President Nicolas Sarkozy suggested Tuesday that his 23-year-old son had been thrown to the wolves by critics since he launched a bid for a highly visible job overseeing France's biggest business district.

Critics say Jean Sarkozy, who has no college degree and is still studying law at the Sorbonne, is too inexperienced for the job. His candidacy has launched a national uproar, with more than 44,000 signatures on an online petition asking him to drop out of the running.

EPAD, which Jean Sarkozy hopes to chair, is a quasi-governmental agency that oversees real estate and other administration in La Defense, a sprawling complex of skyscrapers west of Paris where 150,000 people work. He is eligible for the job because he is an elected official — on a regional council representing part of the Paris suburb of Neuilly — and he is considered the leading candidate.

Asked by reporters about the outcry, President Sarkozy said journalists were busy focusing on controversies while he, as president, has to "solve problems."

"Throwing someone to the wolves — without any reason for it and in an excessive way — is never good," Sarkozy said.

Sarkozy spoke after a speech on education reform, in which he praised Napoleon Bonaparte for having founded an egalitarian high school system that effectively ended "the privileges that come with birth" into families of high standing.

Since then, the president said, "to succeed in France, what counts is no longer being well-born, but having worked hard and proven yourself through your studies and work."

The EPAD board chooses its next chairman Dec. 4. The president's son told France-3 television that he would stay in the race despite the criticism.

"I am an elected official like any other, no matter what my name is, my age is, and my activities are," he said.