Gala marks opening of Paris Center

By Daniel Gilbert

Joining their French academic and civic counterparts in Paris, University and city officials from Chicago will celebrate the University’s new Paris Center this weekend. Both parties are toasting the Center as a symbol of rapprochement between Chicago and Paris academia.

University President Don Michael Randel, Dean of the College John W. Boyer, and Chairman of the University’s Board of Trustees James Crown are among those who will join Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley in Paris this weekend. The new Center stands alongside the Graduate School of Business in Barcelona and Singapore as the only other real estate the University owns abroad. Located in the 13th Arondissement near the National Library, the Center was intentionally built in a developing quarter of the city, where real estate prices are lower.

Philippe Desan, the Howard L. Willett Professor of Romance Languages and Literature, and member of the Paris Center’s steering committee, pointed out a further reason for the center’s location: “The University of Chicago Center in Paris will occupy a center for major Parisian universities,” said Desan. “[The universities] Paris III and Paris VII are relocating to the 13th Arondissement,” he noted.

Desan thinks the new Center adds to the increased level of visibility that University of Chicago students and faculty have in Paris, and more broadly, in Europe.

When Desan came to work for the University 20 years ago, he described the University of Chicago’s reputation in Paris as “unknown.” Now the traffic of French students through the University of Chicago is the highest in the United States, and Desan’s Parisian contacts view the University as the “most European” of all American schools.

Desan’s impression of the University’s growing reputation in Europe was echoed recently by an article in the major Parisian newspaper Libération, which described the University as the “most European university in the United States.” The article went on to note that in recent years, the University of Chicago has welcomed the “cream of French research,” with the likes of Paul Ricouer, a leading French intellectual, and Marc Fumaroli, of the French Academy, serving as faculty in Chicago.

The new Paris Center will serve several purposes. This year, it has accommodated undergraduate students from six different study abroad programs. Next year, with the addition of a winter program in computational math and a spring program for the humanities, an even greater number of U of C students will study in Paris. Lewis Fortner, director of study abroad programs at the University, recalled a line from one of his favorite movies, Field of Dreams, to describe the appeal of the Center to undergraduates: “If you build it, they will come.” “We want to export students,” Fortner added.

The Center will also serve a research function for graduate students in the University, and for French students who wish to take courses there. The University has already reached agreements with some of the most prestigious universities in Paris, such as the Ecole Normale Supérieure, and the Institut d’Etudes Politiques, which will involve an exchange of faculty and students.

A third objective of the Center is to provide a place for academic conferences for faculty from the University and other academic institutions throughout Europe.

According to Stephanie Latkovksi, Associate Dean of International and Second Language Education in the College, the University of Chicago Center in Paris is the brainchild of John Boyer, Dean of the College.

Boyer, who first proposed the idea in the academic year of 1998-1999, selected Paris for the Center’s site based on its central location in Europe.

“The Paris Center is also an important part of a larger strategy on the part of the College to help our students engage the world by studying other cultures and learning other languages in a direct and immediate way,” Boyer said.

Boyer feels that the University has made solid progress in this regard. “When I started as the Dean of the College in 1992, we had about 40 students studying abroad,” he said. “If one includes the FLAG grant recipients, this year’s (2003-2004) we will have over 400 students studying abroad.”