U of C creates foreign study center in Paris

By Margaret Ryznar

The University of Chicago is working to solidify a permanent presence in Paris by buying approximately 5,000 square feet of space in a building which is scheduled to be built by the summer of 2003. The building will eventually house the University’s existing Paris programs in addition to a new Winter Quarter social sciences program, which will begin in 2001.

The University hopes that this Paris space will serve as the new center of the French study abroad programs. “I hope it becomes a thriving center for our students. I would like to see it become a miniature University of Chicago,” said John Boyer, dean of the College.

Just off the Seine River, the facility is in the hub of a growing intellectual circle in Paris. “True to its tradition, the University chose this area because of its intellectual attractions,” said Robert Morrissey, professor in the department of romance languages and literatures. “It will be housed in a modern facility located a block from the new French National Library and directly across the street from a new campus of the University of Paris. France’s Oriental Institute is relocating to the same area and there is one of the best ‘mediatheques’ in Paris just up the street.”

Paris was chosen as the site for the new center because of its importance in Europe. “Paris is a fascinating and culturally rich city, one of the great world capital cities. It is conveniently located in the heart of Western Europe, but also easily accessible from elsewhere in Central Europe and in Eastern Europe,” Boyer stated.

The main aim of the Parisian center is to encourage the continuation of learning. The University plans for the center to be the catalyst for the growth of intellectual relationships between the U of C and Parisian communities.

“One of the more original aspects of our center will be to house advanced research activities,” Morrissey said. “We plan to have a limited number of ‘fellows’ who will pursue work in the Paris Center and it will also serve our many graduate students who go to France. The Center will be an ideal place to hold conferences and colloquia. Colleagues in several disciplines have already expressed an interest in organizing conferences at our Paris Center.”

“It should also be a point of exchange between the French and our students,” Boyer said.

Beginning next year, the College will offer programs in Paris every quarter. The French civilization and French language study abroad programs, which are currently located in Tours, will move to Paris beginning next year.

In 1995, the University began offering an experimental study abroad program in Tours in addition to the year-long program in Paris. Starting next year, both programs will take place in Paris. “Everywhere you go in France you are reminded of its history: from the Roman amphitheaters, to the great Gothic cathedrals, to the Deportation Memorial in Paris, it really is a course in Western civilization,” said Fay Ellen Rosner, a lecturer in French in the Romance Languages and Literature department.

Rosner was one of the last University of Chicago faculty members to participate in the program in Tours. “Tours is a wonderful little city, with friendly people and access to all of the famous chateaux of the Loire Valley. It was nice to be in a small town where the baker and newspaper vendor recognize your face and ask your opinion about the American elections,” Rosner said.

Aside from Chicago’s academic-year program in Paris — during which students study at the University of Paris or at other university-level institutions in Paris — there will be an Autumn Quarter intensive French language program in Paris, a Spring Quarter civilization-based program in Paris, and an eight-week Summer Quarter intensive French language program in Paris. “If we’re going to have a center, it makes sense to have programs year-round,” Boyer said.

The University will also offer a new Winter Quarter social sciences study abroad program in Paris. “It is devoted completely to economics and social sciences,” said Lewis Fortner, senior study abroad advisor and associate dean of students in the College. “In some ways, it’s parallel to the existing civilization sequences abroad. Students take three substantive courses plus a fourth ‘practical French’ language course. The three substantive courses are economics and social sciences courses taught from a European perspective.”

Several courses have been proposed for the Winter Quarter in Paris, including an anthropology of development course by Chicago’s Alan Kolata and a political science course on the European Union taught by a professor from Paris’ “sciences-po,” the Institut d’Etude Sciences et Politique.

The future Paris center was conceived, in part, to accommodate the large number of Chicago students interested in study abroad.

“We’ve had this year-long program in Paris which was very successful and a few years ago we started civilization programs abroad which we wanted to expand. Then we added a language program. Eventually we decided that it was inefficient and we had more students than we could accommodate, so we decided to buy a center in Paris,” Boyer said.

The approximately $2 million facility will house a library, computer lab, and conference spaces.

The new facility will not be a dormitory. Rather, students studying in Paris will live in the Cite Internationale Universitaire, an international housing facility approximately three miles from the University’s new center.

“We think that people should live in a place different from where they are studying. It encourages them to see the city,” Boyer said.

In addition to serving current University students, the Paris Center will also become an alumni base in Europe. The University has already begun to collaborate with the Graham School of General Studies on a set of programs for European alumni.

In addition to these programs, the center will serve as a social gathering place for alumni. “We very much hope that the Alumni Association will use the center to hold reunions for the many University of Chicago alumni who live and work in Europe. Up to now, the University has had no way to maintain steady and regular contact with these alums, but with the opening of the new center in Paris, many more opportunities should arise for our European-based alumni to come together for reunion activities as well as for lectures and conferences sponsored by the University,” Boyer said.

The building of a University of Chicago center in Paris is just one of the many new projects that France and the U of C are collaborating on. Largely due to the thriving of the Chicago Group on Modern France (CGMF), the University of Chicago recently received a $1 million endowment grant to be matched equally by the University and to be used in order to build a new center on the University of Chicago’s campus in Chicago.

“CGMF had already established a strong set of interdisciplinary activities between the University and French scholars and institutions. The new France-Chicago center will extend and develop these relations,” Morrissey said.

The University of Chicago has strong ties to both Paris and the rest of France. “The University’s good relationship with France is based primarily on the excellent scholarly contacts established by members of our faculty with French colleagues over many years. We are one of the most distinguished American research universities, and we have always had strong ties to sister educational and research institutions in Paris and elsewhere in France,” Boyer said.

Many people were involved in the growth of the French study abroad program. “I would like to emphasize how grateful we are for the support of College and University alumni. A committee of alumni in Paris chaired by Trustee Marshall Wais was instrumental to our efforts to find a first-rate facility,” Morrissey said.

For now, the University is focusing on developing the space purchased in Paris. “The next two academic years will be transitional, but we are very excited about the set of offerings that we have been able to put in place as of the next academic year,” Morrissey said.

There will be an informational meeting about the Paris social sciences program today at 5:00 p.m. in Harper 130.