In Memorium: Mickey Wapner

Mickey Wapner, former development officer for the UCLA School of Architecture and Urban Planning, died Jan. 22. She was 95. During her tenure at UCLA in the 1970s and ’80s, the Texas native — who moved to Los Angeles in 1946 — helped founding Dean Harvey S. Perloff “build a financial support community for the new school,” said Martin Wachs, distinguished professor emeritus of urban planning. Urban Planning became its own department in 1969 and merged with what is now the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs in the 1990s. Its half-century will be celebrated this year. “She was a major figure in our history,” Wachs said, noting that Wapner left UCLA after her husband, the late Joseph Wapner, became an international celebrity because of his popular and long-running television program, “The People’s Court.”  “She wanted to travel the world with him for interviews and guest appearances,” said Wachs, who kept in touch with Wapner over the years. “Mickey Wapner was very special to our department, and she was going to be an important guest for our 50th anniversary,” commented Vinit Mukhija, chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning. “We were looking forward to having her there. She will be missed.”

Tilly Outlines Pathways for Retail Sector Improvement

Urban Planning Professor Chris Tilly co-authored a chapter in the newly published book Creating Good Jobs: An Industry-Based Strategy” from MIT Press. The book discusses industry experts’ research and recommendations for improving job quality across seven industries that employ many Americans in low-wage jobs: retail, residential construction, restaurants, manufacturing, long-haul trucking, hospitals and long-term healthcare. After working together to write “Where Bad Jobs Are Better: Retail Jobs Across Countries and Companies” in 2017, Tilly and Françoise Carré, research director at the Center for Social Policy at the University of Massachusetts, co-wrote a chapter in “Creating Good Jobs” about prospects for improving frontline retail jobs in the United States. In this chapter, Tilly strives to disprove the common misconception that “e-commerce is killing off store-based retail in a ‘retail apocalypse’ and that creating better retail jobs is a profitable win-win for retailers.” He explains that both ideas are wrong, despite their prevalence in the media. Tilly argues that “policy action is needed to change the terms of decision-making away from low-wage, labor-intensive organization of work in retail.” He writes that “the primary purpose of policy action and its intended industry-wide impact is to level the playing field for companies that provide better jobs.” For Tilly, this book demonstrates across a wide range of low-wage industries that “while improving job quality can be better for some businesses sometimes, the current policy environment keeps the win-win space small, and there is no way to convince most low-wage employers that they can ‘do well by doing good.’” — Zoe Day


Astor Wins Fulbright Award for Study in Israel

Professor Ron Avi Astor, who holds a joint appointment with UCLA Luskin Social Welfare and the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, has received a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program award to Israel, where he will study the country’s successful, systemic approach to addressing school safety issues. As a Fulbright Senior Scholar, Astor will conduct research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for his project, “Addressing School Safety at the National Scale, for Each School, and Sustained Over Time: A Two-Decade Historical and Empirical Case Study on the Israeli System of School Safety.” His four-month study tour will begin in March. Astor’s research examines the role of the physical, social-organizational and cultural contexts in schools related to different kinds of bullying and violence. Israel, he said, has adopted policies and practices that have reduced victimization levels and become an example for many other countries and states. The Fulbright Program is the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program. The program’s U.S. Scholar awards are made on the basis of academic and professional achievement, as well as a record of leadership and service. Established in 1946 under legislation introduced by the late U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, the program is funded by the U.S. State Department and supported by governments and host institutions in more than 160 countries.

Cohen on the Perils of Overmedication

Medicating Normal,” a new documentary about the widespread use and resulting harms of anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications, ADHD drugs and mood stabilizers, highlights research by Social Welfare Professor David Cohen, an authority on the benefits and risks of psychoactive drugs. The film notes that one in five Americans take these psychiatric medications daily but many are unaware of their potentially debilitating side effects. In the documentary and in online resources published by the filmmakers, Cohen weighs in on misconceptions about mental illness as brain damage; the challenges psychiatric patients face in providing fully informed consent; and the severe symptoms associated with withdrawal from benzodiazepines such as Xanax. He also spoke about the intense pressure on parents to medicalize their children’s problems, a break from previous generations. “You didn’t go to the doctor before if your kid misbehaved. You went to your sister-in-law or you went to your clergyman or you went to the Reader’s Digest,” Cohen said. “It’s hard right now in the contemporary world, in the 21st century, it’s hard for a parent to know, what should I do with my kid? … You get 20 different views on the internet, you are surrounded by opinions, and you’re supposed to do the right thing, the perfect thing.” Swayed by peer pressure, drug marketing and fear of making the wrong choice, many parents conclude that their children have a disorder and turn to medication, he said. “Medicating Normal,” which argues that profit-driven drug companies are concealing the harms caused by their products, was recently screened at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

Career Inspiration for the Next Generation of Leaders

Nicholas Chow, a project manager with the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, shared how he found a career path combining STEM fields and policy during a panel for students from USC Hybrid High School in downtown Los Angeles. The event was sponsored by the nonprofit Pacific Council on International Policy as part of an educational outreach aimed at cultivating the next generation of global leaders. Freshman and sophomores from the school, which serves a predominantly minority population, heard from five speakers who explained the broad policy impact of their work in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. Chow talked about his lifelong love of water, which spurred him to travel all over the world and ultimately led him to the Center for Innovation, where he manages water engineering projects. He earned his master’s in civil and environmental engineering at UCLA in 2016. The council’s report on the career panel noted that the students “heard and saw how people who look like them, have the same hair as them, or even grew up in the same kinds of neighborhoods as they did can succeed and thrive in STEM fields.”


How Public Parks Can Better Serve Diverse Users

New research released by the Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) at UCLA Luskin finds that the users of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area come from a broad swath of the surrounding region but tend to be less ethnically diverse than Los Angeles County as a whole. The report resulted from a partnership with the National Park Service during which LCI surveyed over 4,000 people at dozens of trailheads and park entrances spread throughout the vast area covered by the country’s largest urban national park. The findings have broad implications for officials working to implement the provisions of a 2016 ballot initiative in Los Angeles County (Measure A) that is providing funds to support local parks, beaches, open space and water resources. In the survey, diversity of park users had increased since a study conducted in 2002, although two-thirds (63%) of respondents in the 2018 study were white (compared to 26.1% of L.A. County residents). On the other hand, 74% of all ZIP codes in Los Angeles and Ventura counties had at least one survey respondent, and about one-third traveled from areas that have been identified as having a very high need for park access. The researchers’ suggestions to improve park equity include finding ways to reduce travel costs for people of color and expanding outreach efforts such as the Every Kid in a Park program.

View an album of photos taken during the research effort:

Luskin Center Santa Monica Mountains Trail Use Survey

Steinert-Threlkeld on Social Media Tracking as a Tool of War

Research by Zachary Steinert-Threlkeld, assistant professor of public policy, measuring the political opinions of Russian-speakers in Ukraine at the time of Moscow’s 2014 incursion into Crimea has been published online by the journal Post Soviet Affairs. The study, co-authored by Steinert-Threlkeld and Jesse Driscoll of UC San Diego, uses a vast collection of social media data to demonstrate that many self-identified Russians living in Ukraine would not have favored a continued campaign to expand Russia’s borders. “Our supposition is that if Russian strategists were considering expansion beyond Crimea, they would have been able to use social media information to assess, with a great deal of precision and in real time, the reception that they would likely receive,” the authors wrote. While there is no evidence that Russian leaders took advantage of this type of analysis, the authors conclude that tapping into social media traffic could provide a useful source of intelligence for those planning military campaigns. “Social media data are straightforward to analyze systematically and can be collected at a relatively low cost,” wrote the authors, whose team, including research assistants in Kiev, used a data set of 6.8 million tweets to gauge social attitudes shared by Russian-speakers. “The prevalence of overtly political behaviors on social media provides important clues about the political dispositions within communities,” they said.