May 24, 2001
Vol. 20 No. 17

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    College courses in France enhanced with new Center in Paris

    By Peter Schuler
    News Office

    “We are in some respects the most European of American universities,” noted John Boyer, as he explained the University’s enduring interests in Europe, which soon will be enhanced with a University Center in Paris. “Many of our founding faculty had Ph.D.’s from German universities, and we have always taken great pride in our programs in areas studies and in civilizations.”

    According to Boyer, Dean of the College and the Martin A. Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor in History, the Center in Paris will serve as the site of academic programs, including an undergraduate program entirely in the French language, a program that has existed now for 18 years; an undergraduate program taught in English, of which the majority of the instruction would take place at the center; and a postgraduate research fellowship program for distinguished senior faculty.

    The center also will provide a supportive research environment for junior faculty and postdoctoral candidates. Supported by the College and the Humanities and Social Sciences divisions, the Center in Paris will be open to both graduate and undergraduate students and faculty beginning in Fall Quarter of 2003, the year the center is scheduled for completion.

    “This center is unique in a number of ways,” Boyer said. “Unlike many other U.S. educational programs in Europe, we will balance undergraduate courses with programs in support of graduate students and faculty. And, whereas most of the other foreign centers in Paris aren’t necessarily near local universities, we specifically selected our location because it is only one city block from the French National Library and across the street from a new campus of the University of Paris,” he said.

    The center consists of 6,000 square feet of a new building on the Left Bank. It will include a large conference room, two classrooms, faculty, research and administrative offices, a computer room, and a terrace. The conference room also will function as a great room for recitals, lectures, and small performances and readings.

    “The center came about because of a convergence of interests, and we in the College would not have gotten as far as we have without strong support from the two graduate divisions,” Boyer said. “In the College, we wanted to centralize our academic activities in Paris in one place and offer more undergraduates more opportunities to study French history and culture and to undertake language training abroad.” The College’s existing Paris program, founded in 1983, is its oldest and largest for foreign study and has been conducted through arrangements with six academic institutions in Paris, including the Sorbonne and the Institut d’Etudes Politiques.

    “In the Humanities and Social Sciences divisions, there are very strong groups of faculty involved in French studies, with many connections with academic colleagues in the country and a critical mass of graduate and faculty research focused on France,” Boyer said. Paris also was attractive for future University alumni activities in Europe because of its central location, being geographically equidistant in relation to London, Rome and Berlin.

    Boyer, himself a European historian, determined that the timing was right for a more ambitious collaboration among the University’s teachers and scholars and their French counterparts. “On the French side there is great interest in this University. For years, the French government helped finance the interdisciplinary activities of the Chicago Group on Modern France. Last year, it took the extraordinary initiative of creating a $2.1 million dollar matching endowment for the France-Chicago Center, which will continue and enhance the Chicago Group on Modern France programs here at the University.

    “We are the first American university to receive such an endowed center. The existence of the two centers––one here and one in Paris––will create unique opportunities for collaboration and cooperation,” Boyer said.

    “Though the French are very sensitive about their language and culture, we have made it clear that we want a dynamic partnership that will honor their culture by introducing it to greater numbers of young Americans.”

    Separately, the City of Chicago recently announced its participation in a project to create an American cultural center in Paris, one of its sister cities, on the Right Bank near the Louvre. That effort will focus on bringing artists to Paris from Chicago and elsewhere, and it has received strong support from Mayor Richard Daley and his wife, Maggie. “There will be obvious synergies between their center and ours,” said Boyer.

    This fall, all College students who are studying in France will relocate to Paris in preparation for the move to the new Center in Paris building in 2003. The immediate educational plans for the center will be to offer a yearlong program for students fluent in French, which will provide them with a base of operations for their studies at French universities.

    Other plans include a Fall Quarter offering of a total-immersion intermediate language program, plus a course in the history of French art; a Winter Quarter offering of social sciences courses, including economics, for social sciences majors; and a Spring Quarter offering of the History of Western Civilizations program. Up to 20 students will be admitted to the yearlong program, and 25 additional students will attend each of the one-quarter programs, for a total of 45 Chicago undergraduates each quarter. “With two classrooms, we will have the capacity to accommodate double that number as the programs develop,” Boyer said.

    The center also will be home to graduate students pursuing advanced research, students who attend the Graham School of General Studies during the Summer Quarter, and alumni throughout the year.

    University faculty will staff the center, along with appropriate faculty from French universities. Boyer used the Winter Quarter social sciences program as an example. “Next year, we will send over two faculty members from the Economics Department and the Anthropology Department who will be joined by two professors from the University of Paris-IX (Dauphine), which is very strong in economics and includes faculty who have longstanding ties to our department.” Terence Murphy (Ph.D., ’75), a history professor at the American College in Paris, will continue as Director of the University’s Paris program.

    When the Paris facility becomes operational, each year a different Chicago faculty member will serve as faculty director on a rotating, one-year term.

    Boyer foresees broader participation in the Center in Paris to expand the initial collaboration among the College and the Humanities and Social Sciences divisions. “This is a center that will serve the entire University, and we will welcome other units to join us as it grows.”