Franco American communities constitute a large percentage of the population of Maine and the Northeast region. It is the mission of the Franco American Program to serve these communities while recognizing that cultural patterns do not stop at national borders. The Franco American Program includes the Franco American Centre as well as Franco American Studies.
The primary goal of the Franco-American Centre is to support and enhance the Franco American communities of Maine. The Centre looks to disseminate the richness of Franco history, language, and culture, as well as to bridge Franco Americans both to the University campus and to other peoples of the region.
The primary goal of Franco American Studies is to broaden the canon of knowledge on Franco American peoples, culture, and literature. It encourages and facilitates interdisciplinary research, faculty engagement, and student exploration.
We seek to make Franco American Programs at the University of Maine into an international center for Franco American scholarly research and community engagement. The Franco American Program responds to an unmet need: it researches, teaches, and serves the French cultures of the Northeast. This need is felt locally, nationally, and internationally. The University of Maine is singularly capable of responding to this need and providing national and international leadership. The University’s land grant mission to serve the people of Maine and its large Franco American population, its location close to Canada, and its role as the state’s flagship campus present a unique opportunity to build upon our strengths and create a national and international profile.
Why Franco American Programs at the University of Maine:
Though a substantial presence, the “French fact” of New England is often overlooked and unheard. The term Franco-American refers specifically to people of Quebecois and Acadian heritage living in the United States. Composed of rural francophone settlements in northern Maine that date back to the eighteenth century and communities of French Canadians who started immigrating to industrial New England towns in the late nineteenth century, Franco-Americans constitute the largest concentration of French speakers in the United States, accounting for 11% to 28% of New England state populations. French is the most common language after English in three New England states (Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont) and Franco Americans are the largest ethnic group.
The University of Maine in recent years has come to recognize the importance of this population and has taken the lead in supporting and studying Franco America. These efforts began over thirty years ago with the establishment of the Franco-American Centre/Centre Franco-Américain. The primary goal of the Franco-American Centre is to support and enhance the Franco American communities of Maine. The Centre is a vital connection between the French communities of New England and Canada. It has published since 1972 a quarterly, bi-lingual newspaper, “Le Forum” that links communities and cultivates awareness. It has helped change the political, social, and cultural landscape in Maine by disseminating the richness of Franco history, bilingualism, and culture, as well as by bridging borders that have separated Franco Americans both from the University campus and from other peoples of the region. It maintains an archive of historic documents and oral histories, provides community outreach, and promotes new pedagogies in Maine schools and economic development throughout our region.
The Franco-American Centre also initiated an academic program specializing in the study of this population. The Franco American Studies program seeks to expand and develop research on the French cultures of the United States and to teach their history, literature, and language. It focuses on the Franco American cultures of Maine but its scope embraces the French-speaking world and operates within the context of American ethnicity. The Franco American Studies Program at The University of Maine is a collaboration of researchers and teachers. It is designed to assist researchers, educate students, and to extend this work to the broader community. It teaches courses, offers a Franco American Studies minor and mentors faculty and graduate students. In addition, it seeks to extend the reach of its teaching and research beyond the University. The program organizes conferences, film series, public lectures, workshops, and reading groups that allow students, faculty, and community members to expand their knowledge of Franco American history, culture, and literature. Over the years these Franco American programs have helped Maine rethink cultural realities that have been erased in the past by the state’s educational and cultural institutions, enabling the University to fulfill its mission as a land-grant institution for all the people of Maine.
Until June 2011, the Franco-American Centre and Franco-American Studies program were housed in different locations and were reporting to two different deans. The units operated independently, coming together on an ad-hoc basis to collaborate on projects. In June 2011, two events prompted Dean Hecker to request a reappraisal of the two programs: the Franco-American Centre was moved administratively into the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences where Franco American Studies also resides; and Yvon Labbé entered into partial-phased retirement with a retirement date of August 2014. In September 2011, Dean Hecker charged Yvon Labbé and Susan Pinette to establish the long-term goals and objectives of the Franco American Programs at the University of Maine. They along with the staff of the Franco-American Centre (Lisa Michaud, Jacob Albert, Tony Brinkley) worked with an outside facilitator over the course of the academic year to establish these goals and objectives. Together, the group decided that a single, administrative structure would support the two programs best and worked to devise the above Mission and Vision statements.