Université Paris-Dauphine honors Geneviève Jomier

03.04.2018

Professor of Computer Science, member of Dauphine’s LAMSADE research center, and Director of Dauphine’s CRIC – Central Computer Services (now known as the Direction du Digital), Mrs. Jomier was a driving force under university President Ivar Ekeland (1989-1994).

Paris-Dauphine salutes Mme Geneviève Jomier’s work and commitment in two moving tributes, one from university President Isabelle Huault, and the other from Ivar Ekeland who presided over the university from 1989 to 1994.

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"Professor Emeritus since September 2016, our colleague Geneviève Jomier came to Paris-Dauphine as professor in September 1989.

Ivar Ekeland, then university President, appointed Geneviève Jomier Director of Dauphine’s Central Computer Services (called the Centre de Calcul, or computing center) from 1989 to 1994. Efficient and energetic, she was the driving force behind the center’s modernization.

While Director of Central IT Services, Geneviève Jomier developed trust-based, productive working relationships with Dauphine’s mathematicians, thanks to which she played a key role in creating an academic program that combined two disciplines: the Mathematics & IT - IUP. The program, know for its excellence, paved the way for uniting two existing UFR’s, MD (decision mathematics) and IG (general computer science) and which in turn led to the creation of a new academic department, DFR MIDO. She was also the creator and first director of the DEA 127 program (now ISI). Geneviève’s numerous teaching and managerial responsibilities did not prevent her from pursuing her research. She assembled and coordinated LAMSADE’s Database research team propelling it to national and international recognition.

The entire Paris-Dauphine community joins Geneviève Jomier’s family, loved ones, and friends in this moment of loss and sorrow."

Isabelle Huault, President, Université Paris-Dauphine

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Tribute to Geneviève Jomier

I have written this, so that human achievements may not be forgotten by time, and the great and marvelous deeds, both those displayed by the Greeks and by the barbarians, may not be without their glory…
Herodotus of Halicarnassus, , Historiæ (Inquiry)

"Geneviève Jomier first came to Dauphine in September 1989, almost 30 years ago. For those who did not know Dauphine at the time, it is difficult to imagine what the university was like back then. Internet didn’t exist, there were no laptops, and of course no cell phones. All correspondence was written, either by hand or dictated to a secretary, and all articles were machine-typed. The Dauphine telephone system was run by three full-time employees (two switchboard operators and a technician), and occupied 200m2 on the building’s 1st floor. Apple had just launched its first “laptop” computer (not available in France) that weighed 7.4 kilos and cost $6,500, while Bill Gates had just declared that in his opinion, no one would ever need more than 512Ko of memory!

The CRIC (Dauphine Central Computer Services) was founded in 1990, and Geneviève became its first director. Her nomination was not at all self-evident: she was not an engineer but rather an academic, and she would be coordinating all of the university’s computer resources, both human and material. She would have to advance diplomatically to avoid the pitfalls that were sure to arise with the university’s other CRI (IT departments), because there were indeed others! Every Dauphine research center, every academic department had its own CRI and they were all primed to fight “tooth and nail” against a central authority, automatically seen as dictatorial and unable to understand their individual needs. It meant not only time-consuming responsibilities, but also untold opportunities to make enemies – and to what end? Who, in 1990, could have imagined how important IT and all things digital would be in the years to come?

Only the most perceptive and forward-thinking researcher could have understood what was at stake, and Geneviève was that researcher. Hers was a truly prophetic vision of the future; she foresaw not only the technological advances that were to come, but also the way in which they would profoundly change the way we work and communicate. In just a few years, she transformed the university. Dauphine was the first French university to be fully IT- wired: we installed routers all over the building, we hooked into the RENATER network, and when the Internet appeared, we were ready for it. I recall a memorable session (was it in 1992?) when students from the GMI department explained the Internet to Syntech executives. Mrs. Mouly, Secretary General, and Mrs. Sabatier, head librarian, also understood how important databases would become; and together, with Geneviève’s support and assistance, we were able to develop a research library that permanently transformed the way our libraries operated.

But our curriculum had to evolve too! Today, it is common to read that we must prepare our students for careers in the digital sector, but Geneviève had already understood that in 1990! When in 1992, Claude Allègre, then French Minister of Education, created IUPs (Career-oriented University Institutes), Geneviève was finally able to make her vision reality. With Annie Charles, she created the GMI - IUP (Mathematics and IT Engineering university institute), which, for the duration of its all-to-short life, was an extraordinary laboratory that produced a wealth of good ideas implemented by other departments and services. They were the first to integrate apprenticeship and academics, making it possible for students with limited resources to finance their university studies and pursue high-level careers in engineering or finance. They worked closely with IT professionals via a Professional Development Council to develop curriculum that would meet real-world needs. In turn, industry professionals who participated in the Council came to understand that good IT training is not only a question of learning technologies, it is also about acquiring theoretical foundations and a work methodology. Technologies are quickly out-dated, so competent professionals must be capable of responding to rapid change and be able to learn to use new technologies throughout their careers. Last but not least, the IUP gave computer engineers and mathematicians the opportunity to work together to design innovative curriculum and to develop mutual understanding and respect. Their experience led directly to the creation of Dauphine’s MIDO department.

The Dauphine experience was rapidly emulated at the national level. Geneviève participated in the Conseil National des IUP (national IUP council) where she crossed paths with personalities such as Pierre Guillen, Secretary General of UIMM, the Metallurgy Industry’s professional organization, with whom she shared a love of sailing and developed an excellent working relationship. Numerous IUP’s were created across France at the time. Geneviève used her experience and influence to ensure that they maintained their quality and that the “U” for university and “P” for professional” were well-earned. Unfortunately, most of the IUPs have now disappeared, victims of the LMD reform that generalized 3-year and 5-year degrees (whereas IUP students graduated after 4 years of studies). It is also probable that the level of investment required to implement truly professionally oriented university programs such as the IUPs made it impossible to generalize the system. The government chose to make it appear that all university programs were professionally oriented and put them all at the same level. In a sense, the IUP experience was still a success, in that today, all universities must offer apprenticeship tracks and professionally oriented curriculum.

What stands out above all else in the memories of students and faculty who went through or taught at the GMI - IUP, is how open the teaching was and how everyone pooled their talents and worked together. It was not just about Mathematics and IT, but also about communication, languages, law, and marketing – in a word, all that students would encounter professionally or simply in their everyday lives. Our role was not to tell students everything but rather to provide them with keys to learning: we were gate-openers, we showed them what existed, taught them the fundamentals, and provided them with the tools they would need to continue learning on their own in the years to come. The student body reflected the richness and diversity of the curriculum: IT addicts and math nerds, each learning from their particular perspective contributed collectively to helping the class progress, much to their professors’ delight! It was Geneviève’s and Annie’s idea. And I believe that today, 25 years later, their model remains ahead of its time, at least in France, where I know of no other program built on their precepts. The model now being “imported” from the U.S.A., advocates teaching “soft skills” and “hard skills together, but it is still a far cry from the GMI - IUP model!

In spite of her numerous responsibilities and plenteous activities, Geneviève was able to engage in serious research throughout her career. She had colleagues and associates the world over (in Poland, Brazil, Columbia, the U.S.A., Africa) she visited them, and they visited her at Dauphine. And how many students did she have? She was forever reading theses or revising proposals, her office door was always open for them, even in the evening. Her generosity knew no limits. Geneviève developed strong ties to Burkina Faso, where some of her ex-students had founded a school of computer sciences. Every year, she and Annie travelled to Burkina Faso to teach classes at the school. She went again last year, despite deteriorating security conditions. Her Paris apartment was open to all, there was always a relative, friend, African student in need, or visiting researcher in residence.

Geneviève was in no way self-serving. She had a healthy disregard for money, and she loved people. She abhorred the arrogance of those in power, and she listened to simple people, those without any status. It is through Geneviève that learned of a certain CRIC employee who used his modest salary to support a school in Pondicherry, she told me about Father Wresinski and ATD Fourth World. She also loved the sea and shared that love with those around her. Thank you, Geneviève, for all of those sailing expeditions in Brittany and the Mediterranean! Thank you for all the fond memories!

Université Paris-Dauphine owes much to Geneviève Jomier. The entire Ekeland family owes her much as well. Hers was a great mind, an exceptionally great mind, and she always followed up thought with action. Had our society been more open to women, Geneviève would certainly have been one of its prominent figures. In Bridge on the Drina, his wonderful novel, Ivo Andric has one of his characters say: “For all of us die only once, whereas great men die twice, once when they leave this world and a second time when their lifework disappears.” It is now our responsibility to keep Geneviève’s ideas alive, so that she does not die a second time! So, this is not the end of a story, but rather a station along the path. Before we go forth, let us listen to the poet’s words:

From earth's set task I never sought to fly:
Ploughed is my furrow, and my harvest o'er.
Cheerful I lived, and gentle more and more--
Erect, yet prone to bow towards mystery.
("Veni, vidi, vixi”, poem by Victor Hugo)

Ivar Ekeland, President Université Paris-Dauphine (1989-1994)