woman stands in front of red background

Dean’s Message

I am writing this note at a time when UCLA and many other universities around the country are in a state of upheaval, conflict, anger and sorrow. War and violence are still raging in Gaza. In the United States, pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel protests have become common occurrences on university campuses. Academic officials are caught between often conflicting responsibilities — to uphold freedom of speech and the right to protest, while also ensuring safety, well-being and a welcoming environment for everyone regardless of their political views. As we witnessed during the violent confrontations that took place at a pro-Palestinian encampment on our campus this spring, efforts to satisfy this dual mandate are not always successful.

In the past, social causes often have served to unite university communities around an overwhelmingly shared view during controversy. This time, it is different. The core issues are complex, divisive and deeply tied to individual identities and beliefs. As a microcosm of society, UCLA faculty, staff, students and alumni encompass a wide range of characteristics and perspectives, many of which inform passionate opinions about the tragic ongoing developments in Gaza. Significant, deeply held divisions exist about the Middle East and what type of responses are appropriate to the related protests at UCLA and other universities.

The path forward is uncertain, but I feel strongly that the most important role that universities can play is to foster tolerance, openness and appreciation of our disparate identities, ideologies and religions. Universities have been and should remain society’s premier public forums — places where competing ideas are nurtured and conflicting ideologies are given opportunities for explanation, discussion and thoughtful debate. Universities foster scholarship, which helps us understand the historical roots, context and impacts of current events and policies. Through a deeper understanding, we seek to promote sound policy solutions and compassionate responses to conflicts. We treasure diversity — not just in gender or ethnicity or upbringing, but in ideas as well. The Luskin School must seek to lift up all voices and provide a place where competing ideas are not just tolerated but welcomed.

This issue of Luskin Forum was in production before conflicts on campus came to a head. Even so, in some ways it exemplifies the power of our School as a public forum. One example is the Luskin Briefing in Sacramento, which in mid-February brought together in the state’s capital an assemblage of scholars and Advisory Board members with senators, assemblymembers and other state officials to discuss two issues of vital importance in California: water management and housing affordability.

Later, the sixth annual Luskin Summit provided a wonderful forum for discussion of a variety of topics and policy responses to extremely pertinent issues in Southern California. Panels on mobility, transportation infrastructure, elections, governance, climate resilience and equity were bookended by presentations from two prominent public servants. Former Los Angeles Councilman and County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky opened the Summit with findings from the ninth Quality of Life Index, a survey that presents the pulse of Angelenos on important matters affecting the region. And Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass closed the event in conversation with Jacqueline Waggoner, president of our Board of Advisors and an urban planning alumna. In a frank, open-ended Q&A with Waggoner and the audience, the mayor related her vision regarding the city’s efforts on homelessness.

These two events highlighted the terrific research carried out by UCLA Luskin scholars and the School’s many research centers. Additionally, our continuing series of Luskin Lectures furthered our mission to serve as a public forum. This year, attendees heard from former L.A. Laker and current housing developer Devean George and others working to advance real estate development in Black neighborhoods. Professor Barbara Ransby of the University of Illinois, Chicago, delivered a Luskin Lecture on the “new McCarthyism” on college campuses. And the series featured a joint presentation by three UCLA Luskin alumni who now serve as elected or appointed government officials — Lourdes Castro Ramírez, Caroline Menjivar and Isaac Bryan — on their efforts
to address homelessness and the affordable housing crisis.

These events represent just a few examples of the academic environment’s potential at its best — a positively transformative agent for society, one that espouses diversity and tolerance of ideas and people. I remain proud of our university and the Luskin School, and I know that our academic community will survive the traumatic experiences of recent months and continue to thrive.


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