LAWRENCE — The Department of French, Francophone & Italian Studies at the University of Kansas has been designated a “Center of Excellence” by the French Embassy in Washington, D.C.
“The Centers of Excellence (Centres d’Excellence) were established by the French government to promote French culture in American universities and increase ties between scholars, artists and public intellectuals in France and the U.S.,” said Bruce Hayes, professor of French and department chair. “It is highly selective and includes only the strongest programs.”
With this designation, KU joins a shortlist of the most prestigious colleges in the country and is only the 25th addition to the network. The College joins Ivy League schools such as Brown, Princeton, Harvard and Yale, as well as state schools including the University of California-Los Angeles, the Ohio State University and the University of Wisconsin.
“The international profile and strength of our students and faculty is the main reason we were able to earn the designation as French Center of Excellence,” said Van Kelly, professor of French and director of graduate studies, who will serve as the center’s director. “The French Center crosses academic disciplines and fields, and KU is rich in students and faculty who engage in outreach with French and Francophone cultures.”
Hayes said the effort students have put into their studies is what made this possible.
“An unusually high percentage of students at KU who study French complete a minor or major, and almost 90% of them study abroad in France,” Hayes said. “Additionally, our students have a high level of involvement in extracurricular activities. For example, right before the pandemic, our French Club was awarded second prize by the French Embassy for its ‘France on Campus’ competition.”
According to the French Embassy’s website, one benefit of the designation is “financial support on a yearly basis from the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the U.S.” Christine Bourgeois, assistant professor and undergraduate director of French, said she saw additional advantages as well.
“Students at all levels can now look forward to more French scholars visiting campus to share work, provide support and give feedback,” Bourgeois said. “So much of our work reaches outside of the confines of KU. Participation in the Centre d’Excellence network will help our students both understand and play active roles in national and international conversations.”
Bourgeois also noted the importance of joining a network of other universities that, like the College, boast an exceptional French program.
“Achieving Centre d’Excellence puts us in direct conversation with some of the best French departments both in the Midwest and around the country,” she said.
Similarly, Hayes said that joining the network provides nearly limitless avenues for future student success.
“This puts our department on the map for French studies and provides us with new contacts in France to which we would not otherwise have access,” Hayes said. “It gives us the chance to propose collaborative projects with other centers and forge ties with universities in France.”
According to the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), about 321 million people around the world speak French, and as the official language of 29 countries, it is second only to English.
To Kelly, this means the Lawrence campus will become a destination point for many noteworthy French and Francophone scholars.
“We hope to cooperate with other French Centers of Excellence in sponsoring the visits of contemporary and global French writers, filmmakers and cultural festivals,” Kelly said, “as well as fostering trans-Atlantic partnerships for study and public dialogue about France and the French-speaking world.”
While the designation elevates the status of the university in general, those who will benefit from it most, Hayes said, will be the students.
“For those who pursue French studies as a profession, they are going to be looked at differently coming from a program with a Center of Excellence designation. Our peers at other universities are very much aware of this prestigious program.”