PARIS — The director of a prestigious French political science university resigned on Tuesday evening, weeks after accusations of incest involving one of the school’s most prominent figures had raised suspicions about who might have known about the allegations and kept silent.
Frédéric Mion, who has been the director of the university, Sciences Po, since 2013, said in a letter to students that he had decided to resign after a report from education ministry inspectors pointed to “errors in judgment in my handling of the allegations which were communicated to me in 2018, and inconsistencies in the way I communicated about this case after it arose.”
Mr. Mion, 51, had been under increasing pressure from students to step down after it became clear that he had taken no action against Olivier Duhamel, a longtime professor who also headed the governing board overseeing Sciences Po, despite knowing of the accusations against him.
In the latest in a series of sexual abuse scandals that have shaken France’s intellectual and political elite, Mr. Duhamel, a well-known 70-year-old intellectual, was accused by his stepdaughter, Camille Kouchner, of having abused her twin brother starting when he was 14.
Mr. Duhamel has since resigned from all the positions he held, saying he was determined to “preserve the institutions in which I work.” The Paris prosecutor’s office quickly announced that it was opening an investigation into allegations of rape of a minor and sexual aggression.
The accusations appeared in a book published last month, “La Familia Grande,” by Mrs. Kouchner, who painted an uncompromising portrait of Mr. Duhamel but also of the small world of intellectuals, artists and politicians surrounding him, whom she accused of having largely protected her stepfather.
“Very quickly,” she writes, “the microcosm of people in power, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, was informed. Many people knew, and most pretended nothing had happened.”
Jean Veil, a prominent Paris lawyer and very close friend of Mr. Duhamel’s, acknowledged in the newspaper Le Monde that he had known of the sexual abuse but kept silent out of “professional confidentiality.” Marc Guillaume, a top civil servant and former secretary general of the French government, said he had been told of “sexual problems” — but not of incest accusations — involving Mr. Duhamel, according to the French magazine Marianne.
Mr. Mion said he was alerted to the allegations in 2018 by a former culture minister, Aurélie Filippetti. He said had no taken action because of the lack of tangible evidence and because Mr. Veil told him it was only rumors.
But in a phone interview on Tuesday, Ms. Filippetti said Mr. Mion had called her after the accusations were made public last month in the book and said, “We shouldn’t let anyone think that we knew.”
Ms. Filippetti said the call had “chilled” her.
Back in 2018, she said, she trusted Mr. Mion to “at least” remove Mr. Duhamel from his position at Sciences Po.
“You can’t just sweep everything under the carpet when it comes to something that bad,” Ms. Filippetti said.
Léon Thébault, one of the many students at Sciences Po who had asked for Mr. Mion’s departure, said that the scandal “revealed the mechanisms put in place by Mr. Mion to preserve an omertà” — but that ended up encouraging people throughout society to speak out on sexual abuse.
In his resignation letter, Mr. Mion said the education ministry report confirmed “that no system of organized silence or complacency existed within our establishment.”
The accusations against Mr. Duhamel unleashed a torrent of accounts from people across France who said they had been the victims of incest. The outpouring on French social media brought to light what many consider a pervasive problem in the country.
An independent commission set up by the government to investigate incest has been reinvigorated with the appointment of two new co-presidents. Its former president, Elisabeth Guigou, resigned in early January because of her close ties to Mr. Duhamel, though she said she had been unaware of the allegations of abuse.
Following the wave of accounts on social media, President Emmanuel Macron has pledged tougher laws on child sexual abuse.
“Today, shame is switching sides,” Mr. Macron said in a video posted on Twitter. “No one can ignore these experiences any longer.”
Gaëlle Fournier contributed research.