The Department of French and Italian

Jean-Pierre Cauvin, Professor of French, Retires

Mon, September 3, 2012
Jean-Pierre Cauvin, Professor of French, Retires
Jean-Pierre Cauvin

Jean-Pierre Cauvin was schooled at the Lycée Francais de New York, interspersed with a few years in Paris lycées.  He obtained his baccalauréat in 1954.  His undergraduate education was at Princeton University, B.A. degree in 1957, magna cum laude, with a graduate degree in French Literature: Princeton University, Ph.D. 1968.  He began teaching at U.T. in 1972.   His areas of interest and specialization include French poetry of the 19th and 20th centuries, Surrealism, the history of the Arts in France, the cultural and intellectual origins of World War II, France in World War II.  Currently, he is conducting research involving materials in the HRC, translation and oral testing for a federal agency, gardening (like Candide), and doing landscaping work around his home.


The following are excerpts from David’s text read at Jean-Pierre Cauvin’s retirement reception, which was held in the Sinclair Suite at the Texas Union on August 31, 2012.

14,599 – what does that number conjure up for you? Well, it has nothing to do with the how many Surrealists it takes to screw in a light bulb.  (Answer: FISH). 14,599 is probably a couple of thousand shy of the number of headaches Jean-Pierre Cauvin experienced during his nine years as Department Chair. It may be pretty close to the number of students Jean-Pierre has taught over his career…

14,599 turns out to be exactly the number of days Jean-Pierre has served on the faculty at the University of Texas.  Sadly, the 14,600th day, today, August 31, 2012, is Jean-Pierre’s last as a professor at UT. Tomorrow, officially, Jean-Pierre will have retired.

But that’s tomorrow! Today we’re here to celebrate the career of a colleague, friend, scholar and teacher who is still here with us—and who will remain with us in the future, though his impact on the Department, the university, and the humanities.

Jean-Pierre came to us in 1972 as an Associate Professor, having been an Assistant Professor at Princeton for 6 years and a Lecturer for two years at Harvard. He was promoted to Full professor in 1985.  During his career, Jean-Pierre established a record of excellence and variety in both teaching and scholarship. Among the courses Jean-Pierre taught at UT were:French poetry of 19th/20th centuries; Dadaism and Surrealism; seminars on Hugo, Nerval, Baudelaire and Rimbaud; History of the arts in France; French stylistics and composition; short fiction in France from 1695 to 1995; and all levels of French language. On the Normandy Scholar Program (to which we’ll return) Jean-Pierre taught a course entitled “Cultural and Intellectual History of France and Germany, 1870-1945”.

Variety and excellence have also characterized Jean-Pierre’s scholarship. He has published on Baudelaire, Breton, Michaux, Bosco, Proust, Rimbaud, Verlaine, and Valentine Hugo in such journals as L’esprit Createur, Pleine Marge, Bulletin Marcel Proust, and has published encyclopedia entries on Apollinaire, Breton, Nerval, Prévert, Dhotel, Saint-Jean Perse, Sully Prudhomme, among others. And he has published more than 40 reviews, primarily in Choice and the French Review.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Jean-Pierre’s talents as scholar and teacher did not escape the notice of folks outside of UT.  For example, The College Board enlisted Jean-Pierre’s services for the types of things the College Board is renowned for, notably serving as head of development for the CLEP test in French and the Advanced Placement Exam in French. In addition, Sweet Briar College sought out Jean Pierre serve as Resident director of their famous Sweet Briar Junior Year in France Program, in 1994-95 and again in 1998-99.  Finally, Jean-Pierre was recruited by the French Review to serve as Review Editor for Textbooks, CAI Software, and Methodology, a capacity in which he served for nearly fifteen years.

But it is at UT that Jean-Pierre leaves his most profound marks.  Over his career Jean-Pierre was organizer or co-organizer of four major conferences: An international symposium on Apollinaire and Modernism; an international symposium commemorating the Bicentennial of the French Revolution; an international colloquium on 20th-century French Studies, and ColloQueneau: International Colloquium on Raymond Queneau.

The Department of French and Italian was buoyed by the steady leadership of Jean-Pierre as chair between 1985 and 1994.  These were challenging times, as Jean-Pierre had to deal with massive budgetary cutbacks and the contentious redesign of the undergraduate French major. Nor will we forget Jean-Pierre’s uninterrupted service on the departmental Budget Committee and Executive Committee over three decades.

And then there’s the Normandy Scholar Program.  The launching of this extremely successful and prestigious program back in the mid-90’s was due in no small measure to Jean-Pierre’s energies and vision.  Moreover, Jean-Pierre served as director of that program for the first 10 years of its existence.  The benefits and glory of the Normandy Scholar Program have been felt not only in the Department of French and Italian, but also other departments across the UT campus, including History and Government.

In recognition of what Jean-Pierre did to advance French language, culture and literature, locally, nationally and internationally, he was awarded by the French Government the honors of both Chevalier and Officier de L’Ordre des Palmes Académiques.

But Jean-Pierre’s CV doesn’t tell the whole story.  I’ve known Jean-Pierre since 1979 (I haven’t counted the days). We met in January of that year at the MLA conference, where I was being interviewed for an Assistant Professor position here at UT. It was my first ever job interview, in an imposing New York City hotel, I was not sure that the UT interviewers would take seriously a less-than-imposing 26-year-old.  To my relief, Jean-Pierre and the others did take me seriously.  What relieved­–and impressed–me even more was Jean-Pierre’s cordial nature.  That, and the earnestness and sincerity that he brought to the interview. That, and the fact that he lit up when we talked about Nerval, Lautréamont, Laforgue, and Verlaine. All that, et bien entendu, his sublime French.

Fast-forwarding now … Jean-Pierre’s qualities that came through at that interview have not changed one bit.  He is still cordial, earnest, and sincere. He’s a kindred spirit when it comes to major figures in French literature literature of the 19th and 20th centuries. And yes, his French is still sublime.

To round out the picture of Jean-Pierre the person, I offer the words of one of his former graduate students, Françoise Vionnet-Bracher, who now teaches at Texas A&M:

C’est toujours lui, Jean-Pierre Cauvin, qui par ses gestes et ses paroles nous a enseigné le vrai sens de la justesse, de l’élégance et de la distinction en toutes choses littéraires et humaines.

Everyone in this room is honored to have known Jean-Pierre Cauvin. Please join me in congratulating Jean-Pierre on the 14,600th day of his career.  It is our loss that it is his last.

Good luck, Jean-Pierre.

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