Paris Center opens
As they traveled up the escalators in a cinema
multiplex near Paris’s National Library, more than 200 people
saw the purpose of their visit flashing on the electronic message
board directing them to the appropriate theater: l’Université
de Chicago. The group—University trustees, visiting committee
members, and other friends—was there to mark the launch of
the new University Center in Paris.
The center opened in fall 2003 for College students,
who had been taking courses at French universities. During the academic
year construction continued on details such as a courtyard garden
and a sidewalk. By mid-May the complex was ready for its official
Besides undergraduate French and civilization
courses, in coming years the center will offer English, economics,
political-science, history, mathematics, and computer-science classes.
Doctoral and postdoctoral activities including colloquia, debates,
and conferences will take place there, open to European researchers.
In the theater the visitors heard former French
Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, senior lecturer at the Harris Graduate
School for Public Policy Studies, discuss French political culture.
Then they toured the landmark National Library, a late-1980s centerpiece
of the Left Bank’s gentrified 13th Arrondissement, the center’s
A city of big ideas as well as big monuments,
Paris suited the Chicago guests, who attended a reception at the
Hotel de Ville, or city hall, and the home of U.S. ambassador Howard
H. Leach. In between was a dedication event at the $3.5 million
Paris Center, designed by Catherine Furet. The center—two
modern buildings connected by the outdoor garden—contains
classrooms, offices, a computer lab, and a library that doubles
as a large meeting room.
“This is a wonderful moment in the history
of intellectual engagement between the United States and France,”
President Don M. Randel said at the dedication, also attended by
Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and his wife Maggie. A research center
and a classroom, respectively, were named for College Dean John
Boyer, AM’69, PhD’75, and Humanities Dean Janel Mueller.
Board of trustees chair James Crown praised contributors such as
Harry Bernbaum, AB’39, and wife Harriet, who named the center’s
great room in memory of their daughter, Keren-Or.
Mueller told the group that when Chicago administrators
had trouble finding an appropriate venue for the center, Paris residents
Marshall Wais, AB’63, a University trustee, and his wife Deborah
Wais, AB’63, helped secure the location near the National
Library, where the University could construct a building to its
own specifications rather than adapt an existing space.
With its breadth of course offerings, the Paris
Center has a broader scholarly mandate than other U.S. university
programs in France, which often focus on language courses. Besides
the undergraduate and doctoral offerings, the Harris School’s
joint initiative with the Institut d’Études Politiques
will let French and Chicago doctoral students collaborate in a transatlantic
The University, noted Paris Center Executive
Director Robert Morrissey, PhD’82, is seeing an unusual interest
in French studies, contrary to national trends—between 1998
and 2002 U.S. students taking French courses grew by 1.5 percent,
the lowest of any language save Russian. But at Chicago, Morrissey
said, the number of French courses offered since 2000 is up 40 percent.
Already the new center is proving popular: while 15 students took
last year’s fall French civilization course, this year 33
applied and 23 are going.—William Harms