FOUNDATION BACKS JHU PROGRAM TO TRAIN LATIN AMERICAN SCHOLARS 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 effort." 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.
Go to Gazette Homepage