France awards URI professor teaching honor

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KINGSTON, R.I. –October 31, 2007—University of Rhode Island Associate Professor Alain-Philippe Durand of Cranston was awarded France’s highest teaching honor, the Palmes Académiques, for his distinguished service to French education. The award, established by Napoleon, was presented to Durand during a pinning ceremony Oct. 19.

Durand is known as an enthusiastic French “ambassador” at the University. His motto is simple: The BA in French, Don’t Leave URI Without It.

More and more URI students have heeded his advice. When he joined URI’s Modern and Classical Languages and Literature Department in 1999 there were 30 students majoring in French. Today there are 130. Thanks, in large part to Durand’s persuasive personality, URI’s French and Francophone Studies program is now the third largest in the country.

M. Beverly Swan, URI provost and vice president of academic affairs, called Durand “a pied piper” who travels the University campus fostering marriages. She noted that Durand helped unite the French language and business, French and pharmacy and the French and Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design to create double majors in all three areas.

Durand also teaches film media studies, comparative literature, and honors courses. This semester, the versatile professor with the heavy French accent serves as the interim chair of the English Department.

“He is a unique force,” said French Consul François Gauthier from the French Consulate in Boston who pinned the bright gold medallion dangling from a ribbon on Durand’s left breast pocket. “He is working magic.”

“J’ai deux amours,” commented Durand. “ I have two loves…my country and America. He recalled as a child listening to his grandparents tell how grateful they were when the Americans arrived in France during World War II. He also recalled some of their family films, especially one of their visits to friends who had immigrated to Newport, R.I.

Durand earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Kansas. While in the heartland of America, he realized he wanted to share his passion for France and the French language and culture with college students.

He clearly accomplishes that at URI. In 2002, the URI Foundation presented him with its Teaching Excellence Award. One student who nominated him for the award was so impressed with her professor’s classroom presentations, she made her mother take a day out of work and her sister skip school so that they could sit in on one of his classes, an interesting reversal on the standard show and tell.

““He brings people together,” said URI senior Patricia Matthews who watched her professor receive the French honor. On Durand’s urging, Matthews spent a year in France in a direct exchange program at the Université d’Orléans. After graduation in May, she hopes to either teach English in France or join the Peace Corps. “Taking French classes with him was the best thing that happened to me at URI,” she said.

Pictured above

FROM LEFT: Alain-Philippe Durand, URI associate professor of French, poses for a photo with Winnie Brownell, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and French Consul François Gauthier from the French Consulate in Boston. URI Department of Communications & Marketing Photo by Michael Salerno.