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I think what best sums up the character of this unique French university is the fact that on my student ID badge my serial number is printed in larger type than my name. Assas, as it is commonly called, likes to think of itself as France's Harvard: it is the country's premier law and business university, and a breeding ground for politicians.

About Assas

The Université de Paris II: Panthéon-Assas is known as "Paris deux" (Paris two) or more frequently "Assas" (pronounced "ass ass"—yep) after the rue d'Assas where it is headquartered. Even though it is most famous for its degrees in law and business, it also teaches administration, social and political science.

All of France's universities are as mainstream as possible, the only thing necessary to enter being a high school diploma and the marginal admission fee. Assas however is elitist. Even though the university is required by law to admit anyone who meets the aforementioned criteria, strain is put on the students from the start and the first year drop-out rate consistently hovers in the 75-90% region. Thus, a degree from Assas holds an equivalent reputation to one from a grande école, France's highly selective graduate schools which traditionally train its elite.

For these reasons it has several peculiarities:

while all of France's universities are notoriously understaffed and underbudgeted, Assas gets all the money it needs from the Ministry of the Education,

while most of France's universities lean culturally and politically to the left, Assas leans to the right (this excludes med schools, which don't bother with leaning at all), and

it is a known hunting ground for husbands; literally hundreds of girls sign up every year with only the intention of getting an MRS degree. These girls are typically rich, gorgeous, well and skimpily dressed (think MTV); they're also extremely vacuous and often promiscuous.

Campus

As most universities in Paris, Assas takes its formal name Paris II (Panthéon-Assas) from the places where it is located.

The administration offices and postgraduate studies are located in the Pantheon campus, a prestigious building which is in the plaza that rings the Parisian landmark of the Pantheon. The Pantheon is in the latin quarter of Paris where its most prestigious schools are located: it is only a few blocks away from e.g. the Sorbonne or the Collège de France. Paris' latin quarter is also famous for its busy night life. Paris II (Panthéon-Assas) shares this spot with Paris I (Panthéon-Sorbonne) and they both administer the University Library of the Pantheon which is the largest student library in France and also one of its largest research libraries.

The relatively small but recently refitted Vaugirard campus, in the rue de Vaugirard, is the campus which is located in the comparatively least prestigious area of the city: it is where the freshman and most sophomore studies take place.

The school's main campus is a huge, at least for Paris, 70's architecture building in the rue d'Assas. Its gigantic entrance hall leads to the main amphitheater, which can seat 1,700, where concerts are sometimes held. The building also has over a dozen other amphitheaters of all sizes, countless classrooms and labs, etc. This is also where the student associations are located. Paradoxically the student library at the Assas campus is relatively smaller than the ones at Vaugirard or the Pantheon.

Students and alumni

Like in better institutions of higher education the world over, sociologically most students of Assas come from upper and middle-upper class families. However, it seems there is a higher percentage of "new money" in Assas than in the grandes écoles, which traditionally attract the old French families which have often frequented the écoles for generations. Most first year students are female and even though more female students drop out than males, there is still a clear majority of women up to the graduate level.

There is a large minority of foreign exchange students, as in most Parisian universities, which pride themselves on their cosmopolitanism. Conversely, Assas encourages its students to spend at least a semester in a foreign university, especially other universities in the European Union through the Socrates and Erasmus student exchange programmes. It also has a few highly selective graduate programs with Ivy League schools and other reputed universities in America; there are similar but less selective programs for universities all over the world, even though there is an understandable marked preference for the first world.

Almost every personality in the legal word in France has attended Assas at one time or the other. I've also been surprised by how many Frenchmen holding high ranking managerial positions in big foreign corporations. The school's most famous alumnus is easily Nicolas Sarkozy, France's rising political star, Chairman of the ruling conservative UMP party, and is hyped as the most likely winner of the 2007 presidential election.

The Assas experience

As I said before, Assas is a unique university. French universities' disinterest in their plethoric student bodies is proverbial, but it is understandable because they are too underbudgeted and understaffed to care about you. However, in Assas, it seems like an educational choice. If you ever want to be made to feel not only that you're a faceless cog in a terrible machine but that you deserve it, then by all means, try the Assas experience. Msg me and I'll hook you up.

The students at Assas are a constant strain to the intelligent man, especially during the first few years. Most of the student body is made up of rich spoiled kids wearing the latest in fashion, iPod Minis iPod nanos... They look good and are empty inside. If you're as sensitive to your environment as I am, you can understand that I dread even walking into the building. The air is thick with the inhumanity of the administration and of the students, with their lack of preoccupation with anything aside from a career which hasn't begun or a husband who can pay for a house in the suburbs.

An other part of the Assas experience, besides the cold, inhuman atmosphere and the female fauna, is of course the teaching. Since the school is the best in France it has the best professors and many classes are quite interesting. In France worship of the professor is very much in place; the classes are taught in large amphitheaters and if a professor decides he doesn't want to mingle with the students you're never going to get within ten yards of him. Furthermore, as stated above, Assas wants to be very elitist even though it is obligated to have many students, therefore the pre-bachelor professors are instructed, I kid you not, to be as boring as possible in order to drive the students out. I know a professor of History of Law who is extremely bright, funny and interesting in person but whose lectures are soporific.

And this probably sums up the spirit of Assas: as heartless as it is efficient. It's a good school.

 

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