UF closing its center in Paris
The facility hosts study abroad programs and faculty doing international research.
Published: Saturday, January 29, 2011 at 4:47 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 29, 2011 at 9:27 p.m.
Despite a push to expand its international presence, the University of Florida is closing its Paris Research Center.
The center, which hosts study abroad programs and faculty conducting international research, is closing in July. UF International Center Dean David Sammons said the decision was because of New York's Columbia University, which owns the building where the center is located, needing the space for other uses.
Sammons said UF no longer will operate a full-blown center in Paris, but alternatives are being considered such as partnering with a French university or a firm that manages study abroad programs.
"We are not ceasing to have a presence in Paris," he said. "We're simply leaving our current facilities."
The closure comes as UF President Bernie Machen has made a priority of turning UF into a "global beacon" by expanding international study. Yet UF also is considering changes at its only other international center, located in Beijing, such as possibly turning it into a center for all Southeastern Conference schools. UF also decided against opening a campus in South Korea.
Faculty Senate President-elect Scott Nygren, a professor of film and media studies who has taught and coordinated programs at the Paris center, said it is "regrettable" the center is closing.
"I think it's a major concern when we have a world-class institution and the university doesn't have the wherewithal to maintain it," he said.
UF created the center in 2003. France is one of UF's top locations to study abroad, with more than 1,400 students studying there since fall 2006. Nearly half studied at the center. More than 100 UF faculty have made use of the center, according to information listed on its website.
The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has operated the facility but had planned to transfer responsibility this year to the UF International Center. The college spent about $700,000 this academic year on the facility, up from about $480,000 two years ago, according to the college.
While Sammons suggested that financial reasons were a factor in the transfer, college Dean Paul D'Anieri said money was not the main reason. Rather, D'Anieri said, it seemed more appropriate for the International Center to have responsibility for a facility that served faculty beyond the liberal arts.
"It seemed to fit their mission and their experience more clearly than ours," he said.
Sammons said the decision to no longer have a facility in Paris also is related to the college recalling the center's director, associate professor of French Gayle Zachmann, back to campus to teach. D'Anieri suggested that having a tenured professor doing administrative work in Paris was not considered the most efficient use of resources.
"Is that the best way to put to use one of the scarcest resources we have?" he asked.
Zachmann could not be reached for comment. Nygren questioned the idea that having Zachmann teach on campus is more valuable than running a center that benefited many faculty members.
"The trade-off, to me, is so extremely wrong-headed," he said.
Nygren has taught classes at the center and served as coordinator of summer programs there for three years. The location is a hub for international research of all kinds, he said, using as an example the fact that he conducted research there on Japanese films. Having personnel there makes it easy for faculty to operate, he said. "As anyone who's worked in Paris knows, that's a very complex bureaucracy," he said.
Sammons said UF might maintain a small office staff doing logistical work in Paris. The university will continue to operate programs in France, he said.
"It's not a signal in any sense of a change in our priorities," he said.
UF also is considering changes at its Beijing Center for International Studies. Sammons said cultural reasons make it necessary to have a physical presence in China, allowing face time with officials there. But he said there are discussions about ways to make the center financially viable.
Ideas include making it a center for all SEC schools or charging China for support services for students applying here, he said.
As for South Korea, Sammons said UF decided against locating a campus there. The country is building a massive campus outside Seoul for several U.S. universities, but some have backed out for financial reasons. Sammons said it is unclear whether a UF campus would be viable after the initial financial support from South Korea ran out.
There are also questions about using money from Florida taxpayers to create a campus in another country, he said.
"These are big undertakings, and there are some important questions about whether this is a smart thing to do," he said.
Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or email@example.com.
Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.