University’s traditions replicated in ParisBy Josh Schonwald
Beginning in August, the University will have a home on Rue Thomas Mann in Paris, just two blocks away from the National Library of France and steps away from Paris’ premier institutions of higher learning. The University’s new Paris Center is at the heart of a burgeoning intellectual and cultural community, located along the banks of the Seine in an area known as Paris’ 13th arrondisement.
The purpose of the Paris Center is to create “a microcosm of the University,” said John Boyer, Dean of the College, and a longtime champion of the project. “We hope this center will become a European intellectual center, taking Chicago’s strong traditions of high-level research and first-rate teaching back to its European roots,” said Boyer.
The 5,500-square-foot center, which will have its own great room and library, classrooms, seminar rooms, offices and computing facilities, as well as a private garden terrace, will become the home base for all of the College’s study abroad programs in France. It also will become an administrative center for the College’s programs throughout Europe.
While the center is another important step in the College’s continued effort to expand its study abroad offerings and cross-cultural education, Boyer also emphasized that the undergraduate program is only one piece of the center’s mission. As it will function as a campus for an expected 100 to 200 undergraduates studying annually in Paris, it also will provide support and office space for graduate research fellows and faculty members doing research in Paris. Boyer evoked the idea of a mini-Gleacher Center, hosting academic conferences and alumni gatherings, as well. With more than 4,000 alumni living and working throughout Europe, the University also expects that the Paris Center will become a rallying point for members of the University’s alumni community.
Robert Morrissey, Professor in Romance Languages & Literatures, and Director of the University’s France-Chicago Center, will serve as the first Academic Director of the Paris Center during its first two years of operation.
Beginning in the fall, students who enroll in the College’s flagship study abroad program, which was founded in Paris in 1983, will take a yearlong in-depth course in French language and civilization at the center. They also will take classes, based on their course of study, at various Parisian universities.
While the University’s yearlong program will continue to offer instruction exclusively in French for up to 25 enrolled students, several of the Paris Center’s quarter-long offerings will be taught in English to cohorts of 25 to 50 undergraduates.
The Paris Center curriculum will offer college students three quarter-long study options. In the Fall Quarter, a European Civilization sequence taught in French will include a range of subjects, including economics, political science, and French history. During the Winter Quarter, a cluster of Social Sciences courses will be offered, and in the Spring Quarter, students will be able to take the European Civilization sequence taught in English. Morrissey said he expects the Paris Center will in future years offer a program for concentrators in the physical sciences.
These courses will be taught by University faculty members, and by academic colleagues from elite Parisian institutions such as the French National Institute for Political Science, the University of Paris and the Ecole Normale Superieure. “Great attention will be given to ensuring that visiting faculty at the Paris Center are of the same top-rate quality as University faculty,” said Morrissey.
On the graduate student and faculty fronts, the University aims to replicate the academic energy of the Hyde Park campus on the Paris Center campus. With its conference facilities and Parisian location, the center is expected to become an animated setting for scholarly debate and the sharing of ideas. Janel Mueller, Dean of the Division of the Humanities and the William Rainey Harper Distinguished Service Professor of English Language & Literature and the College, said she hopes the office facilities and seminar room, which can be assigned for use by dissertation fellows and faculty researchers, will help to cultivate a Chicago-like atmosphere. The center’s cluster of eight individual offices will house scholars who are who are pursuing individual research projects.
Chicago students and faculty who receive outside research funding, such as Fulbright scholarships, may apply to become affiliates of the center. Dependent on supply and demand and chosen on a rolling basis, affiliates will be granted access to the center’s resources.
For humanities scholars, the Chicago Center in Paris is an optimal location for the center, said Mueller. “Paris is one of the world’s great intellectual centers and offers vast resources for scholars of art, architecture, music, cultural studies, the history of the city, and history in general, to name just a few,” she said. “The city, of course, offers unparalleled resources on French culture and history, but even beyond its French holdings–thanks in large part to French imperial designs–Parisian libraries, such as the French National Library, also have vast holding for scholars of the Near East, Africa and East Asia.
“It’s one of the world’s great cultural repositories,” said Mueller, “And it’s central to the research of scholars far beyond French culture and history. We are excited by the scholarly opportunities that will become realities at this marvelous new outpost of the University.”
The University chose Paris partly because of its accessibility. The French capital is a transportation hub and centrally located in Europe.
Chicago’s strong history of collaboration with French scholars also made it an ideal choice. A number of influential French philosophers, historians and literary scholars, such as Paul Ricoeur, Francois Furet, Marc Fumaroli and Jean-Luc Marion, have taught at Chicago, said Morrissey.
Furthermore, in the early 1990s, the French government selected Chicago as one of six “Centers of Excellence.” Then, in 2000, the French government awarded a $1 million challenge grant to endow the France-Chicago Center at the University. Its mission is to foster exchange and collaboration with French scholars and across the disciplines.
These collaborations have given the University an extraordinary reputation in Paris, said Morrissey. Last year, the French newspaper Le Monde printed a feature on Chicago titled, “The Chicago Miracle.” Boyer noted, “The University of Chicago is perhaps considered more preeminent in Paris than any other American university.”
Paris also appealed to the University because Paris-based alumni were so enthusiastic about the possibility of a center there. “They took a great interest in persuading us to build the center in Paris,” Boyer said, “and they really took the initiative in helping us find an appropriate site.”
Boyer, Morrissey and Mueller agree that the decision to select Paris for this center, a process that took more than a year of consultation and research, was the best choice. “We wanted to do something that was very University of Chicago,” said Morrissey.
The center is optimally located for all of these purposes in the new Meteor district of the city. “It will be highly academic and highly conducive to scholarship,” said Morrissey.