Latin America at Harvard

"You cannot build a Center overnight," President Pusey said a few weeks ago, speaking of Latin American studies at the University, and he is right. The major research centers at Harvard cost close to half a million dollars a year to run; they need secretaries, pre- and post-doctoral fellows, and Faculty with time assigned to help run them. The men concerned about reviving work on Latin America here probably want a center some day, but have for the moment concentrated their attention on smaller matters.

Their optimism is useful and their caution understandable, but it is a pity that their ambition is not more specifically directed. True, they have met with a huge number of difficulties. The retirement of the last Bliss Professor, Clarence Haring, ten years ago killed off formal interest in Latin America; the Bliss Committee whose job is to appoint a new Professor has been content to use the chair's funds for four "Fellows." Members of various Faculties who want to devise new course offerings, exchanges of men with universities in the hemisphere, and seminars and lectures, can only do so as volunteers. The only paid staff administering the Studies Office now consist of a secretary and half of William Barnes.

At least those interested in Latin America have provided a "focus of attention" on the area by coordinating all the committees into an odd bureaucratic apparatus: the Inter-American (University-wide) Affairs Committee will act as an adviser to Pusey who is to determine basic policy for all future activity in the field. Unfortunately--ingenious as it is--the mechanism simply cannot free Latin American studies from its most binding limitation: lack of staff.

In order to have a staff you must be able to attract people from outside; for that purpose you need more than a "focus of attention" and even more than a good deal of worthy but disconnected activity. One method of making Harvard look appealing is to have a Center already--admittedly impossible. Another is to tie the program onto an existing center, that for International Affairs: This might once have been a good idea--because the Center's prestige and that of Robert Bowie, its director, are enormous--but the decision to work through Pusey rather than Bowie has, irrevocably one fears, been made.

A third solution, probably the best one, is to appoint a man of great stature in the field, around whom a staff can be built--in short, to appoint a Bliss Professor. Admittedly he is not easy to find; very likely he must be lifted from a program elsewhere. But the University found Sir Hamilton Gibb for Middle Eastern Studies, offering no more than an excellent salary and the promise of a growing center to come. Latin America, so curiously neglected for many decades, deserves as much.