities, one can even say that when free schooling contributes to the pauperization of universities it aggravates the situation for the less-favored students even more," according to the letter from Descoings.
Brunschvicg emphasized that the tuition increase would not affect all the students going to Sciences Po just those who can afford it. Right now Sciences Po only knows the income of students' families that ask for financial aid, but if the proposed increase goes into affect, everyone attending will be asked for his or her yearly income and the school will charge them accordingly, he said.
"For instance, I send my daughter to a day care center. I have to pay more than some of the other parents who send their kids there. It annoys me, but the philosophy is just. It is necessary to pay when you can to help others who can't," Brunschvicg said.
Sciences Po is justifying the tuition increase to the students by saying that the school will provide much better services for the students, better libraries, more computers and the school intends to buy rooms at the Cite Universite, in the 14th arrondissement, which provides relatively cheap housing for students.
The school is justifying itself to the nation by saying that more money will allow them to provide funding for students who would not normally be able to attend. Part of the money acquired through the tuition increase will go to funding the CEP program. "It is clear that if we raise tuition that the CEP program will grow larger," Delhay said.
Why now, this self-reflection?
French sociologists have noted and analyzed the unequal access to higher education since the 70s, Bourdieu being the most famous among them. So why now is Sciences Po on an introspective quest?
One hint is given in a comment by the former Minister of Education Jack Lang, who remarked to "Le Monde" in 2001, that "...French grandes ecoles in general and Sciences Po in particular stand as a dangerous anomaly in a democratic regime, which needs to diversify the social origin of its elites in order for them to preserve their own legitimacy," -- an idea that Brunschvicg, Delhay, Colas and Lescure all subscribe to.
It could also be that Sciences Po, from its Parisian fortress, has chosen to hear the early murmurs of anti-establishment/anti-elite sentiment before it became a roar, erupting from the provinces, during the spring 2002 presidential elections when Jean-Maire Le Pen's radical right National Front Party shocked the nation, and the world, by outsting the moderate, popular Left in the first election round.
Le Pen has been bombastically criticizing French politics with xenophobic, euroskeptic and anti-establishment rhetoric since the 1970s. Although largely ignored, he managed to attract an unbelievable number of voters in the 2002 elections who were discontent mainly about rising crime, high unemployment, mistrust of Parisian politicians and a general sense of insecurity.
Even though Le Pen suffered a crushing defeat in the second round of voting, the election results in the first round sent a clear message to Paris saying that the "people", la France profonde, are tired of the Parisian politicians who think the sun rises at La Defense and sets at Château de Vincennes. A rising critique is that these politicians are disconnected to the masses, and that the popular classes are absent from and/or underrepresented in politics.
The timing could also be attributed to the school's dynamic director, Richard Descoings, also a product of the grandes ecoles system, who has been reinventing Sciences Po since he came to head it in 1996. Since his arrival, the school has extended the curriculum from three to five years, instituted a mandatory year studying abroad and generally molded the school to be more innovative in the global market of education by attracting more foreign students and sharpening the school's competitive edge.
"Part of the risk with schools now is that this is no mix. The unifying feel of public schools is gone" Beaud said. "There is the idea that French politicians and that the elite in French society have never seen the popular classes or been in touch with poverty, because they have been enclaved in the elite school system."
President Chirac, one of the political elite formed by the grandes ecoles system, and an ENA alum, as one of his first acts, chose to answer the anti-elite sentiments by selecting, as his Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin. Raffarin is not a product of the grandes ecoles, a self-proclaimed "provincial and proud of it" therefore, he is supposed to be more connected to the "people", according to "The Economist".
Sciences Po, in its own way, is also countering the critiques thrown at its illustrious reputation for forming political and business elites in attempts to save its legitimacy in an environment where the nation is not only attacking the establishment, but the institutions that form it as well.
"It's true," Brunschvicg said. "We believe, here, that we are creating the elite of French society. But in order for these elites to be accepted, they have to be legitimate. Reproduction is not legitimate. We need to diversify to be legitimate, to help the egalite des chances along."
When asked why was now the time to act, the rallying response was, "why not now", "better now than never", and "if we don't' act now then we will never do it", according to Sciences Po professors and administration. "Sciences Po has been talking about diversifying for a long time. It is difficult to act on an ideal, especially one that breaks a myth, the myth of equality and the myth of the equality of the concours," Brunschvicg said. "But in 2001 we decided to act, because it was now or never."