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Wine tasting course canceled after 14 years

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After offering the class at French House for 14 years, the French and Italian Department has canceled the one-unit FRENLANG 60D: French Viticulture (along with the advanced version of the class) due to inadequate funding and resources, according to former director of French and Italian department Cécile Alduy. Despite its popularity among students — the class has been taught all three quarters and is usually over-enrolled — this past fall quarter’s classes may be the last. 

For the same reasons, courses on French cinema, French cooking and French conversation have been discontinued at French House. The French cooking course will now be sponsored by the Iranian department and taught as a Persian cooking course instead.

“At the moment, we need to concentrate our limited staffing and financial resources towards our core mission and our core curricular offerings,” Alduy wrote in a statement to The Daily. “As popular as the class is, it carries a heavy load of financial and administrative duties.”

In recent years, the wine tasting classes required fees of $115 for the introductory course and $135 for the advanced course to cover the cost of the wine. Due to the fact that students have provided a significant chunk of funding for the class, course instructor AJ Ferrari, who works at Michael Mina Restaurant in San Francisco, remains confused as to why the class was canceled for inadequate funding. 

Ferrari said he receives 92% of the student fees in order to purchase wine — the University uses the other 8% to account for handling the money. 

Ferrari further revealed that he taught his classes voluntarily for the first 10 years they were offered and paid out of his own pocket for the wine.

“Initially, everything went through my bank account and they only covered my transportation by providing me with a stipend,” Ferrari said. “The money allowed me to rent a car, but I was never paid for my time.”

However, four years ago, Ferrari went through negotiations with the University in order to ensure that he was paid for teaching the two courses.

“I proposed a very modest amount, $2,700 per quarter, to cover my time teaching the courses,” he said. “That made it so that I at least wasn’t paying out of my own bank account for the class anymore.”

As of this year, Ferrari receives $3,300 per quarter for teaching in addition to the course fees collected to pay for the wine itself. The University did not immediately respond to questions regarding Ferrari’s payment.

Alduy also noted that the vast majority of students enrolled in the wine tasting courses come from a variety of departments, yet very few are directly French majors or minors. She hopes that wine tasting will continue to be offered through funding from other departments.

“We told the French House that we would discontinue our sponsoring this course back last Spring, allowing ample time for them to try and find other sponsoring departments,” she said. “We encouraged the French House ATAs [Academic Theme Associates] to reach out to other departments and programs, offering all the support we can offer and suggesting possible alternatives.”

However, French House ATA Randy Friedman ’20 said that he was not made aware of the course’s cancellation until this summer.

“The issue here is that we were told about the cancellation pretty late,” Friedman said. “We were already off campus at the time, so we weren’t able to meet with anyone to resolve the issue.”

Both Friedman and the other French House ATA, Will Buckingham ’20, have been reaching out to other departments in an attempt to keep the courses alive despite the previously limited role of the House in running the course.

“We’ve been put in an impossible situation,” Buckingham said. “For the past 14 years, the French House was not the one offering this class — it was the French department, and we just offered our space for the course to be taught.”

Ferrari himself did not hear of the course’s cancellation until late October — a few weeks before the end of the course.

“The French and Italian Department forwarded me some email messages from June saying that they were no longer willing to fund this class,” Ferrari said. “I saw that I was included in the email chain in June, but the University cancels my email account during the summer, so the first time I heard any information was in October.”

When Ferrari returned to campus in September, one of the chefs at the French House had asked him about the status of his class. Confused and unaware of the course’s cancellation, Ferrari reached out to Alix Mazuet, his contact within the French and Italian Department.

“Alix said there was no problem with my class at the time and reassured me via email,” Ferrari said. “So when I found out later that the class had been canceled in June, it really eroded my trust.”

The cancellation of the popular course has led to disappointment among some students, including John S. Knight Journalism Fellow Jim Colgan, who took FRENLANG 60D this fall.

“A former colleague from New York who did this same fellowship 10 years ago told me that I had to try and get into this class,” Colgan said. “It was legendary even for someone like me who wasn’t at Stanford until this year.”

Contact Camryn Pak cpak23 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Camryn Pak '23 is a desk editor for news. She is majoring in American Studies with a focus on Inequality, Media and the Law. Contact her at cpak23 'at' stanford.edu.