LAFAYETTE, La. (KLFY) — The University of Louisiana at Lafayette has joined the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie, making it the first member of the international network of French-speaking universities and research institutions in the United States.

The Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie was founded in 1961. Based in Montreal, it includes more than 1,000 members in 122 countries where French is spoken in at least some regions. The AUF fosters academic excellence, and social, cultural and economic development for the Francophone world.

The AUF also provides a vast, global network for sharing best practices among a range of stakeholders in areas such workforce development and policy, thanks to its extensive, global partnerships with industry and government, according to UL Lafayette President Joseph Savoie.

“Being a part of this network will enable us to strengthen our historic commitment to protecting and advancing this region’s French Acadian and Creole heritage,” Savoie said. “Preserving this distinct culture is a responsibility we take very seriously.”

The University established the first Francophone Studies doctoral program in the nation – and the third in the world – in 1994. Students from many parts of the world enroll in the program to study the Francophone literature and culture from linguistic, critical, ethnographic and historical, and other perspectives.

The University’s Center for Louisiana Studies, which was created in 1973, houses materials and resources that inform international scholars about Louisiana culture and heritage. Among the center’s holdings is the Archive of Cajun and Creole Folklore, the largest such repository of field recordings, oral histories, photographs and other materials.

Francophone outreach is also a priority of the University and many of its faculty members. Contributions to regional development of Francophone culture are far-reaching, from being a driving force in the creation of the annual Festivals Acadiens et Créoles in 1972 to providing expertise for French immersion programs in school systems.

Dr. Jordan Kellman, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, said Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie membership “reflects our status as arguably the only university in the country that has such a deep relationship between the Francophone interests at the University and the surrounding French-speaking community.”

AUF membership, he added, will spur research and scholarship collaborations; provide career development initiatives for graduates who want to optimize their Francophone expertise; and create networking and outreach opportunities that will enhance academic offerings.

Kellman cited a certificate in business French that the University will create in conjunction with the Paris Île-de-France Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry as “a perfect example of the kinds of opportunities the AUF can help us to develop.”

In May, UL Lafayette will host the 2023 Summer University in conjunction with the Le Centre de la francophonie des Amériques, a governmental agency in Quebec City. The event will draw higher education and K-12 educators, students and members of industry and government from around the world. The gathering, which is held every other year, has never happened outside of Canada.

“It will enable us to introduce our culture and economy to a wider world and promote the sharing of ideas among Francophone regions as to how to develop culture and economy around Francophone history and language,” Kellman said.