from the road more a compound than a center, a cluster of four
houses and a backyard cottage between Vance and McCauley streets
near the Carolina campus. Once, all they had in common were
They are now connected by one man, Bibb
Latané, in an enterprise once only a dream.
It is impossible to look at these buildings
and imagine anything of any special consequence going on inside
them. There are no signs out front to convey to passersby that
they are home to the Latané Center for Human Science.
Applications being accepted
April 15 is the deadline for graduate
students to apply for the Julie Gatewood Latané
Residential Fellows program at the Latané Center
for Human Science. Applications can be submitted at www.humanscience.org.
For more information about the fellowships,
as well as visiting faculty accommodations at the center,
contact Bibb Latané at 942-1230 or email@example.com.
Indeed, outside advertising appears limited
to the center's official web site, which explains how the center
is a community, of sorts, that offers "educational, scientific
and cultural programs in support of Human Science." The web
site defines human science as "the set of behavioral, cognitive,
policy and social sciences, especially in their trans- or meta-disciplinary
The community consists of graduate students
who are awarded housing fellowships that allow them to live
in three of the houses rent-free. Each house features private
bedrooms and communal kitchens. Residents participate in weekly
"intellectual discussion dinners" and seminars.
The fellows also sponsor two conferences
a year on human science in southern Florida.
Sounds complicated, maybe too complicated
to stick on a sign out by the road to explain what it all means.
No such sign is necessary, of course, because the only customers,
so to speak, are the students living inside.
But to get a better picture of how it
all works and what it all means, you need to know about the
man who set it all in motion.
Arrival in Chapel
The anchor and hub of the complex is the elegant, brick house
on Vance Street where Latané now lives.
What they say
Here's what fellows
at the Latané Center for Human Science have to
say about what it's like to live there:
"The house for me was
important for a few reasons. By coming here, I was able
to create relatively quickly a social network ... It's
also helped me with the problem of adaptation to the culture.
As a foreigner, you don't know the expectations that will
be placed on you. By coming here, I was able to meet both
foreigners who had been here a while and Americans who
were already accustomed to dealing with foreigners. It
was a very important way to be socialized and to understand
what it meant to stay here .... Another reason is the
conferences and the valuable speakers who come here that
give you important openings to disciplines that are not
your own. The third reason, which is more on the ground
but not less important, is the economic advantage to be
able to live without paying a real rent."
-- Christian Sellar,
a second-year graduate student in geography from Italy
whose work examines post-communist transformation in Russia
"Beyond the free rent
and being close to campus, I think, is the ability to
work with people from different disciplines. That is most
important. Had I not lived here, I would have lived in
an apartment, and I would only have known people from
within the business school. And the only collaborative
work I would have done is with people from the business
school. This has given me a broader perspective."
-- Asda Chintakananda,
second-year Ph.D. student at Kenan-Flagler Business School
"It is a nice experience
to be with other students, especially graduate students
from other departments. I guess that's been the best thing
for me because when you go to graduate school, you tend
to hang out with all of the people from within your department.
You like stay there, do your research and go out almost
never. Of course, that can be boring. The biggest contribution
for me has been having other perspectives from other departments."
-- Nicoletta Orlandi,
third-year graduate student in philosophy from Italy
It is the same house to which he and his
family moved in 1950 so his parents could attend graduate school
at Carolina. Both southerners, they had met and married in Greenwich
Village. His father, Henry Allen Latané, a transplanted
Virginian descended from Huguenot refugees from France, quit
his job as a securities analyst on Wall Street and entered the
Ph.D. program in economics. His mother, a former belle from
Alabama named Felicité Gillman Bibb, entered the master's
program in psychology. The house, built in the 1920s for the
incoming minister at what is now University Baptist Church,
featured huge windows that allowed for sweeping views of the
giant oak trees out back.
It fell into decline during the Depression
and was sold to a widow who had a "marriageable" daughter and
who turned the home into a boarding house and a revolving door
for potential suitors.
When the Latanés moved in, the
house was reconverted to single-family use, but this time for
a family of students with bookcases built in everywhere.
Felicité soon had the house filled
with Victorian furniture from her grandparents' antebellum house
in Selma. Before long, the house became a revolving door once
more, only now for dinner parties featuring such academic luminaries
as economist Milton Friedman, whom Latané remembers meeting
as a boy. Henry, after completing his Ph.D., was asked to stay
on as a faculty member with joint appointments in economics
and the business school.
Latané, meanwhile, began his freshman
year at Chapel Hill High School, which then stood on Franklin
Street where University Square sits today. Latané's 50th
high school reunion is set for this summer, and if he attends,
balding friends might remark with envy at the thick crop of
hair that, while graying, still bears a deep trace of its former
At nearly 6 feet 3, he is a big man by
standards of his generation, yet he remembers what it was like
to have been the smallest kid in the class.
That status was seemingly permanent as
he was also the youngest, having skipped second grade. But then
he added a full foot to his 5-foot-3-inch frame between his
junior and senior years.
To put that in perspective, Latané
said, "I went from being the manager to playing on the high
school basketball team."
Left unchanged was his regular position
-- the bench. "Even when small, I was slow and clumsy and I
never managed to outgrow that."
A passion for discovery
But Latané was never slow or clumsy in a classroom. He
shared his father's passion for learning, if not his choice
of subject matter.
After graduating from high school in 1954,
Latané went off to Yale University where he would begin
his lifetime quest of pushing the bounds of conventional academic
He majored in "Culture and Behavior,"
a joint offering from the departments of anthropology, biology,
psychology and sociology. Graduating with honors, he was accepted
into Harvard Law School but asked for a deferred admission to
earn a master's degree in the exciting new interdisciplinary
field of "social psychology" he had stumbled upon at Yale.
Part of the reason for the delay was that
he was just not ready to buckle down to serious study at a competitive
school like Harvard, and he thought he could afford to invest
the year he had earlier saved in gaining more maturity and a
broader background. As Latané put it, "The notion of
being able to discover the scientific laws underlying human
behavior seemed to be good preparation for studying the laws
of behavior created by legislators."
Once immersed in research, however, Latané
never went back to law. After completing a doctorate in social
psychology at Minnesota, he went on to teach at Columbia and
Ohio State universities and by the early 1980s was back at Carolina
as director of the Institute for Research in Social Science
(now the Odum Institute).
Through the years, Latané's passion
for human science has not waned or wavered. He has been an active
researcher, receiving major awards for his research on bystander
intervention in emergencies (stimulated by the 1964 murder of
Kitty Genovese), social loafing in groups, and dynamic social
impact. Recipient of many NSF grants, he has been a pioneer
in applying interdisciplinary concepts from the study of nonlinear
dynamics to the emergence of social organization from the interaction
of individual humans in spatial networks.
Latané has also been somewhat of
an academic entrepreneur -- he was instrumental in founding
two successful journals and in weaning a professional organization
from its overly controlling parent. As a result, he has been
elected to high offices in several organizations -- the American
Psychological Association, the Midwestern Psychological Association,
the Society for Personality and Social Psychology and the Society
for Experimental Social Psychology.
In 1980, after taking up flying, he went
in with his father to establish a non-profit academic conference
center in a large white elephant of a beachfront house across
from the First Flight airstrip at Kill Devil Hills. He has organized
almost 200 conferences in the 25 years since, first in North
Carolina, and since 1990 at another oceanfront location in south
Florida. The present center is an outgrowth of this impulse.
A Brunswick stew
of intellectual energy
While the center has no formal relationship with the graduate
school, there are strong informal ties. Currently, the center
is home to 15 fellows who represent 12 different schools or
departments, Latané said. The majority have named fellowships
at their respective schools, from Royster to Kenan to Reynolds.
Among them is Emily Harville, an epidemiology
student from Wisconsin whose research interests include the
prevention of birth defects. She once served in the Peace Corps
Living in the house is not just a matter
of study, study, study, and in many ways the students have come
to see each other as family, even those with their own families
living with them.
John Gray, a second-year Ph.D. student
from Longmeadow, Mass., in Kenan-Flagler's Department of Operations,
Technology and Innovative Management, lists outsourcing decisions
and operations strategy in emerging economies among his research
interests. He lives in one of the houses with his wife Tina
and two young children (Abby and Will, who are being raised
by the community).
The other married couple in the group
is Clark and Beverly Gray, North Carolinians who met as students
at the School for Math and Science. Clark is a Ph.D. student
in geography and demography, Bev, a first-year medical student.
Both served in the Peace Corps as rural health extension volunteers
in Ecuador in fall of 2001.
A third pair of residents, Amy Davis from
political science and Kevin Ross from statistics, are engaged
to be married this spring.
Asda Chintakananda, a second-year Ph.D.
student in strategic management at Kenan-Flagler Business School,
is originally from Bangkok, Thailand. After completing an undergraduate
degree in economics at the University of Tokyo and an M.B.A.
at Northwestern's Kellogg School, he worked for the World Bank.
Abe Crystal, a South Carolina native with
an economics degree from Princeton, is studying human-computer
interaction in the School of Information and Library Science.
Swarthmore graduate Gabriel Cumming and
Duke graduate Carla Norwood are both North Carolinians interested
in how rural communities make conservation decisions.
Nicoletta Orlandi, a third-year student
from Italy studying philosophy, is interested in metaphysics
and the mind.
Nicoletta Orlandi, a third-year student
from Italy studying philosophy, is interested in metaphysics
and the mind.
"One of the things that has made
all these students such a joy to deal with is that they are
not just bright and academically successful," Latané
said. "But there is something about wanting to live in a place
like this that makes them socially very interesting."
Latané, though he probably would
recoil at the titles, serves as both headmaster and landlord.
The descriptions don't precisely fit,
Landlords charge rent. Latané doesn't.
Students split the cost among themselves for food and utilities,
at a monthly rate everyone agreed to in advance.
Headmasters lecture their students. Latané
does not so much lecture as help set the table for engaging
discussion with a topic that he or one of the students picks
And there are prescribed times and days
of the week for each of these kinds of events.
Tuesdays at lunchtime, Latané offers
a non-credit seminar -- "Introduction to Human Science" in which
the group tries to develop common themes from different disciplines
that may help lead to a unified understanding of human and social
dynamics. Wednesday nights are devoted to group discussions
of general topics over dinner. Sunday nights usually feature
an outside speaker who joins the group for dinner and then leads
a discussion afterwards.
Often the group is joined by Maria Mumford,
a well-traveled professor of language, literature and cross-cultural
communication. She came to North Carolina to develop the content
of a pioneering online program teaching Spanish for M.B.A.s,
executives, and other professionals for Kenan-Flagler. For the
past two years, she has helped Latané manage seminars,
conferences, and other events in both North Carolina and Florida.
The atmosphere is most often light and
friendly, even after the plates are cleared and the subject
for the day is served for debate. The idea here is not to win
an argument but to broaden one's understanding of an issue by
seeing the multiplicity of perspectives from which it can be
On a Wednesday night in late February,
after finishing an Indian dish of chicken and rice, students
took up the question of corporate influence on university research,
weighing the possible benefits against the possible dangers.
In a sense, the center has recreated for
Latané the kind of charged intellectual excitement he
experienced when he was a student, back when the field of social
psychology was still "the mother of all behavioral and social
sciences" and had not yet been reduced in scope to a sub-area
of psychology or sociology.
"Part of what I'm trying to do with
the center is to regain that interdisciplinary perspective,"
Latané said. "None of this precludes students from continuing
on to become experts in their own disciplines, but it may allow
them to develop a richer and more comprehensive view of the
Latané said he hopes the personal
and intellectual bonds that students form with each other can
be extended with the creation of "the Human Science Network,"
a web-based facility for communication, research and teaching
in human science.
The group is currently working on grant
proposals to extend the resources already located at www.humanscience.org
to enable offering online courses and research surveys.
Making it happen
The creation in 1980 of Social Science Conferences Inc.
in Nags Head set in motion for Latané the general goal
of using real estate to promote scientific exchange. The idea
for doing so in Chapel Hill began stirring in Latané's
imagination in 1985, just before his father's death, when he
bought the fine old Victorian house at 223 McCauley Street.
Years later, as his mother was dying of
cancer in the spring of 1999, Latané discussed with her
the idea of turning the house into a place where students could
meet and learn from each other.
It took some convincing.
When he spoke to her, she had already
begun the usual process of estate planning and expected to simply
leave the property to Latané.
But she liked the idea that the house
she had lived in for nearly 50 years would retain its furnishings
and her husband's papers and have a useful function after her
She liked his idea, too, of using the
non-profit public charity that he had founded 20 years before
with his father. Donate the property to Social Science Conferences
Inc, he told his mother, and the taxes saved would amount to
getting a federal match.
She finally agreed, with the stipulation
that the center bear the family name, just as she had insisted
on carrying forward her maiden name of Bibb by giving it to
him as his first name when he was born.
Thanks to the stock market acumen of his
father and the frugal lifestyle of his mother -- she loved playing
bridge and hated shopping -- the estate included a sizeable
amount of securities as well.
Latané used a good deal of it to
buy the two additional houses on McCauley Street and to pay
for renovations. What was once an unused attic became a two-room
living unit. What was once a backyard garage became a cottage
with a bedroom, hot tub and kitchen reminiscent of a yacht (Latané
makes the cottage available free of charge for visiting faculty).
What was once a dingy half basement became a seminar room, a
media room, a computer lab and a recreation room.
The family money also was enough to be
able to offer the fellowships as well as travel and research
grants. What Latané did not share with his mother was
his intention to name them the Julie Gatewood Latané
Residential Fellows, after his younger sister.
Julie had shared his passion for human
science. She graduated from Carolina, then went on to earn a
doctorate in social psychology, married and started a university
She also applied her research to solving
social problems. She was involved in the peace movement during
the Vietnam War. She got involved in issues that affect Native
Americans. She worked on programs for early childhood education.
And she became active in a center for international conflict
"She wanted to make a difference,"
But she also was predisposed toward depression.
In 1975, while her parents were out of the country, she hanged
herself from a pipe in the basement of the family home.
Her death devastated the family and was
a subject his mother could not bring herself to talk about for
the rest of her life.
And that is why turning that same basement
into a place where bright people are drawn together to discuss
what can be done about the social problems of today means so
much to him, Latané said.
"It is important to me to take that
space that has such a bad memory associated with it and turn
it into something positive," he said.