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Endowed Chairs in Latin American Studies

Rosental C. Alves

After more than a quarter of a century as a working journalist in Brazil, including executive editor of its most prestigious newspaper and teaching journalism in Rio de Janeiro, I could not resist the call from the University of Texas in 1996.

One of the aspects that attracted me to the University was its emphasis on Latin America. As a foreign correspondent for Rio de Janeiro’s Jornal do Brasil for over a decade, I had spent most of that time covering events in Latin America, from earthquakes to coups d’état, from civil wars to the foreign debt crisis. Wouldn’t it be great to use my long experience in the challenging job of teaching and researching in one of the best American universities? Since I came to Austin, I’ve been doing precisely that.

In my “International Reporting” class, graduate and undergraduate journalism students examine the work of American foreign correspondents who work from Latin America, as the basis to study the region and the job of reporting from abroad. Once a year we invite U.S. correspondents based in Latin America and Latin American correspondents based in the U.S. to come to Austin for a symposium that benefits students, faculty members and journalists from Texas publications.

In the “Journalism in Latin America” class, my students are introduced to the progresses and constraints of the press in the hemisphere. Using case studies and a country-by-country analysis, we examine the long and bloody struggle of Latin American journalists for freedom of the press. Two hundred journalists were killed in the last decade in Latin America, despite the unprecedented wave of democratization that transformed most of the countries in the region.

The University of Texas has also been present in the most important forums of journalism in Latin America, through dozens of workshops, seminars and courses taught from Mexico to Argentina and Chile. I have actively participated in institutions such as the Inter American Press Association, the Center for Latin American Journalism and the Foundation for a New Iberian American Journalism. I have also been a judge for the most prestigious journalism award at the hemispheric level, the Maria Moors Cabot Prize given by Columbia University.

The Knight Chair in International Journalism makes a substantial contribution to put The University of Texas at Austin on the map of Latin American journalism studies. It also offers UT students a unique window to one of the most important aspects of the construction of democracy in the hemisphere. That open window has had a special result for many students. By looking at Latin America's struggle for democracy and free press, they become able not only to better understand their Southern neighbors, but also to value the pivotal role that independent journalism plays in the United States' democratic system. That was precisely what one of my students told me she responded to her dad, who was surprised to see "Journalism in Latin America" in his daughter's course schedule and asked what it had to do with the practice of journalism here. Fortunately, Dad was convinced.

Bryan Rees Roberts

My interest in Latin America began one cold winter in 1962 when I was working on my doctorate at the University of Chicago and decided to go with my wife, then fiancée, to visit her sister who was studying in the National University of Mexico. My fascination with Mexico and with development issues continued after I went to teach at the University of Manchester in 1964.

For the next twenty-two years, my research concentrated on Latin America as I looked at rural-urban migration and urban community development in Guatemala, studied regional and rural development issues in Peru and Mexico, and finally concentrated on urban employment issues, particularly the “informal” economy. This effort involved extensive collaboration with Latin American researchers and research institutions, including frequent visits to Texas working with Richard Adams, then director of UT’s Institute of Latin American Studies, and Harley Browning, then director of the Population Research Center.

In 1986 the University of Texas offered me the C. B. Smith Sr. Centennial Chair in U.S.-Mexico Relations. My research interests moved northwards to the U.S.-Mexico border, focusing on migration but also on the economic and social ties between the two sides of the border. In the last three years, my academic interests have shifted southwards and back to my old interests in community development issues. I spent a year’s leave of absence in Argentina, Chile and Brazil and have renewed my contacts in Peru.

I am director of the newly established Center for Latin American Social Policy (CLASPO) at the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies. The center aims to promote coordinated research and training between UT researchers and research institutions in Latin America. The researchers will work on the “new” social policy issues in Latin America arising from administrative decentralization and the promotion of community participation in policymaking and policy implementation. An important part of its program are short visits by Latin American researchers who work on social policy and collaboration with other UT units in organizing short-term courses for students from Latin America who are working on social policy issues.

The first major project of the center is a Ford Foundation-funded research and training network on social policy for self-sustaining community development, targeted at Argentina, Chile and Peru. The UT center will coordinate the network, which will include research institutions, ngos and universities in the three countries. Researchers, including UT-based students and faculty, will examine comparatively new community-based initiatives in education, health, housing and employment generation in the three countries. The aim is to contribute to social policy debate and analysis through joint publications and seminars, both at the University of Texas and in South America.

Peter M. Ward

My involvement in Latin America happened quite by accident. Upon graduation, I had the option of either a Peace Corps-type position in Java or doing doctoral research in squatter settlements in Asia. Which path I followed would depend upon whether or not I received a graduate fellowship. I was awarded a fellowship, but to my surprise it stipulated Latin America. So off I went.

Less serendipitous, however, was my selection of Mexico, which I chose because no one else was studying squatter settlements in Mexico City. Since then my research has also extended to other parts of the world, most notably Venezuela, Brazil, Colombia, the Caribbean and the United States, but the focus has always been a wish to understand the social and community development processes of low-income neighborhoods and how public policies might help to upgrade and improve them. This work has found direct application in my role as an adviser to the Mexican government, World Health Organization, USAID and other similar organizations.

Soon after completing fieldwork in Mexico I was appointed to my first teaching position at the University of London and later to Cambridge, spending some fifteen years as a professor of urban social geography and Latin American studies. However, I knew that the University of Texas was the place to be for a Latin Americanist, and in 1991 my wife (Vice Provost Victoria Rodríguez) and I accepted positions that enticed us from Cambridge University.

Since arriving at Austin I have been able to develop my research on Latin American urbanization and planning trends, as well as to conduct path-breaking work with graduate students on state and local government in Mexico at a time before general interest in them had begun to quicken.

Also, I was surprised to find so-called Third World housing in Texas’ own borderland backyard. In the early 1990s there were some 1,500 colonias, housing approximately 350,000 people (now there are more than half a million), living in very similar settlements to those I had studied over the previous twenty years in less developed countries. So while continuing to work on mainstream Mexico and Latin America, I have been able to apply my research to Texas and the United States. My philosophy is that we can often learn from Mexico and Latin America by bringing proven policies and best practices into Texas’ policy-making and legislative development.

My work is also taking a new tack. In March 2001 I led the University’s successful bid to bring to the campus the premier academic journal in Latin American studies, LARR (see Latin American Research Review in Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies), and to have the honor of taking over as the new editor-in-chief. It is appropriate that a journal of larr’s preeminence would be based at the University of Texas, and there is no doubt that its future success and development will derive from the depth and breath of scholarship, talent and expertise evident in this issue of DISCOVERY.

I sometimes muse about what C.B Smith would have thought—he established the endowment in order that future generations of students would enjoy, learn about and be inspired by Mexico, just as he had been inspired in a University of Texas classroom some sixty years earlier. For me it is an honor to hold a faculty position and a privilege to have the opportunity to shape younger minds. So much so that I still get the jitters every first class day of the new school year, as I renew my educational pledge with Mexico, with the region and with a new cohort of students. And I imagine the late C. B. Smith looking over my shoulder…..

Rosental C. Alves
Bryan R. Roberts
Peter M. Ward

Rosental C. Alves is the first holder of the John S. and James L. Knight Chair in International Journalism and is a professor of journalism. He can be reached at 512-471-6851.

Dr. Bryan R. Roberts holds the C. B. Smith Chair Sr. Centennial Chair (#1) in U.S.-Mexico Relations and is a professor of sociology. He can be reached at 512-471-8366.

Dr. Peter M. Ward holds the C.B. Smith Sr. Centennial Chair (#2) in U.S.-Mexico Relations and is director of the LLILAS Mexican Center. He is a professor of sociology and in the LBJ School of Public Affairs. He can be reached at 512-471-6302.

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May 14, 2002
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