Alumni CLASnotes Fall 2002

French Government Says "Bonjour UF"

eiffel towerThe French government has chosen the University of Florida as Florida's site of a centre pluridisciplinaire. The designation will help create the France-Florida Research Institute (FFRI) at UF, which will serve as an umbrella organization to centralize and promote the numerous existing partnerships between UF and French and Francophone research centers. The new institute will receive funding from the French government for at least three years, and UF will provide additional support. "This designation recognizes the international academic excellence at UF. We are proud to join this esteemed group and plan to build on our successes in French studies," says Professor of French Carol Murphy, who will serve as the institute's director.

After UF was invited to apply, Murphy worked with an advisory board of UF faculty members to compile information about the university's numerous French connections. "The FFRI will be the central organization that integrates and publicizes existing relationships, as well as creates new exchanges for faculty and students, including lectures, film festivals, visiting professorships, scholarships, conferences, exhibits and outreach," says Murphy. "An important focus in all these activities will be interdisciplinary, especially between the humanities and the sciences, as well as collaboration with other institutions to maximize the institute's efforts throughout Florida, the Southeast and with other centres pluridisciplinaires."

UF's designation as a centre pluridisciplinaire will give it the opportunity to apply for a $1 million grant from the French government within the next several years. Currently, centres pluridisciplinaires of French studies are located at 18 American universities, including Columbia, Princeton, Stanford and Yale. The University of Texas at Austin also received the honor this year. In the past several years, the French Embassy has made an effort to extend its network toward the Southern region of the US. In 1999, a centre pluridisciplinaire was created at Louisiana State University, and last year, Duke University established one.

A committee of four representatives from the French Embassy in the US reviewed the proposals, and one member visited UF this year before the committee made a final decision this summer. The proposal points out that France is the top country of collaboration with UF, and 18 official partnerships with French institutions and research centers already exist. "One of the areas of collaboration we highlighted in the proposal is the French connection to our various science departments," says Murphy. Joint PhD programs have been proposed in chemistry and engineering, and since 1997, the chemistry department has led a successful US/France Research Experience for Undergraduates program. Under the direction of Randy Duran, an associate professor of chemistry, 88 students recruited from the US and Puerto Rico have worked with 40 French undergraduates for three-month research stays at UF. Duran will serve as the institute's associate director.

In October, Murphy traveled to the cultural services of the French Embassy in New York City to meet with the directors of other centres pluridisciplinaires to discuss plans for UF's institute. "Funding for speakers and symposia is already in place, and the program for this year is beginning to take shape." Murphy expects the FFRI to be officially established by January 2003.

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--Allyson A. Beutke

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