History of the Latin American Studies Program at The University of Scranton

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Discussions regarding the feasibility of a Latin American Studies program at the University of Scranton began in the department of Foreign Languages and Literatures as early as 1995-96. Stephen Casey of Theology and Religious Studies indicated informally in spring 1996 that he would propose a course on Latin American Liberation Theologies for inclusion in any future Latin American Studies program. In 1997 Linda Ledford-Miller (principal author, Foreign Languages and Literatures) and Bob Kocis (Political Science) wrote a grant for a Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence for academic year 1998-99, a Latin Americanist who would teach courses in both the departments of Foreign Languages and Literatures and Political Science. One of the Fulbright Scholar's primary duties would be to work with all involved parties to lay the groundwork for an eventual proposal for a Latin American Studies major and/or concentration. Linda Ledford-Miller also applied for and received an NEH Humanities Focus Grant to fund a Seminar on Latin American Identity for thirteen participants during 1998-99. An important reason for the seminar was to bring together people in the University community with expertise in Latin America to those with a desire to learn about Latin America. The seminar was also to be an important component of the preparations for development of a Latin American Studies curriculum proposal. The grant for the Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence was also funded and Dr. Alexander López, a Political Science/Education professor from the Universidad Central in Caracas, Venezuela came to the University of Scranton for the 1998-99 year. Both Dr. López and Dr. Antonio Tena, a visiting professor from the Counseling department at Mexico City's Universidad Iberoamericana, participated in the NEH Seminar.

1998-99 was a very important year in the planning for a Latin American Studies program. Alexander López participated in the NEH seminar, along with some 14 members of the University community, primarily professors. Three speakers, Profs. Joseph Sands, S.J., Charles Perrone, and Amelia Simpson, were brought to campus with seminar funds to speak on topics related to seminar readings. Several post-seminar meetings were held to discuss further planning of a Latin American Studies program. Kevin Nordberg of the Philosophy department, who had been working for several years to gain proficiency in the Spanish language, also participated in the NEH seminar and simultaneously worked closely with Alexander López in a Foreign Language department senior seminar course on the topic of Latin American thought. Kevin committed to developing a course on Latin American thought to be offered in the Philosophy department as an elective in the future Latin American Studies program.

The lack of a Latin American specialist and courses with a Latin American focus in the History department was identified as a key deficit and impediment in planning for the program. Alexander López wrote a long letter detailing his views on both favorable conditions and possible obstacles to implementing a Latin American Studies program at the University of Scranton. The general consensus of all persons involved was that a historian was essential, and that the program should begin as an interdisciplinary concentration with the possibility of moving to a major at a later date.

In spring 1999 Bob Parsons (World Languages and Literatures) and Bob Kocis (Political Science) began conversations with the administration and the History department about securing a position in the History department for a dedicated Latin Americanist. The position was approved and in fall 2000 and the History department set up a search committee, which was chaired by Ray Champagne. Bob Parsons served as the ex-officio member from the unofficial Latin American Studies group. While the search was still in progress, Parsons and Kocis, in consultation with other members of the unofficial Latin American Studies group, drew up a detailed plan for a Latin American Studies concentration and submitted it the University's main curricular approval bodies, the CAS Dean's Conference and the Faculty Senate. It was approved by both bodies. Bob Kocis committed to developing the two necessary courses in Political Science, though it was agreed that the group and the Political Science department would continue to request a position in Political Science for a specialist Latin American politics.

Lee Penyak was the successful candidate for the position in the History department. By the time he came on board in fall 2000 the concentration was in the catalog, and two students were able to graduate with the concentration in the first year of its existence. An official Latin American Studies Concentration Board was constituted shortly after the concentration was approved. The membership of the Board was Linda Ledford-Miller (Foreign Languages), Bob Kocis (Political Science), Kevin Nordberg (Philosophy), Janice Voltzow (Biology), Lee Penyak (History), Bob Parsons (Foreign Languages and Literatures) and Stephen Casey (Theology and Religious Studies). Ledford-Miller chaired the Board in 2000-01, and Bob Parsons was chair in 2001-02 and 2002-03.

During AY 2001-2002, Linda Ledford-Miller secured funding from the University of Scranton's Clavius Fund so that members of the Board and other faculty and staff could participate in the "Latin American Reading Group." The participants analyzed six major contributions to Latin American thought, under the direction of Kevin Nordberg. Lee Penyak served as Director of Latin American Studies from 2003-2011.  Kevin Nordberg will succeed him.  

Under Lee Penyak's direction the Latin American Studies program has grown considerably.  Student enrollment in the concentration grew from a handful of students to between 25 to 30 annually.  Dr. Penyak also oversaw the move of the program to the new academic department, LA/W/S and led the faculty development efforts for the successful approval in 2010 of the new Latin American Studies major.