Webster announces French professor to fill newly created endowed professorship


The College of Arts & Sciences named Lionel Cuillè the inaugural Jane and Bruce Robert Professor of French and francophone studies. He will begin the position in August 2012.

David Carl Wilson, Dean of Arts and Sciences, said Cuillè has an outstanding teaching record and a proven record of promoting French culture in the community.

Cuillè emerged as the leading candidate from a field of remarkably impressive applicants, Wilson said. Cuillè currently teaches French at Washington University and is the director of the 2012 French Summer Institute in France. He said he applied for the position because he wanted to make a difference.

Jane and Bruce Robert established the professorship on Dec. 14, 2010, when they donated $1 million to Webster. Only a portion of the donation is applied to funding the position. Wilson said the money helps pay the professor’s salary and funds both  research and co-curricular activities organized by the professor. A portion of the income is reinvested in the principle, so that the base amount grows over time.

Wilson appointed the interdisciplinary search committee, chaired by professor Emily Thompson, to find the first professor for the program. Cuillè was accepted. He plans to teach, research and promote French and francophone culture, the culture of counties outside of France who speak French, to Webster students and the community.

Next semester Cuillè plans to meet with French instructors at different high schools across St. Louis. His goal is to be a bridge of learning between Webster, area high schools and the community. He plans to work closely with the French Alliance to help build this relationship. Cuillè is interested in organizing an international French francophone festival. He also plans to invite writers to campus and hold French culture contests at Webster.

“The goal is to get more visibility to the French and francophone culture as well as the language department here at Webster,” Cuillè said.

The Jane and Bruce Robert professorship is intended to promote a greater understanding and appreciation of French, francophone language and culture throughout Webster. This professorship has also been linked to Webster’s Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies. Cuillè’s courses each year will contribute to the human rights curriculum.

Cuillè first came to the United States at the age of 22 and began teaching at the University of Madison in Wisconsin. In 1997, Cuillè began teaching at the University of Pennsylvania, where he met his American wife. Later in 2000, his wife accepted a position at Washington University while Cuillè was co-director of the poetry center at École Normale Supérieure in Lyon.

For two years, Cuillè commuted back and forth between France and the United States with his wife. Cuillè eventually decided to move to St. Louis where he began teaching francophone language and culture and European literature at Washington University. His wife currently teaches 18th century French literature at Washington University.

According to Cuillè, graduate students in France most often teach in middle school and not college universities. Cuillè was authorized to teach French at the middle school level in 1991 after he completed the national exam Capes de Lettresmodernes.  He began studying French literature at University of Aix-en-Provence where he remained until the end of his graduate work in 1994. Since then, he has earned his doctorate in contemporary literature from École Normale Supérieure.

He earned his doctorate summa cum laude from the University of Lyon, and has been awarded the Qualification sur les listes de Maitre de Conference by France’s Ministry of Higher Education. He taught middle school French for two years, and taught one year each at a military high school and public high school.

In 1996 Cuillè passed the Agrégation de Lettres modernes, a highly competitive national exam that enables him to teach at both high school and college level. In 2002 Cuille taught a couple classes to high school French teachers at Webster.

“I like the fact that many of the students at Webster were creative and interested in the art,” Cuillè said. “In fact, that is something I want to do again. I want to create courses at Webster targeted at high school teachers of French.”

Paula Hanssen, Webster international languages and culture chair, said she was intrigued by Cuillè’s eagerness to join Webster’s faculty and believes it will promote an international perspective, global citizens and language learning.

“Even if you don’t speak French, it’s a world language and can help us understand our own language, as well other cultures,” Hanssen said.

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