Bonjour, and welcome to Paris, this truly magnifique capital city and renowned center of business and high culture. Here, members of the IU delegation have — in the span of about 36 hours — honored and celebrated IU’s historic French connections, while simultaneously exploring new efforts to add to the university’s longstanding legacy of successful engagement in Europe.
IU’s roots truly do run deep in France. Over the years, the university has welcomed scores of French students and scholars to its campuses. Furthermore, each year around 100 IU students choose to come to France to study a wide variety of subjects, such as art and design, history, French culture and language, law, international business, science, music and more. Their overseas study is made possible through strong and productive partnerships that several IU units supported by the Office of the Vice President for International Affairs — including the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington, Kelley School of Business, Maurer School of Law, School of Public and Environmental Affairs and Fairbanks School of Public Health at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis — maintain with France’s top universities.
IU also established one of its earliest study abroad programs in France. In 1965, IU formed a partnership with Purdue University that gave students the opportunity to study at the University of Strasbourg. When that arrangement ended in the mid-1990s, IU joined a partnership with the University of Wisconsin and the University of Michigan that enabled students to study in Aix-en-Provence. Members of the delegation had the privilege of visiting that program on Friday and getting to know the current cohort of IU students who are just concluding their year overseas.
There are several other interesting historic and cultural connections between IU and France. Ernest Bicknell, deputy commissioner to France during World War I, graduated from IU in 1887. Later he became director of the Rockefeller War Relief Committee and also earned the Legion of Honor from the French government for his humanitarian efforts.
On IU’s Bloomington campus, the Indiana Memorial Union serves as home to a replica of “Ugolino and his Sons” by 19th century French sculptor Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux. The sculpture was a gift from the citizens of France in gratitude for “The Friendship Train,” which crossed the U.S. in 1947, after World War II, to collect food from American donors that was shipped to France and Italy as a gesture of goodwill and to assist in the war recovery effort.
L’esprit de IU!
And then there are the nearly 350 IU alumni affiliated with France, several of whom, as IU delegation members were thrilled to find out during their trip to Paris, are working hard to ignite the IU spirit.
As IU President Michael McRobbie is often fond of saying, the secret of the university’s success lies in the enthusiastic engagement of its graduates all over the world. IU alumni truly are the university’s greatest global ambassadors and, indeed, it was enormously gratifying to see how the group of Hoosier graduates with whom delegation members gathered in Paris Sunday afternoon has reenergized the university’s France alumni chapter as well as alumni activity all across Europe.
The reception included IU graduates who studied at IU in each of the last six decades and have gone on to successful careers in, among other fields, academia, art and music, business, law, media, science and technology. Joining the president of the IU Alumni Association chapter here in France were the leaders of the chapters in Switzerland and Germany. Collectively, they and their fellow chapter members represent IU’s growing global footprint across Europe and increasing activity in the region, much of which is being supported and advanced through IU’s new Europe Gateway office. The office, which opened in Berlin in 2015, is IU’s third such facility for international faculty, student and alumni activities, following the launch of similar offices in New Delhi and Beijing.
At the Paris event, President McRobbie provided an update on recent progress at IU — including the establishment of the Berlin office, several new schools, academic programs and major initiatives — and a preview of the university’s bicentennial celebration, which will commence in the 2019-20 academic year. Afterward, several alumni talked about how eager they were to help the university send more Hoosier students to Europe for study abroad. Others talked about how they hoped to encourage more students from France and other European countries to study at IU. Many expressed excitement about the upcoming IU Bicentennial and said how they hoped, one way or another, to make it back to Indiana to take part in the celebration.
Indeed, the alumni were having so much fun reuniting, reminiscing and making plans for future get-togethers that almost no one wanted to leave, a clear reflection of just how the large l’esprit de IU is here in France.
New pathways to partnership in education and the arts
As busy as President McRobbie and his colleagues have been renewing ties with IU’s international alumni, they have been equally engaged in exploring promising new educational and cultural connections in France toward the goal of expanding overseas opportunities for students and faculty.
To this end, IU delegation members participated in meetings today with faculty leaders at University Paris II Panthéon-Assas, France’s first and most prestigious law university and a school with a distinguished pedigree. Since its founding, Paris II has produced two presidents, four prime ministers and nearly 40 ministers in France and around the world. In addition to law, Paris II also boasts strong academic programs in, among other areas, economics, management, political science and information and communications science.
Today’s meetings centered around efforts to potentially expand upon what, in recent years, has proven to be a productive relationship between IU and Paris II. That relationship has resulted in short-term and semester-long exchanges of law students and faculty.
Following the meetings with Paris II personnel, IU delegation members met with officials at the U.S. Embassy office in Paris, where they received a briefing on higher education issues in France, including the impact of the recent French presidential election.
Finally on Monday, several members of the IU delegation, including yours truly, took the quickest of tours of the legendary Louvre Museum, the world’s largest and one of its most popular museums. Located on the right bank of the river Seine, which cuts the city in two, the Louvre houses nearly 35,000 objects from prehistory to the 21st century in exhibition space that spans more than 650,000 square feet. Every year around 8 million people visit the museum, which contains what many consider an unsurpassable collection of the most essential masterpieces in the history of art — works such as da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” and “The Last Supper,” Théodore Géricault’s “Raft of the Medusa,” and Michelangelo’s “Rebellious Slave.”
Kindly leading us through a whirlwind tour of a small part of the Louvre (as those who have visited the museum well know, you need several more days and you still wouldn’t see all of this simply overwhelming museum) was Marie-Anne Dupuy-Vachey, an art scholar and former curator at the Louvre. She is married to a descendent of Dominique Vivant-Denon, an artist and author who was the director of the Louvre under the emperor Napoleon and who is commemorated in the Denon wing of the museum.
As it turns out, the IU Eskenazi Museum of Art owns a wonderfully detailed portrait sculpture of Denon, which Marie-Anne visited in Bloomington just last year. Of course, there’s also an architectural link between the Louvre and IU; the glittering glass pyramid (the “Pyramide du Louvre”), through which hundreds of thousands of visitors enter the museum, was designed by the world-renowned architect I.M. Pei. Pei, who recently celebrated his 100th birthday, also designed IU’s top-rated art museum, which, just several days ago, began a $30 million renovation that will fully modernize the museum in time for IU’s Bicentennial.
Marie-Anne led the group of us as quickly as she could through several of the seemingly endless exhibition halls of the Louvre, stopping in places just long enough for us to see several works that were simply awe-inspiring. My personal favorites: the 8-foot-tall marble statue “The Winged Victory of Samothrace” and “The birds,” a painting by George Braque that adorns the ceiling in the museum’s Henri II room.
We had little time to see much more, sadly, in our tightly packed schedule of meetings. Nevertheless, we parted ways with Marie-Anne with the strong hope that IU’s unique connections to the Louvre might lead to the development of future joint opportunities with this grandest of all museums and further increase IU’s remarkable foothold here in France.