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Grant links Miami and Armenia

11/11/1999

The breakup of the Soviet Union has created a laboratory for the study of political processes as the former republics grapple with self-government and move toward a free market economy.

Now Miami University political scientists will get not only a first-hand look at the changes occurring in Armenia but an opportunity to collaborate with key Armenian opinion leaders, through a $284,437 grant from the U.S. Information Agency to Miami political scientist Douglas Shumavon.

The three-year USIA grant will fund an exchange program that will allow Miami faculty to work with Armenian government officials and scholars. Armenians visiting Miami will focus on three topics-government budget and financing, public policy and policy analysis and how to attract foreign investments.

The USIA's goal is to assist the democratization efforts underway in Armenia, a nation of 3 million that only became independent in 1991 and which shares borders with Turkey, Georgia, Iran and Azerbaijan.

While the exchange will expose Armenians to the American style of public administration, the aim is not to replicate our system in a country with its own culture and expectations. Instead, it is to provide the participants, who include officials from Armenia's Ministry of Finance and faculty from the American University of Armenia, with background and hands-on experience in research, budgeting and economic development.

"I cannot possibly provide them with magic bullets that will give them answers, but I can expose them to processes that will allow them to discuss and debate the issues and strengthen the capacity of those who must provide essential services," says Shumavon.

For example, under Soviet rule the idea of an independent budget agency that assisted decision makers didn't exist. "Everything was handled in Moscow," explains Shumavon.

Students who interact with the Armenians will no longer be able to assume that public policy "just happens," says Susan Kay, chair of political science. Instead, students will receive a real-life lesson in how public administration reflects political philosophy.

The Armenian exchange program will enhance Miami's already strong emphasis on international education, agree Shumavon and Kay.

Matching funds for the grant totaling $30,000 come from a gift from the late Walter Havighurst, long-time professor of English at Miami, who established an endowment to support the advancement of understanding between the United States and the nations that once formed the Soviet Union. Shumavon, who is of Armenian heritage and has spent several summers teaching in Armenia, will direct the exchange program.

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