In over ten years as director of the Nancy campus, François Laval has certainly made his mark. Perhaps this is because he's always available, always active and always concerned about students' personal and academic development.
Carpe Diem. Just before the 2012-2015 cohort's final exam, as about a hundred students brace themselves to answer one last essay question before heading abroad for their final year of the BA programme, Nancy campus director François Laval enters a lecture theatre to write those two words on a white board near the door. “Carpe Diem” is both one last message for the road and a reminder of his educational approach, which these students have had two years to experience.
Laval's “Carpe Diem” is inspired by the film Dead Poet's Society, which he shows to new students at the start of each academic year. To begin with this might seem surprising. But after two intense years on the Nancy campus spent studying, organising countless projects, having a multitude of experiences and meeting dozens of people, the reason for this choice becomes clear. Of course students have to learn, but they must never forget to take advantage of the present: “to take everything that life offers,“ as Laval puts it.
Few directors embody their campus the way François Laval does in Nancy. A native of the city, he returned after completing his studies at Sciences Po to work in local politics. This involved organising the campus's inauguration in 2002, before becoming its director in 2004.
An open door
Generations of students know him as the one who recruited, taught, supported and counseled them. He continues to lend a helping hand to alumni if they need him. Laval has run the campus with a small, almost unchanged staff for over ten years and inevitably, he says, “the more you stay in a position, the more you make your mark.” In addition to his seven-day-a-week and (almost) 24-hour-a-day role as campus director, Laval also teaches constitutional and European law to first-year students.
“My door is always open,” he says, both to current and former students; he mentions his “pride” at having “built a community of people that help each other.” For the students on campus, he says he is not “in a hierarchical relationship,“ but sees himself as a “facilitator” of projects, and an “assembler of talents and skills.”
More than a director
For one of the campus's former students, nostalgically recalling his two years in Lorraine, the director is a “father without paternalism, a director without interventionism, a teacher without dogmatism, a great man without a big head.”
“I have always seen him give the initiatives of student associations a chance, respect students' arguments, and deal with tense situations with humour,” recalls this student from the 2011-2014 cohort.
“In Nancy, he already knew my CV better than I did!”, says another student from the same cohort. She sees Laval as “the man for all occasions,” who listens attentively when academic or personal problems come up, but is also a precious help for small, everyday concerns. “When I had forgotten my backpack on the soccer field during the campus's fifteenth anniversary celebrations, it was Mr. Laval's cell phone number that I called.”
To his students, François Laval is clearly more than a director. Omnipresent and always active, he's available late at night and early in the morning. He may not get much sleep, but on the upside, he says, “I don't feel like I'm working.”
Yann Schreiber, dual Master's graduate, Sciences Po School of Journalism and School of International Affairs