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A Hectic Townhall

The logo was one drop too much, the glass spilled

By Dario De Quarti & Amédée Hirt

On December 8th, the whole Graduate Institute’s community was invited to a General Town Hall. This meeting was officially the opportunity for the Director Professor Marie-Laure Salles, to present the Institute’s strategy for the 5 next years and to also reveal the widely discussed new logo. 

Initially planned at 12:30, the forum started with a few minutes of delay, certainly due to the more than 200 students present in a largely filled Auditorium Ivan Pictet. This large attendance was, without a doubt, widely connected to the tense context of the last weeks. Discontent was rising among the student body, especially since a few days before, the whole school received by mistake an email from the directrice, in which she was implying that students were lacking in perspective and judgement regarding the question of the new logo. The time of questions with the public was obviously eagerly awaited.

The Director began by stating she would have to leave the session at 1:30pm sharply : “The proposal for a strategy has been worked on quite collectively and validated by the Conseil de Fondation, the ultimate body in terms of decision making. The title we chose is Junction 2027.”, notably in reference to the wonderful spot where the Rhône and the Arve embrace each other, and to the Institute’s centenary in 2027.

The first point of the presentation was a SWOT analysis of the Institute. A major strength depicted was the history of the Institute, and its role as a pioneer in multilateralism : our school was born with an international focus, it was not added afterwards on the side of other curricula, like in SciencesPo or other schools.

The size of the Institute was then evoked as both a strength and a weakness, allowing our institution to react faster in times where a quick response to unanticipated events is needed, but also leaving the path for some external fragility as a stand-alone school, not part of any large public university. The private-public business model was classified as an opportunity, allowing for more resiliency than a fully private Anglo-Saxon model. 

The main threats, apart from the still ongoing pandemic, were on the budgetary side. Marie-Laure Salles underlined that before her arrival, the Institute was running a large 3 million CHF deficit due to the investment in online-friendly learning environments, and that she had to correct this financial trajectory. The financial situation was described as being much better now. 

The Directrice underlined that in a world where public money is not going to increase, but where the Institute is being asked by the public funders to have at least 1000 students, the current number of 1’100 students was a good match in terms of future projections. She added that she was hoping to make executive education a bigger source of financing for the future, and that tuition would not be raised at this stage.

Three points on the operationalization of the strategy were then covered: a focus on students, on research & faculty and on outreach. Among the key changes promised, we can mention the reforms of academic programs (already going on), the strengthening of interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity, investments in new key themes such as sustainability and digitalization, more diversity in the future recruiting of teachers and the reinforcement of the career service. Director Salles also strongly insisted on the new area, “La Fabrique de la Paix”, scheduled to open in February 2022 at the fourth floor of Petal 2. Firstly put forward as an open and convivial space for students, it was then explained to be a facilitator space including labs, a media & tech center, to increase connections with partners.

Finally came the long awaited moment : the presentation of the new logo. Needless to say that students were quite surprised to see how similar it was to the old one. Later in the town hall, a student would describe it as being “just more curvy”. 

The Directrice then announced the cost of the logo in a very singular way : “The total cost for this new logo development is 6% of the increase in TAs wages announced. Not to mention that this spending for the logo is one-shot, whereas the increase in TAs wages will be paid yearly”. This interesting way of putting things displays a certain defensive attitude, and draws a strange comparison between two figures that have no clear link at first glance. Later, following up on a more direct question, the Director finally revealed that the cost was 15’000 CHF. A later question, by GISA’s administrative director, asked why 15’000 CHF were allocated to “a small change in a logo”, while this money could have been allocated to GISA and initiatives, whose budget is 15 CHF per student per semester. The Director answered that she also gives money directly to initiatives when they ask for it.

Photo by Dario De Quarti showing the new logo

Then, the Director mentioned that the Institute was working on the question of food: “We are now part of this mechanism that has begun at UNIGE. Since our students were not Swiss, we were initially left out of the deal by public authorities. But I took my phone and made us part of this system. It is not optimal, but a negotiation will start to obtain a 5-6CHF meal with Novae, on-campus”. It could have been mentioned that UNIGE students occupied their cafeteria for several weeks to obtain this measure for already 17’000 students.

Moving forward, an extremely intense, to say the least, Q&A session began.

A student took the floor, to address the expected, yet avoided until then, topic : “I am very disappointed from the email received last week : it showed a lack of leadership and credibility, reinforced by your later reply and the thoughts that were addressed. I was frankly disappointed by not seeing anything in the presentation about this, and just getting to know that you would leave the room at 1:30pm.”

At this point, it became quite clear even for the most disconnected person in the room why 200 students were attending this town hall. After a general applause, the Director immediately understood that the next minutes would be long : “I was frankly not gonna start with it, but I would bring it before the end of the meeting, for sure.” 

This explanation was welcomed by a general laugh from students, certainly skeptical. Marie-Laure Salles then started to explain how her role was very demanding : “I offer you to live one week of my life with me. We are having long days, weeks, running from one meeting to the next, doing stupid things like answering emails on the phone, while at the same time there is a snowstorm in the city. I was myself upset that the logo generated so much discussion, without nobody coming to ask me questions directly about it. A lot of fatigue, in the deep sense of the term. At some point, we are all stressed and we can all say things like that, and we can all make the mistake of “reply all”. I am presenting you my apologies, I did that already, I am not going to spend more time on this”. 

It is unclear what the snowstorm has to do with the content of the email,  and the students were not satisfied with this apology that focused more on the act of sending a message, rather than on the content that was simply offensive towards the student body.

A student then described their horrendous living conditions in Geneva, considering as “extremely offensive” the argument that students have to see the long term perspective of the Institute, when they have issues in the short run. 

The Director argued that “sometimes, in a management decision, you have to make an investment, and we tried to minimize the cost of these investments, to give returns in the long run : you can see the logo in that way.” One could find that asking a student, describing their daily struggle to get food, to see the logo as a long-run investment is a pretty misguided answer. 

On diversity, a student that described himself as “coming from the African continent”, asked what mechanisms would be put in place to attract more professors from the region. The Director underlined that this was a very important part of the strategy, and that Professor Degila was involved in this process. The idea of creating regional chairs was mentioned.

A student then expressed a deep dissatisfaction about the new student residence : “I’ve been living in GM since day one. Multiple people have entered my room without authorization, we can not cook at night, we can not sublet our rooms at GM, and we get no answers to email when we raise these issues.”  The Director replied that she was taking full responsibility for this, but she could not solve these issues directly (the Housing team should do it).

Then came a question on sexual harassment allegations. The Director reminded the role of Antenne H, and acknowledged that even if not everything was perfect, she wanted to reinforce the process. However, when a follow-up question came, asking why a teacher that was accused several times of sexual harassment was still at the Institute, no detailed answer on the issue was given.

The session ended at 2:00, the Director finally finding some time to answer these questions. 

To sum up, a deeply rooted and severe dissatisfaction of the student body emerged, with tens of questions coming from all parts of the auditorium, and several general applause to the students asking questions. This Town Hall saw the outburst of an accumulation of issues faced by the students, with the drop spilling the glass being last week’s email.. What should have been the presentation of Junction 2027 became the embodiment of the disjunction that exists between the current Direction and many students, who feel they are not listened to. This led to the “Stop silencing students” movement, that we will describe in an upcoming article.  A student, quite symbolically, tweeted that IHEID was acting like “a corporation that does some teaching on the side”. Ironically enough, this “corporation” argues that funds are limited, but still engaged favorably to most of the students’ demands. A lot of things were promised in the presentation. Will the promises made be held ? Will the funds be found ? Or will the glass continue to spill ? Time will tell.

Photo by Dario De Quarti

2 comments on “A Hectic Townhall

  1. Perfectly summed up!


  2. Pingback: Navigating the Wave of Enmity or Enhancing Constructive Dialogue? A Journalistic Dilemma – The Graduate Press

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