Parsons Abruptly Halts Paris Program

Popular study abroad program Parsons Paris has abruptly ended due to a legal dispute, raising uncertainties at both Parsons and its former partner in Paris, the Association Franco-Américaine de Design, or AFAD.

Parsons and New School administrators are seeking to reassure students that there will be another Paris study abroad program for Parsons students, as soon as this fall.

The contract between Parsons and Parsons Paris expired in 2008 and Parsons has decided not to renew it. “It’s run its course,” said Pamela Klein, Associate Dean of Student Affairs at Parsons, who oversees study abroad. “The length of time of the agreement is over.”

At the expiration of the agreement, Parsons notified AFAD that it cannot continue to use the Parsons name any longer. AFAD, however, challenged that decision and has brought the legal proceeding before the International Chamber of Commerce.

Legally, Parsons Paris is known as the Association Franco-Américaine de Design, and is a nonprofit institution and independent organization. AFAD also runs under the title “Ecole Parsons à Paris.”

In 2006, AFAD was licensed to use the Parsons name. According to Klein, since the agreement expired, AFAD’s continued use of the name is illegal.

“We are vigorously defending this matter,” wrote Peter Taback, senior director of communications, referring to the legal proceeding.

The agreement’s end also affects degrees for AFAD. Students enrolled in Parsons Paris through the Fall 2009 semester are to receive a BFA or BBA degree from The New School.

“I do not know who will accredit AFAD going forward,” said Klein. Sara Krauskopf, director of admissions at Parsons Paris in France, declined to comment on the situation.

Parsons Paris president Serge Guarino and academic director Bridget O’Rourke couldn’t be reached for this article.

Parsons began its Paris branch, originally called Paris Atelier, in the 1920s, but was forced to close it during the second World War. In the 1970s, the school reopened and began allowing New York students to study in Paris more easily.

Degrees and names are not the only issues. In February 2008, some Parsons Paris faculty wrote an angry open letter to then-Dean Tim Marshall concerning professors being dismissed from teaching positions for abusing free expression. “No respectable academic institution should limit in any way its faculty rights to free speech,” read the 2008 letter.

The abrupt end of the Parsons Paris program, the only study abroad option for fashion majors, leaves many students unsure if they will be able to go abroad next semester. “There is no assurance for people studying abroad in the fall,” said fashion student Hana Cohn.

Parsons officials say the school is working hard to rethink and reshape the study abroad program. “Our decision not to renew was part of a larger strategy for evaluating and expanding our international activities,” said Mark Hannah, director of academic communications at Parsons.

“Parsons is committed to Paris,” said Dean Towers.

According to Klein, Parsons is now in discussion with schools about opening new exchanges not only in Paris, but also the United Kingdom, Italy, and Holland. Dean of Fashion Simon Collins also recently met with the dean of Central Saint Martins, a premier fashion institution in London, to discuss potential programs.

“We hope that students will be able to make a choice about them in the spring,” said Klein.

Parsons administrators say students who desire to study abroad in Paris next semester can apply to non-Parsons-affiliated programs.

Students apply to the school abroad of their choice and their director oversees the application. In the end, even if the school abroad accepts the student, their director of their department may not allow them to go if requirements are unfulfilled or their GPA is below 2.8. Students who want to study in Paris without Parsons’ approval can take a leave of absence and study independently.

This appeared in the March 22, 2010 issue of The New School Free PressImage via Visit Fifth Avenue.

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