May 19, 2024

The head of one of France’s leading universities said Wednesday he was stepping down after being ordered to stand trial in a domestic violence case.

Mathias Vicherat, director of the prestigious Sciences Po school in Paris, became the target of angry protests by students demanding his resignation after he and his partner Anissa Bonnefont were briefly detained in December, each accusing the other of domestic violence.

“I have been informed that my ex-partner and myself have been ordered to stand trial in a criminal court,” Vicherat, 45, said in a message sent to faculty Wednesday.

His resignation was to “protect” the school from any fallout of the case, he said. “What counts here is not me but the institution,” he said.

Accusations of violence against him had been made in a “vague manner” Vicherat said, and the judiciary would “allow the facts to be established”.

The criminal case was brought by prosecutors, neither Vicherat nor his former partner having filed any legal complaint against each other.

The Paris prosecutors’ office confirmed that a summons had been delivered to both Vicherat and his ex-partner, on charges of reciprocal domestic violence “leading to an incapacity to work of more than eight days”.

The case will go to trial in the autumn, added a source close to the investigation who asked not to be named.

Vicherat had already stood down temporarily in January after a preliminary investigation was launched and students blockaded the school, protesting against what they said was “impunity” for people committing “sexual and sexist violence”.

He insisted that he had never committed any acts of domestic violence, but acknowledged that “trust may have been damaged.”

Sciences Po, founded in 1872, is a hugely influential cornerstone of French elite education. Its list of alumni features leading politicians including President Emmanuel Macron and several former French and foreign leaders, as well as top names in literature, media, culture and fashion.

Its reputation was already tarnished when Vicherat’s predecessor Frederic Mion was accused of covering up incest allegations against star political scientist Olivier Duhamel, who was head of the Sciences Po Foundation that has strategic oversight over the university.

After Mion resigned, Vicherat took over, saying the fight against sexual violence was an “absolute priority.”

Sciences Po’s management told AFP on Wednesday that a new leadership team would be put together in the coming days.

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