Johns Hopkins Gazette: September 6, 1994

By Steve Libowitz

Student interest in Latin American studies is one of the
fastest growing academic trends on U.S. campuses.
Unfortunately, the availability of qualified programs and
teachers lags behind student demand. 
    Among the most active organizations outside academia
seeking to address that disparity is the Andrew W. Mellon
Foundation of New York. The foundation has provided financial
support since 1979 to a handful of universities, including
Hopkins, with ongoing programs in Latin American studies. 
    In July the foundation awarded a five-year, $454,000
grant to Hopkins to train the best possible doctoral students
to teach and conduct research at the university level. UCLA,
the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of
Texas, Austin, received similar awards.
    The foundation contributes to the preparation of
university-level faculty as a way to meet student interest at
a time when many Latin American faculty are aging and nearing
retirement. More specifically, it wants to ground future
scholars in a particular academic discipline rather than in
the more general approach of "area studies."
    "The foundation has adopted the position shared by a
critical mass of social scientists and humanities scholars
who feel that a student needs to have a point of view, a
particular jumping off point, from which to master the
history, culture and investigative methodologies inherent in
such rigorous academic grounding," said Matthew Crenson,
until recently acting dean of the School of Arts and
Sciences. "And they believe sociology in general, and Hopkins
in particular, provides one of the best jumping off points.
    Dr. Crenson said the reputation of the Department of
Sociology and of its chair, Alejandro Portes, was a major
factor in Hopkins' receiving the award.
    "Hopkins' interest in Latin America dates back to Milton
Eisenhower," he said. "In the years since, we developed
excellent library holdings and a vibrant interdisciplinary
approach to these studies. And we have been fortunate to have
an outstanding faculty in anthropology, history, Hispanic and
Italian studies, as well as sociology, contributing to this
    Dr. Portes said the foundation was also impressed by the
academic success of former sociology students.
    "We have always attracted outstanding students," said
Dr. Portes, the John Dewey Professor of Sociology. "The
Mellon Foundation was not looking to start a program from the
ground up. They wanted to build on success. What this award
will provide is an edge in recruiting to the program the
cream of the undergraduate crop."
    Dr. Portes said the foundation grant will be spent in
four key areas: providing students with adequate financial
support through the middle and latter stages of their
studies; funding research abroad; attracting international
speakers; and adding to the library holdings.
    "Our library effort will be one of the most exciting
areas of activity," Dr. Portes said. "We will acquire about
$12,000 worth of new books, and we will be able to underwrite
the costly travel necessary to acquire books released by
small local publishers in Central and South America. Often
these works don't make it out of their own country, so they
are obscure but very important.
    The new, hard-to-find acquisitions and student and
faculty research will be made available to other North
American scholars on the Internet.
    Dr. Portes expects the first three students to begin the
program during the 1995-96 academic year. Three students will
follow each year for three consecutive years, spending their
time in seminars and on field research as they work toward
completing their dissertations.
    "There is great satisfaction knowing that we will be
instrumental in identifying and training some of the very
best Latin American scholars for the next century," Dr.
Portes said.

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