DRCLAS Taps New Director

Kennedy School professor named director of Rockefeller Center

Kennedy School Professor Merilee S. Grindle has been appointed the director of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS).

Long-time director of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS) John H. Coatsworth will step down this summer and Latin American policy specialist Merilee S. Grindle will take his place July 1.

Currently the Mason professor of international development at the Kennedy School of Government (KSG), Grindle chairs the DRCLAS research committee and serves on its executive committee.

Grindle, Coatsworth, and Jorge I. Domínguez are the three longest-serving members on the executive committee.

“She’s thoughtful, she’s careful, she’s caring, she really is I think a splendid choice and I’m sure she’d be an excellent director,” said Domínguez, who is director of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and has known Grindle for nearly three decades since she was a graduate student.

Grindle’s work on Latin America focuses on the political and bureaucratic aspects of decision making and policy implementation, an interest that she said goes “way, way back.”

From a summer exchange in Mexico her sophomore year of high school, to an undergraduate thesis on Chile, to serving in the Peace Corps in Latin America, and finally to graduate dissertation research in Mexico, Grindle has traveled all over the region and helped Bolivia and other countries establish graduate schools of public policy.

“Latin America is a fascinating region of the world confronting the most significant issues of our time that have to do with economic growth, with the emergence and sustainability of democracy, with issues of equality,” said Grindle, who is the faculty chair of KSG’s Master in Public Administration program. “It’s a place where people have consistently been willing to think of creative solutions to some of these problems and to experiment with them.”

Since its founding in 1994, DRCLAS has flourished under Coatsworth’s leadership, joining together Harvard faculty and students with common interests in Latin America and also facilitating connections on the ground in the region.

According to Coatsworth, one of DRCLAS’s two important achievements is “consolidating itself as a major presence on Harvard’s campus—it now has programs that promote teaching and research on Latin America that reach every part of the University.” A regional office in Santiago, Chile, a scheduled summer opening of an office in São Paulo, Brazil, and plans for a third office in Mexico mark other significant developments.

“These outposts, these regional or national offices abroad help us to do a much better job helping both faculty and students get to know the region better,” said Coatsworth, who is a professor of history and Gutman Professor of Latin American affairs. “They are helping Harvard establish ties with academic and scientific institutions in Latin America, and even recruiting terrific students to come to Harvard,”

Of his decision to step down, Coatsworth said he felt that his 12-year stint as director was “a long enough time to establish the center, consolidate its good work and that it was an appropriate moment to move on, to leave the center in other good hands.” Next year, he will take a one year sabbatical to teach at Columbia University and return to Cambridge the following year, continuing as an affiliate of DRCLAS.

“What I’ll miss most is being at the center of that center,” Coatsworth said.

But he said he is “absolutely delighted” in the choice of his successor and confident of her ability.

“I think she knows Harvard extremely well, and she knows Latin America, and those are the two main qualifications,”

Coatsworth said of Grindle, “she’s also a very skilled and organized administrator, and she has excellent relations with colleagues and students—and I don’t think you can ask for more than that.”

—Staff writer Lulu Zhou can be reached at