French ambassador to the US celebrates UT-France endowment

Maria Mendez

With a visit from the French ambassador and the creation of an endowment, UT commemorated its ties to France while ensuring future international academic collaboration.

Gerard Araud, the French ambassador to the U.S., signed the Cécile DeWitt-Morette France-UT Endowed Excellence Fund with UT President Gregory Fenves during a Wednesday ceremony. The endowment honors the life of French physicist and UT professor Cécile DeWitt-Morette by promoting collaboration between the UT community and French universities.

“We’re here to solidify a partnership that’s been built on many years, decades of collaboration between the University and the people of France,” Fenves said during the ceremony. “The fund is named after one of the most iconic UT professors, Cecile DeWitt-Morette.”

DeWitt-Morette taught astronomy and physics at UT, but she also established a high-level physics summer school, L’École de Physique des Houches, in France. DeWitt-Morette’s summer school is world-renowned for producing more than 20 Nobel laureates.

“Her legacy is a reflection of what is possible when people from across the world come together, open their minds and boldly work together,” Fenves said.

Before her death in May 2017, DeWitt-Morette and her family hoped to establish a fund that would ensure collaboration between French scholars and UT. Chris DeWitt, DeWitt-Morette’s daughter, said her mother was passionate about helping her students both at UT and in France.

“She was French and American and (the endowment) will really enrich the cooperation between France and Texas, which she very much was (a part of),” Chris Dewitt said.

The endowment was finalized in the summer, but Araud visited UT on Wednesday to sign the agreement and encourage U.S. and French collaboration on global issues. During a talk at the LBJ School for Public Affairs, Araud said political collaboration between the U.S. and France is important because both countries are affected by issues such as secularism, the rise of populism and climate change.

Despite President Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accords, Araud said universities such as UT hold the key for collaboration and finding solutions.

“Environmental issues are an important focus for the French government,” Araud said during the signing. “Working with this university, our plan is to make the planet great again.”

UT currently hosts 11 exchange and study abroad programs with France, and took in 64 French students and 57 faculty in the 2015–2016 academic year.

Graduate student Julie Faure came to UT from a French university to finish both her research and engineering doctoral degree. Through UT’s programs and resources, she said she has been able to research the impacts of East Austin-gentrification on local water as well as the refugee crisis in Germany.

“I’m very lucky because I didn’t have these options at my French university,” Faure said. “Coming here gave me many options I like, and I really like studying engineering and people. So it’s perfect for me.”

Chris DeWitt said she is happy UT will continue supporting French scholars, especially because UT was the University which ultimately granted her mother tenure.

“Because of that, I think it’s very fitting that UT receive this endowment in her honor,” Chris DeWitt said. “The DeWitt family hopes to extend our thanks to the University for honoring our mother.”