France Honors Five Educators with Academic Palm Award

February 29, 2016 | By French Culture

On Friday, February 26, 2016, Deputy Cultural Counselor Thomas Michelon named  Patricia Mainardi, Patricia Conlon Moran, Françoise Noble, Sandra VanAusdal and Andrew Curran, Chevaliers dans l'Ordre des Palmes Académiques. The award was presented during a ceremony held at Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York. 

Welcome!

As Deputy Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy, I am delighted to welcome you this evening as we honor five exceptional educators and scholars: Patricia Mainardi, Patricia Conlon Moran, Françoise Noble, Sandra VanAusdal and Andrew Curran. Each honoree, in his or her own unique way, has helped to enrich the French language, culture and intellectual discourse here and abroad. I am therefore delighted this evening to confer on these distinguished educators and scholars the insignia of Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Palmes Academiques.

The Order of Academic Palms was founded in 1808 by Napoleon Bonaparte to award  devotion and accomplishment in the areas of teaching, scholarship and research. 

I will begin with ladies first.

Dear Patricia Mainardi,

You are a distinguished Professor of Art History. But you are also so much more. Certainly, Art History was your department at the City University of New York Graduate Center, where you taught for many years. You’ve published seminal articles on different art periods, particularly Nineteenth Century art, and you have held prestigious fellowships at Institut National d’histoire de l’art in Paris, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Yet your academic work resists any particular label. Politics, sociology, anthropology, and economics inform your thought just as much as your rich knowledge of art. You’ve explored gender relations in nineteenth-century France and political censorship, invoking specific art works as a way to elaborate your theories.

Your approach reflects the diversity of your education. You have a PhD in Art History, but also an MFA in Studio Art, and Bachelor’s degrees in English Literature and Anthropology. And here, we see the origins of a scholar who treats art as the intersection of an array of social, cultural and political factors.

Before you were a committed scholar, you were a committed feminist. As a member of the radical feminist group Redstockings in the 1970s, you were vocal in your criticism of what you viewed as a stubbornly patriarchal society. And this, I would argue, was a critical experience for your later academic career. Your activism led you to examine social phenomena such as gender inequality, and to uncover its diverse and complicated manifestations. In 1970, you wrote an iconic article entitled “The Politics of Housework,” in which you gave a biting explanation of how household chores were an essential frontier for women’s empowerment.

Much of your early writings on art took place in publications such as Feminist Art Journal and Feminist Revolution, and tackled the gender inequality in the art world. You became attracted to American folk art in part because you saw it as a rare expression of female autonomy, calling needlework “the one art in which women controlled the education of their daughters, the production of the art, and were also the audience and critics.”

This spirit of political and social consciousness has persisted throughout your scholarship. In 2003, you published Husbands, Wives and Lovers: Marriage and its Discontents in Nineteenth-Century France. Your book is a fascinating account of misogynistic laws and social norms governing marriage in Restoration-era France, and you present popular illustrations at the time to demonstrate how widespread these repressive views were.

Apart from gender politics, your research digs into the political and economic institutions that shape a work of art’s function in society. From the state apparatus behind the Universal Expositions of Paris to the art market for replications and forgeries, you give compelling accounts of how art is much more than its formal qualities. In more recent years, you’ve turned your attention to comics and caricature, charting the evolution of this particular art form. You’ve brought to light how comics acquired many of their defining characteristics in nineteenth-century where illustrators such as Chams and Gustave Doré developed the visual language and subversive tradition of comics that still exist today.

As someone who has delved into the intricacies of the art world, you would tell your students that there is still so much to discover. You’ve been recognized for your keen interest in students’ work, and your conviction that they too could make a real contribution to the field. As Executive Officer of the CUNY Art History Ph.D. program for nine years, you tackled institutional hindrances for the students and gave them the tools they needed to succeed. Former students have spoken admiringly of your endless commitment and support.

Dear Patricia Mainardi, you have taken scholarship of art to new levels, with special emphasis on French art and society. Your multifaceted approach is an inspiration to us all, as is your commitment and your zeal. It is my great honor to present you with this award.

Patricia Mainardi, au nom du Gouvernement Français, je vous fais Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques.

*          *          *

And now I turn to Patricia Conlon Moran.

Dear Patricia Conlon Moran,

You have a background in science, education and curriculum development as well as a gift for language. This unique set of skills has led you to develop exceptional, cutting edge educational programs.

Your dedication has expanded and strengthened all of the educational institutions for which you’ve worked. You have pushed your commitment to teaching further than most by extending it beyond the classroom and into your work as a consultant. You have not only touched students’ lives; you have also worked tirelessly to find ways of improving and developing education on a structural level.

As Consultant for Languages at the Department of Education, in Waterbury, Connecticut, you helped develop an already existing collaboration between that city and Toulouse. Your determination was the game-changing factor in overcoming every obstacles. You launched the Improving Literacy Through School Libraries program, which aims to facilitate educational exchange around region-specific themes.  Thanks to your passionate leadership, the city of Waterbury secured the funding necessary to buy state-of-the-art technology and vastly improve communication and cultural exchange between the two cities.

This helped not only promote cross-cultural dialogue, it also provided children from low-income families with resources that they would not otherwise have access to. In fact, this is just one of the many ways in which you have demonstrated your commitment to providing educational opportunities to underserved and underprivileged communities.

Your drive in this area constantly inspires others and sets you apart as an example for many people who are passionate about education. Your numerous accomplishments and vast experience have led you to play mentor to many, with insight and integrity. 

You have now shifted your attention to young learners through your work as supervisor of the Early Childhood Education Department of Waterbury. By catering to children from the start of their formative years, you sow the seeds for the next generation’s educational and professional success.

Dear Patricia Conlon Moran, for your pioneering spirit, your exemplary work as an educator, and for your tenacity, ambition, and commitment to leveling the playing field in education, it is an honor to present you with this award.

Patricia Conlon Moran, au nom du Gouvernement Français, je vous fais Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques.

*          *          *

And now, Françoise Noble.

Dear Françoise Noble,

You are what some might call a globetrotter. Indeed, you have traveled extensively. From your birthplace of La Tour de Peilz in the Swiss canton of Vaud, your desire to teach led you first to Germany, then Tanzania, Zaire, Canada, and Cameroon. And all of this even before you earned a Masters in French Education from New York University.

But to call you a globetrotter would be to overlook your deep engagement with the communities that you have visited. At each stop, no matter where you dropped an anchor, you made it a priority to share your love of the French language and culture with others. You brought your unique intelligence and cultural sensitivity to schools, language programs and communities throughout the world.

It is no surprise that your passion led you to become, in 2000, a board member of the American Association of Teachers of French. There, you rose to become the president of its New York Metropolitan Chapter for two years. Today, you maintain a strong leadership position as Vice-President of the Connecticut Chapter of the AATF.

After 20 years of teaching French in New York and organizing the Grand Concours for the region, you retired from that position but your active engagement with the French language did not slow down. You began a new initiative at Morningside Village that allows seniors to be part of a community while still living in their homes. You now serve as one of three coordinators of the organization. In Morningside village you also led a weekly French club where a diverse group of seniors—from the Ivory Coast, Haiti, France, Canada—all gathered to explore their love of French.

This joyous melting pot of French enthusiasts is quite representative of your life and career. Bringing together people from vastly different origins and backgrounds through a common language is what you do best.

Dear Françoise Noble, you represent some of the most fundamental aspects of Francophonie: its diversity, open-mindedness and tolerance. Your curiosity and deep appreciation for diverse cultures is evident. As is your commitment to education. You bring the world together through your community-centered approach and leadership skills. You are a community builder and a consummate educator.

For this we are honored to present to you the insignia of the Palmes Académiques.  

Françoise Noble, au nom du Gouvernement Français, je vous fais Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques.

*          *          *

And now, I turn to Sandra VanAusdal,

Dear Sandra VanAusdal,

Your natural leadership abilities and contagious enthusiasm for French have cemented your reputation as an excellent educator.

Friends and colleagues widely recognize your humility, dedication, and passion for the French language. 

This passion for French took off when you studied abroad in Grenoble as a college student. French was already your major, but it was in those months that you became the true francophile you are today.

Your curiosity quickly made you unbeatable in all things French. A French friend of yours has described you as a connoisseur of French idiomatic expressions.

As a veteran teacher with 40 years of experience, you continue to look for ways to make your classes lively and fresh. Your passion for new technology, in particular, has spilled over to the classroom. Your friend and colleague, Marie-Laure Hoffman, who joins us tonight, said that whenever the two of you meet, you discuss new apps, websites, games, news, songs, and films that might enhance your teaching. You are a forward thinker who understands that technology is central to the lives of today’s youth and an essential part of every child’s education.

It is this same curiosity and enthusiasm that has also made you a mentor to many. Your zeal inspires students and professors alike. Many of your high school students have gone on to become French majors in college or even French teachers themselves. You attribute their interest to other factors, but those who know you are sure that your passion and dedication have been a driving force.

Dear Sandra VanAusdal, your broad interest in myriad forms of education has led you to teach French at all levels. At Rutgers University, you were hired to teach entry-level French grammar courses. There, the faculty was so impressed with your work that you were quickly assigned to teach upper-level literature courses. And at the Joel Barlow High School, where you currently teach French, you quickly became the Chair of the World Languages Department. 

Your character as a leader dates back much further. Sixteen years ago, you started an exchange between your school and the Lycée St. Charles in Orléans, a program that has made the French language and culture more tangible for hundreds of students. 

From New Jersey, where you first started your teaching career, to Connecticut, where you now live and teach, you have not let your francophilia wane—both inside and outside of the classroom. You have led French salons and engaged in discussion with any French language fan that crossed your path. In the town where you now live, you founded the Groupe Francophone de Redding, allowing all generations to meet and develop their love of French.

Dear Sandra VanAusdal, for your natural leadership as an educator, for your curiosity and dedication to sharing the traditions and culture of France, I am honored to present you with this award.

Sandra VanAusdal, au nom du Gouvernement Français, je vous fais Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques.

*          *          *

And finally, I turn to Andrew Curran.

Dear Andrew Curran,

I believe that when we confer on you an award that recognizes and celebrates knowledge, the significance is twofold. There is, on one hand, your status as an eminent Professor of French Literature at Wesleyan University, where you are the Dean of Arts and Humanities as well. With a long list of awards and fellowships, ranging from Mellon Foundation grants to the James Clifford Prize, your remarkable credentials would certainly be enough to merit the Palmes Académiques honor.

But we must also consider, on the other hand, the frequent subject of your study.

You have spent much of your academic career researching and analyzing one of the greatest champions of knowledge and education. This is, of course, Denis Diderot. The founder of the modern encyclopedia, Diderot strove to make comprehensive knowledge accessible to the everyman. He believed that education was essential for distinguishing human from animal, and that knowledge was key for liberating man from the narratives imposed by authority.  Even today, this message is enormously meaningful. 

Your study of Diderot is vast, uncovering his rich philosophy and his prolific writings. Through your work, Diderot is shown to be a distinctive voice in an age of many great thinkers. You highlight Diderot’s secularism and challenge to the political establishment, which predated later phenomenon in French society.

You publicly advocated for Diderot's legacy in 2013 when you voiced your support for his remains to be relocated to the Pantheon. In an Op-Ed for the New York Times, you defended the singularity of Diderot’s philosophy, writing that, “More so than the deists Voltaire and Rousseau, Diderot embodied the most progressive wing of Enlightenment thought, a position that stemmed from his belief that skepticism in all matters was ‘the first step toward truth.’ ” Your engagement with Diderot continues into the present: you currently sit on the review board of the academic journal Diderot Studies, and you have a forthcoming book entitled Diderot: The Art of Thinking Freely.

As much as you admire the Enlightenment, you are not blind to the problematic and contradictory theories sometimes espoused by the philosophes. You have written several papers and a book on the concept of “monstrosity” in Diderot’s world, and its physical, moral and even literary forms. Indeed, the “otherness” and imperfection of monstrosity creates many questions for the Enlightenment, because it raises the issue of the laws of nature, and how these laws can be reconciled with things that appear to violate them. In your study, you show how this contrast fits into Diderot’s materialist vision, and the problems it raises.

The categories and classifications in Diderot’s encyclopedia, and the subject of “otherness,” have also led you to an unorthodox yet fascinating topic: how Enlightenment thinkers conceived of “race”. You highlight the fascination with Africa during the Enlightenment, and the fixation on what was called “blackness.” Through your research, we can understand the results of this interest, including the violent history of racial classification.

You uncover the very impetus behind the interest in racial difference. Through comprehensive and critical study, you reveal the intense racial biases among our progressive philosophes, caught between a belief in the universal rights for all men and the perceived inferiority of some men compared to others. Your work sheds light on the contradictory ideas on race that became widespread even among the greatest intellectuals, and for some, created a justification for slavery. In a world still grappling with race relations and its colonial legacy, your work has been justly noted for its relevance. In 2013, your book The Anatomy of Blackness won a Choice Outstanding Book Award, and received the recognition of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in 2012.

As a professor, you have created opportunities for students to pursue their own cutting-edge research. On two occasions, you served as resident director of the Vassar-Wesleyan Program in Paris, an immersive program that helps students encounter French academic institutions as well as French life. At Wesleyan, you have taught classes on everything from the French nineteenth-century novel to Diderot to exoticism, and you do not hesitate to point out overlaps between the different fields.

Diderot once said, “Only passions, great passions, can elevate the soul to great things.” Dr. Curran, your passion for knowledge and discovery has led you to complex and unprecedented work on Diderot and beyond. It is my honor to present you with this award.

Andrew Curran, au nom du Gouvernement Français, je vous fais Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académique.

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