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Chap. 2

Struggling against wind and tide


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After Jean Capelle had been ‘exfiltrated’, as some of his contemporaries dared to refer to it, an interim director was appointed at INSA. Mr. Crauss, who came directly from his post as professor in Algiers, only stayed at the Villeurbanne campus for a few months before Henri Lefèvre arrived. Some people say that Lefèvre was ‘INSA’s savior’...

At that time, the Ministry of Higher Education wanted to encourage the creation of University Institutes of Technology (UITs)explains Robert Arnal, one of INSA’s first professors. We should bear in mind that at that time, technology was only taught for the first two years of higher education, hence the name UIT. Beyond that, ‘applied sciences’ were taught, hence the ‘A’ in the name INSA. When the Ministry was looking for a site to set up a UIT in Lyon, it therefore set its sights on INSA Lyon, which had some surplus square meters. Henri Lefèvre scuppered those planscontinues Robert Arnal.

Henri Lefèvre, a graduate from the prestigious École Polytechnique, engaged the necessary network to put a stop to the Ministry’s ambitions for INSA. 

Struggling against wind and tide. INSA Lyon 57/17
          Bikes in front of the Small Refectory - 1962 ©INSALyon

The Ministry’s second attempt to transform INSA happened a few years later adds Robert. After Henri Lefèvre, Marcel Bonvalet was parachuted in by the Ministry. He ran the engineering school in Nancyhe specifies.

He had created this school and the Ministry then placed him at the helm of INSA to harness his expertise. He wasn’t actually appointed as director immediately recalls Josiane Sacadura. 

Josiane Sacadura and Marcel Bonvalet both arrived at the same time, back in October 1966. She was to be his secretary. Mr. Bonvalet wanted to recreate the model of his school in Nancy – which admittedly worked very well – here in Lyon. Once he had moved here himself, he wanted to bring down his teaching staff from Nancy, then his students... The situation deteriorated afterwards adds Josiane.

While certain members of administrative and teaching staff did join INSA, the students never showed up, because the INSA teaching staff and alumni association unanimously opposed this ‘invasion’. 

Struggling against wind and tide - INSA Lyon
                                   Patrick Prévot ©INSALyon

I graduated from my electronics (EN) studies in 1966. At the time, we spoke of ‘sections’ not ‘departments’. So there were four ‘highbrow’ sections and four ‘technical’ sections, there was a huge divide on the campus! recalls Patrick Prévot. This man from Bordeaux, who had scooped 2nd prize in the national mathematics competition, arrived at INSA in 1962. Little did he know that he would end up remaining at this school throughout his career. A career path that was marked by a real revolution: the birth of the computer.  OWe were introduced to IT by the computer! And more specifically by the electronics of the interface! That’s how we ended up having to study programming and mastering software in real time... The IT discipline didn’t exist. We had to invent everything recalls Patrick Prévot. Robert Arnal took up his pilgrim’s staff to introduce the IT discipline at INSA Lyon.

And at that very time, INSA’s training model also changed: the length of study increased from four to five years, with the first cycle lasting two years, and the engineering cycle three years,  specifies Patrick Prévot.

In October 1968, the director, Marcel Bonvalet, called me into his office and told me he would be leaving for Madagascar at the end of the week, as he had just been appointed rector there. He told me that the electronics section had been scrapped and entrusted me with the task of creating an IT department with the members of my lab. These decisions had been imposed on him by the Department of Higher Education, and he had confided to his close friends and family that we were destined for failure recalls Robert Arnal. 

In 1969, the EN section became the IT department (referred to as the ‘IF’ department in French. Other departments were created, derived from sections previously taught at INSA. ‘Civil Construction’ and ‘Urban Engineering’ were merged into a single department ‘Civil Engineering and Urban Planning’, ‘Mechanical Engineering’ and ‘Applied Mechanics’ became ‘Mechanical Engineering and Construction’, and ‘Applied Electrical Engineering’ became the ‘Electrical Engineering’ department. 

I started at INSA in October 1967. At the time I thought the course would last four years, but the director, Marcel Bonvalet, welcomed us in the auditorium and announced that it would last five years instead! We were the 11th year group at INSA, the first to do five years recalls Jean-Marie Reynouard, who graduated from INSA as an engineer in July 1972. We embraced this passage, even if it was complicated in the second year. My year group had to bear the brunt of the changes, there was a lot of improvisation going on! 

Jean-Marie received excellent grades at the end of his second year and chose to join INSA Lyon’s new ‘Civil Engineering and Urban Planning’ department, which was created following the merger of the ‘Civil Construction’ and ‘Urban Engineering’ departments. He graduated with the second-highest grade in his year. Marcel Bonvalet left and Jacques Robin arrived. The latter, a chemistry lecturer at INSA Lyon, took over at the helm as interim director as from 1969 for a transition period that ended up lasting five years.

No one wanted the position of interim director, without being able to initiate a great deal and simply waiting for someone else to be appointed by the Ministry. Jacques Robin was the only candidate explains Michel Magnin, diplômé INSA 1969 et who graduated from INSA in 1969 and is an active member of AIDIL, INSA Lyon’s Engineers and Graduates Association.  

Jacques Robin lived through the transition to INSA’s five-year training model. He also experienced various conflicts, particularly regarding continuing education.  

Struggling against wind and tide. INSA Lyon 57/17
        Distillation column – Chemistry, December 1964 ©INSALyon

In 1971, the government voted in favor of a law on continuing education which obliged companies to spend 1.1% of their wage bill on training. This law also obliged universities and engineering schools to incorporate a continuing education facility, even though this already existed at INSA. In fact, it was the school’s third mission after training and research. The school had entrusted this mission to the alumni association, hence the creation of CAST (the Scientific and Technical Actualization Center*) in 1962 specifies Michel Magnin. 

Jacques Robin nevertheless created a continuing education service specific to INSA, coming directly into conflict with the association leaders of CAST. The problem was resolved by appointing an employee of the association as head of INSA’s continuing education service: Raymond Terracher, a civil construction engineer who graduated from INSA Lyon in 1965. He subsequently became well known to the locals of Villeurbanne when he served as councilor then acting mayor of the town.

There was no sign of an end to Jacques Robin’s ‘temporary’ position and the years passed by. In 1973 a strong anarchistic sentiment on the campus reached its height.My entire five-year study period was disrupted by strikes recalls Jean-Marie Reynouard. INSA was labeled as a leftist school! I saw Jacques Robin in an office occupied by students for several weeks, and they weren’t just from INSA he adds. In 1973, Jacques Robin was even cornered. He went as far as closing the first cycle, plagued by a strike initiated first of all by second-year students then followed by their younger counterparts.

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The IT department : against all odds

« We were trailblazers when it came to creating the IT (IF) department. Our only competitor was IMAG, the IT school in Grenoble. They were introduced to IT via mathematics; for us it was via digital electronics. We had different cultures: they were compilers; we were into hardware. Our discipline didn’t exist. We had to build everything ourselves, it was hard, and certain careers weren’t recognized... There was a lot of embitterment. But it honed our fighting spirit. We had to survive and we had the blind faith of a prophet. We really suffered, but today we can say that the creation of the IT department is a success. »
Patrick Prévot

INSA Lyon - a pioneer in continuing education

« No one had ever heard of continuing education before it appeared in INSA’s first statutes! In 1961, INSA’s management turned to the recently created alumni association, to which it entrusted this mission. They had to find a way of keeping engineers trained at INSA in the loop. The Scientific and Technical Actualization Center (CAST) was set up in 1962 and Jean-Paul Paris was its first director » recalls Jean-Louis Sauvonnet, one of the school’s first graduates and a member of the alumni association. 
On July 16, 1971, France introduced a law which obliged companies to spend a proportion of their wage bill on training. INSA Lyon, which had anticipated this need for continuing education almost 10 years previously, left the management of this aspect to CAST and decided to also set up the Continuing Education Mission, devoted to graduate education.

The pink cadillac 

« Marcel Bonvalet used to drive a pink Cadillac which we nicknamed the ‘flamingo’. One day, it broke down and he came to me for help. He asked me if I had a car. I told him that I did and that it was in the car park. ‘What kind of car do you have?’, he asked me. ‘A 2CV’, I replied. He made fun of me but I retorted, ‘Well at least my 2CV runs OK!»
Josiane Sacadura

Starting to adopt an international outlook

« Marcel Bonvalet had links with the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) before he came to Lyon. He wanted INSA to take advantage of this, and appointed Madeleine Gilles, who was management assistant at the time, as Head of International Relations. It caused a scandal! A woman, who previously worked in admin, paid by INSA to go to the US? It was unthinkable at the time!»
Josiane Sacadura

In the early 1960s, INSA developed links with Germany, particularly the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). First year group = first European partnership agreement with Karlsruhe. Twinning.

« Jacques Robin could speak German. When he was an engineer at the Ugine-Kuhlmann plant, he went on several trips to Karlsruhe and forged relationships there. I also remember a German fluid mechanics professor named Konrad Kinkelin who was deeply involved in Franco-German relations. We used to call him 3K» recalls Michel Magnin. 

Indeed, Konrad Kinkelin negotiated the agreement on the dual diploma in mechanical engineering (KARLINSA) in 2002, under Alain Storck.« Konrad said that he wouldn’t open it if there were no German candidates. When I took over, I started the dual diploma with the French, who were joined by the Germans in the 3rd year. At the time, KIT was called Karlsruhe Technische Hochschule (Karlsruhe Polytechnic)» adds Arnaud Sandel, in charge of KARLINSA from 2002 to 2015, head of geographical relations with Germany and Austria from 2007 to 2012, and of the first cycle in Karlsruhe from 2007 to 2016.

From then on, INSA never stopped looking beyond its national borders.

May 68

« The events of 1968 were marked by a ‘solidarity strike’ among the students, which resulted in the suspension of classes in early May. But there weren’t actually any serious problems at INSA itself, and in fact, in its working methods, the school was way ahead of most of the other higher education establishments. Anecdotally, I’ll just mention two topics which caused a real stir. One involved free movement in the residence halls, as most of the students were boarders and lived in different halls depending on whether they were male or female. Certain students called for free movement, and this was granted to them by the Ministry. 

The other topic concerned the winter break, which took place for one week between two teaching semesters. Right from the start, Rector Capelle had adopted the principle that this break would be spent in the mountains on what was referred to as a ‘ski camp’ (except in duly substantiated exceptional cases). But the students, backed up by certain members of teaching staff, felt that this wasn’t a chance for relaxation as it was part of the annual schedule and that they needed a week’s holiday by the time they returned from ski camp! This ridiculous claim became increasingly intense over time and in the end, the INSA Board decided to cancel the ski camp. »
Jacques Robin

Val d’Isère disaster

« Every year, at 8 a.m. on February 10, I am overcome with great emotion at the thought that I escaped a very close encounter with death. I got out alive, with just minor injuries, but I was one of the rare survivors from the north refectory of the UCPA chalet at the Val d’Isère resort. We were just having lunch that day, Tuesday, February 10, 1970, when a deadly avalanche from Front du Dôme hit our chalet. The compacted snow filled the north refectory right to the ceiling. I survived because I was ‘blown’ through a window before landing in another refectory. When I look back on this disaster, my thoughts go to those 39 people, including 6 INSA students, who were killed by that deadly avalanche. » Francis Pithon, INSA Lyon engineer


Acceptance letter, 1971
                                                                                                 Courrier d'admissions 1971 ©INSALyon