For his work founding the Cornell Law School’s first study abroad program in France, Prof. John J. Barceló III, international and comparative law, was handed on April 2 the highest honor a non-French citizen can receive from the country: the medal of the French Legion of Honor.
In early January, Barceló received the news of his honor in a letter from Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of France, according to a University press release. Sarkozy named Barceló a chavalier, or knight, in the “Ordre national de la Legion d’honneur,” or French Legion of Honor.
Previous American recipients of the French Legion of Honor award include Toni Morrison M.A. ’55; Julia Child, a chef; and Walt Disney.
“It came as a complete surprise, a bolt out of the blue, and I’m still feeling flabbergasted,” Barceló said in the press release. Barceló — who was credited with strengthening ties between France and the U.S. — received the medal in a private ceremony in Ithaca. The medal was presented to him by François Delattre, French ambassador to the U.S.
“Professor Barceló has been at the center of the Law School's growth in international and comparative law… Barceló is richly deserving of this honor,” said Stewart Schwab, dean of the law school, in the press release.
Delattre said that Barceló was instrumental in creating the dual degree program — a partnership between Cornell Law School and Sorbonne Law School in Paris. It is one of only two established between an American law school and a French law school, according to the press release.
Cornell Law School first launched the study abroad program with Sorbonne Law School in Paris in the early 1990s. Barceló said that the early 1990s was a great time for launching the program because of the political atmosphere, as many leaders expected globalization occurring around the world.
“If you can recall, the communist system ended around this time [early 1990s] in Eastern Europe,” he said in an interview with The Sun. “There was even more reason to expect increase in globalization in the world because former East European communist countries were no longer communist.”
In 1992, Cornell Law School was given an endowment for the international program by Leo Berger J.D. ’56.
Barceló said that France was the “logical” country of choice to open up an international program because of the country’s broad influence on legal systems throughout the world.
“There are two major legal systems in the world: the Anglo-American common law system, which applies to commonwealth countries, and the Continental civil law system, which applies to the majority of countries around the world, including France,” he said.
Since the U.S. follows the common law system, Barceló said that it was important to launch the law school’s study abroad program in a country that practiced a different system such as France.
Barceló said that the French law system is influential not only in France but also in other parts of the world, such as West Africa, the Middle East, Asia and several Latin American countries.
“Many systems are frequently very heavily influenced by the French legal system,” Barceló said.
Furthermore, Barceló said that it was important that students in the study abroad program were exposed to both a different culture and a language that was relatively commonly studied as a second language.
“[Paris] is the most culturally rich, beautiful city in the world to which all people want to travel … and French was the language that students would have an ability to speak or have an interest in,” Barceló said.
Barceló also attributed his interest in France to his upbringing in New Orleans.
“If you grew up in New Orleans, everything French is respected and appreciated,” he said. “We have French terms that are not used in other parts of the U.S., like beaucoup this and beaucoup that, [or] Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez,” Barcelo said.
Even his wife, Barceló said, shared an interest in French culture.
“Turns out that my wife is as much of a Francophile as I am,” Barceló said. “We chose the day of our wedding to be July 14 [Bastille Day] so that all of France would celebrate the same day we would celebrate.”
Barceló has been a member of Cornell’s faculty for more than 40 years, joining Cornell’s faculty at the age of 28 as an assistant professor in 1969. Looking forward, Barceló said that he would like to see the law school’s international program grow in the future.
“[The international program] is much more elaborate, rich and vigorous [a] program than it was then,” he said. “It is likely to continue to grow in the future.”