NIU French professor receives prestigious award for service

By Michael McVey

A high-ranking French government official has recognized an NIU professor with a prestigious reward.

Raymond Tourville, French and Italian division coordinator in the foreign languages and literatures department, received the honor of Chevalier de L’Ordre des Palmes Academiques at the French Alliance of Chicago, 810 N. Dearborn, Oct. 2.

According to the Cultural Service of the French Consulate General (CGFSC), the Palmes Academiques is given to professors and prominent academics who have distinguished themselves in the field of education and in the advancement of study in literary and artistic fields.

Jack Lang, who was the French Minister of National Education in July 1992, decided to give Tourville the Palmes Academiques honor.

A document from the CGFSC stated the Palmes Academiques dates back to Napoleon and became an order in 1955. The three ranks in ascending order are Chevalier, Officier and Commandeur.

Tourville said the honor is for academic service and the French Legion of Honor is for military service.

Tourville said he has been a professor of French for about 30 years. During this time he started the Foreign Language Residency Program which allows students to live with native speakers of the language as they study.

Tourville said he recently completed a pamphlet, “Why Take French?” and a video to promote the learning and teaching of French at universities. He said he has served on the steering committee of the American Association of Teachers of French and the board of directors for the Illinois Foreign Language Teachers Association.

Tourville said he considers learning foreign languages very important and has devoted his career to promoting the teaching and study of several languages.

“Today we live in a multicultural society,” Tourville said. “Knowing a country’s language and its culture opens windows to understanding other people.

“We still send diplomats and economic advisers to Japan who cannot speak Japanese,” he added.

Marie-Jeanne Lekas, assistant to the Cultural Attache at CGFSC, said Tourville received the award for his effective help to CGFSC and his very active promotion of the French language through his organization and teaching of training sessions.

Colette Michael, professor of French, said she attended the presentation of Tourville’s award at the French Alliance banquet.

“He gave credit to his wife and many people who helped him along the way for their patience during his trips and the work that went into all he’s done for French language, culture and research,” Michael said. “He’s very well known and well respected by most people, both inside and outside the university.”

Michael said Tourville did not publicize his award at first. At her suggestion, Michael said, Tourville contacted The Northern Star after Northern Today, an alumni publication, gave the misleading impression that several professors in Illinois received the award.

“The Palmes Academique is the highest award the French government can give. Only Tourville got the award,” Michael said. “The other professors only attended the banquet to honor him.”

Tourville said only two professors in the midwest, himself and University of Wisconsin Professor Constance Knopp, have received the award. Tourville said he considered it a great honor.

“To be honored by the government of your main language is a great way to cap a 30 year career as a professor of French, and it shows the national importance and visibility of the work we’ve been doing to promote the French language and culture,” Tourville said. “It is a very high honor.”