In a moment of branding suicide, the illustrious
Sorbonne -- a name now 747 years strong -- was broken up into
separate universities sadly called Paris 1, Paris 3,
Paris 4, Paris 5, and so on. Descartes' spirit must have
left the room when it was decided that Paris 2 would not
be part of this series??.
France is not the only country to go through such excess
of governmental bureaucratic interventions; both Britain
and Italy, for instance, also gave numbers and acronyms
to state-owned companies. Still, the universities of
Cambridge and Bologna somehow have managed to avoid such
The so-called revolution of 1968,
where university students took to the streets of Paris,
led two years later to a circumvallated reform. If
philosopher Raymond Aron concluded that the reform was
necessary, failure then must be found in its execution:
The five departments of the former University of Paris
"were split and then re-formed into thirteen
interdisciplinary universities. Four of these new
universities now share the premises of the Sorbonne[...].
Three universities as true 'heirs' to the original have
kept the Sorbonne name as part of their official title:
Paris-Sorbonne (Paris IV), the New Sorbonne (Sorbonne
Nouvelle, Paris III), and the Panth??on-Sorbonne (Paris
I). The Sorbonne premises also house part of the Ren??
Descartes University (Paris V) [...]." In short, the
Sorbonne was publicly guillotin??e.
A visit to the portal of Sorbonne confirms that the noble
institution still lacks brand management to steward its
image. This site spreads itself too thin and is
everything to everybody. It ignores the most elementary
principals of branding and usability, and the hierarchy
of information is thoroughly absurd. Among the four
Sorbonne universities listed, we chose to pursue the
Universit?? Paris IV Sorbonne for review.
Although the website design of Paris IV Sorbonne seems
appealing -- it nicely blends modernity with tradition -- the
usability is again a weakness. At the very least, the
most important selections -- University, Studies, Research,
and Student Life -- are positioned front and center. The
visitor however is presented with an array of uncaptioned
pictures, which are so small, they should be called
pinky-nail rather than thumbnail. Equally small and
randomly placed is a slide show floating near the top of
the screen that acts as a navigation menu, but instead
proves to be thoroughly impractical.
Another menu covers the International, Documentation,
Cultural Life, and News selections, with a two-inch
scrolling bar below that reads Rentr??e 2005. Why this is
scrolling is unclear to us.
Adding to the confusion, the button "Enterprise Area"
stands on its own, in the middle of the page; Majors &
Degrees is positioned vertically (that is, at a 90 degree
angle). All these are cute ideas, but they just don't
Clicking on the first main button probably reveals the
malaise that challenges the university as a whole. At the
top comes a word from the President, followed by a
directory of Vice-Presidents and Faculty Representatives,
then the Bylaws of the University, the Org Chart, and
Statistics. In sum, it puts the customer too much at the
bottom and the boss too much at the top.
We would like to consider all the mitigating reasons to
soften our negative conclusions. French universities
largely depend on state subsidies and are notoriously
under-funded. Considering the global competition, in
academia and otherwise, it is perhaps a miracle that
French universities still compete as well as they do. A
long tradition of devotion to intellectual development,
of both faculty and staff, is certainly a major driver
explaining the performance of French universities.
However, the branding and customer-focus issues discussed
in this review are not a matter of money. They are
largely a matter of strategic vision, management
attitude, and organizational processes.
With all due respect, this must be one of the most
mismanaged websites that we have reviewed. Can it be
turned around? Here lies the irony: Not without serious