Elite French institution lends professors to University

By Nicholas Nardini

Students at the University of Chicago would do well to practice their French.

Beginning next fall, the U of C will become the first American university to host lecturers from the Collège de France, one of that country’s highest-profile academic institutions.

The partnership came as a result of conversations between Professor Jacques Glowinski, administrator of the Collège, and University of Chicago Professors Robert Morrissey, Dan Bertsche, and Raymond Pierrehumbert.

Professors at the Collège, at which courses are free and open to the public, are required to give around 12 lectures a year to communicate the thrust of their current research to an educated public. As part of an effort to facilitate this requirement, the Collège has been seeking recently to “delocalize” these lectures, allowing them to be given at partner institutions.

Pierre Humbert, professor of Geophysical Sciences, suggested the University of Chicago to Glowinski, a neuroscientist often referred to as the father of neuropsychology.

“It happened incredibly quickly,” said Morrissey, director of the University’s France Chicago Center, which helps connect French and American students and scholars. “Glowinski had spent some time at the University of Chicago, he liked it, he was very familiar with it, and he said, ‘let’s do it.’”

Bertsche, assistant director of the France Chicago Center, applied for funding to the Florence Gould Foundation, an organization that promotes the relationship between the U.S. and France. Enough money was granted to make the four-year program possible. Each year, Chicago will host at least two Collège professors, inviting them to present a series of public lectures and to integrate themselves into the University community.

Next year, the program will bring three French professors to Chicago: Eduard Bard, a climatologist, Michael Zink, a world-famous medievalist, and Stanislas Dehaene, a neuroscientist and former director of France’s Institut National de la Santé (National Health Institute). “We’re looking for a balance between the humanities and social sciences on the one hand, and the hard sciences on the other,” Morrissey said.

The Collège de France was founded in 1530 by King Francis I to promote the study of then-underrepresented fields, including Hebrew and mathematics. Today, faculty members are selected for preeminence in their respective fields. A leading research institution, the Collège does not grant academic degrees or certificates. Famous historical faculty include Michel Foucault, Paul Valéry, Henri Bergson, and Georges Cuvier.

The U of C became the first American institution to partner with the Collège because it has a “long tradition with French scholars,” is “very, very visible in France,” and opened the Paris Center in 2003, Morrissey said. He added that the Paris Center has led to exchanges across disciplines between France and the U.S., from doctoral fellowships to visiting scholars.

“This is just the first element of cooperation between our institutions,” Morrissey said. “We have reached a critical mass of interaction with France.”