College of Arts & Sciences alumna and Advisory Board chair Jane Robert (’69) and her husband, Bruce Robert, have donated $1 million to establish the Jane and Bruce Robert Professorship in French and Francophone Studies. This is Webster’s first opportunity to recruit a full-time, continuing faculty member into a named professorship supported by an endowment. It also ranks among the largest alumni gifts in the University’s history.
“Longtime friends of Webster University, Jane and Bruce Robert have now through their generosity significantly furthered Webster’s capacity for leadership in global academic excellence,” said Webster President Elizabeth (Beth) J. Stroble. “We are grateful to be a recipient of their philanthropy and to advance this university’s impact on students and community through a first-of-its-kind gift. For an alumna and advisory board chair to invest in her institution by enhancing our full-time faculty is notable and ground-breaking.”
“We’re elated to receive the Roberts’ gift,” said David Carl Wilson, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, “and especially pleased for our students, the ultimate beneficiaries of the Roberts’ generosity. On behalf of the College and the University, I offer Jane and Bruce my heartfelt thanks.”
Mrs. Robert spoke at a Dec. 14 ceremony held to announce the Roberts’ gift. “I have made French and the many cultures it influences my life’s work because of the beauty and depth of the language,” she said. “From soft diplomacy to hard science, including an overwhelming presence in the arts and literature, the French language maintains a vital role in verbal and social communications internationally. At the very least, it is such a pleasure to read.”
“Jane and I have a strong belief that studying a foreign language helps students appreciate other cultures and societies,” said Bruce Robert. “Our intention is for this French Professorship to assist Webster University in continuing its excellent program in International Studies.”
French and Francophone Studies
The Robert French Professorship will support in perpetuity a scholar of French and Francophone studies, which encompasses the literature and culture of dozens of French-speaking countries.
Dean Wilson told ceremony attendees that “French language and culture are critical to many areas of inquiry where Webster is strong, such as human rights, international relations, history and women’s studies. So, the Robert French Professor will not only advance French and Francophone studies, but also will contribute to some of these related areas.”
Webster University Provost Julian Z. Schuster said the Roberts’ gift will have a profound impact on achieving and maintaining overall academic excellence at Webster. “The study of language is central to Webster’s mission and vision, especially the goal of educating students for global citizenship,” Schuster said. “Not only will the Jane and Bruce Robert Professorship enhance the French program at Webster University, but it also allows Webster to provide leadership in enhancing French and Francophone studies in the community, and in illustrating the importance and influence of French language, literature and culture – past, present and future.”
According to Schuster, “The professorship is a natural thing for Webster and a natural extension of the core values that led the Sisters of Loretto to establish Webster University.”
Jane Robert is highly regarded locally, nationally and internationally as an advocate for the study of French. She earned her bachelor‘s degree from Webster in French Language and Literature in 1969, and also attended la Sorbonne in Paris, France, where she earned her Diplome d’Etudes de Civilisation during her junior year abroad.
Mrs. Robert went on to earn a master’s degree in French Language and Literature from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 1973. She then taught French at all levels – from elementary school through college. Over the years, she also has sponsored numerous student exchanges and French-related activities.
From 1999 to 2003, Mrs. Robert served as president of Alliance Francaise de St. Louis. She also held the position of national president of the Federation of Alliances Francaises USA from 2001 to 2006, and president of St. Louis-Lyon Sister Cities Inc. from 2006 to 2009. Currently, Mrs. Robert serves as chair of the Advisory Board of Webster’s College of Arts and Sciences. She also is president of Renaissance Francaise-USA, a national delegation that encourages the appreciation of French language and culture. Mrs. Robert’s new initiatives also include serving on the founding boards of American Friends of the Musee d’Orsay and the St. Louis Language Immersion Schools.
Mrs. Robert has received numerous honors and awards for her advocacy work, including the French Legion of Honor in 2007, which is the highest distinction awarded by the French government, and, in 1998, the French government’s knighthood known as Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Academiques. (Read more about when Jane Robert received this honor in the 2007 Global Thinking article.)