Category to differentiate content of interest to students in the undergraduate major in public affairs.

Latest Cohort of 4 Activists-in-Residence Is Largest Ever UCLA's cityLAB, Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy and Asian American Studies Center will serve as on-campus hosts

UCLA welcomed an artist and three community organizers to campus on Jan. 31 during the 2023 UCLA Activists-in-Residence reception held at DeCafe in Perloff Hall.

This year, four activists were selected, making this the largest cohort in the program’s six-year history. Steve Diaz and Josiah Edwards will be working with the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, which has selected at least one activist since 2017.

Diaz is deputy director of the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) based in downtown Los Angeles, and Edwards is a youth climate justice organizer who grew up in the South Bay area of L.A. County.

The UCLA Asian American Studies Center returns to the residency program after a pandemic-related hiatus to host Melissa Acedera. The daughter of Filipino immigrants to Los Angeles, Acedera is a founder of two community-powered food systems helping feed unhoused and food-insecure communities across L.A. and Orange counties.

New to the Activists-in-Residence program this year is cityLAB-UCLA, which selected Marlené Nancy Lopez, a public artist whose work focuses on serving communities through muralism, storytelling and multimedia. She was born and raised in the MacArthur Park neighborhood of Los Angeles.

Conceptualized as a sabbatical, the residency allows for time and space to reflect, envision new projects, and connect with UCLA faculty, students and staff. At the reception, each of the activists spoke briefly about their previous experiences and their plans for the next few months.

Find out more about the activists and their plans.

View photos from the reception on Flickr.

2023 Activists in Residence

In Reparations Debate, UCLA Students Help Amplify Black Californians’ Voices Public policy graduate students use tools of research to help shape history

By Mary Braswell

A small team of UCLA graduate students traveled the state, heard from more than 900 residents, surveyed over 4,400 more and analyzed 1,000-plus pages of transcripts over the past year, all to give ordinary Californians a voice in the conversation about how the government should atone for the devastating legacy of slavery.

The students’ work documented the range of harms that have been suffered by Black Americans over generations and captured viewpoints on what just compensation should look like. In the fall, the team reported its findings at a public meeting of the California Reparations Task Force, which is conducting closely watched deliberations on the best path forward.

The group also just delivered an 80-page report to the state Department of Justice, the culmination of an extraordinary opportunity to use the tools of research to help shape momentous policy decisions in real time.

Through it all, the young Black scholars were deeply affected by the stories they heard and the responsibility they carried.

“I understood the significance of what I was working on,” said Elliot Woods, a second-year master of public policy student at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. “And all I could think about was that I don’t want to disappoint our ancestors.”

‘The way it is now, it seems like we’re being pushed out. … We’ve lost family homes. We’ve lost generational homes that have been in our families for years.’

— A Black California resident speaking at a community listening session organized by UCLA’s Black Policy Project

The nine-member Reparations Task Force, commissioned by the California Legislature and seated in 2021, quickly determined that community input was vital to its work. So it turned to the UCLA Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, where public policy and urban planning professor Michael Stoll directs the Black Policy Project.

The task was immense and the deadline tight. Within months, the panel required a comprehensive and data-backed accounting of public opinion from across the California spectrum: from rural and urban communities, from every economic rung and every walk of life.

Stoll proposed that his group also systematically document stories of racial discrimination and record residents’ viewpoints on how the state should respond. And he enlisted three master’s students he knew he could count on: Jendalyn Coulter, who analyzed conversations from 17 online and in-person community listening sessions across the state; Chinyere Nwonye, who studied recorded testimonies, photos, videos and other submissions before developing full oral histories of seven Californians, ages 38 to 88; and Woods, who supervised two surveys to gauge support for cash and non-cash reparations and to capture opinions on who should be eligible.

“When you see people who are curious, excited, capable and committed, and who have the passion, it was an easy call about how to assemble the team. And the research they conducted was spectacular,” Stoll said. The project was the type of work that doctoral students might normally do, he added, and it was completed in a fraction of the time such a large project would typically require.

‘I felt like, growing up, we were made to be ashamed of who we are as Black Americans. … I feel like a lot of Black Americans, they don’t have a sense of purpose because they don’t value their legacy. They don’t value what their families went through.’

A Hollywood professional interviewed for an oral history

After several weeks of intensive transcribing, coding and analyzing the trove of data they collected, Coulter, Nwonye and Woods worked with Stoll to develop conclusions that will guide the work of the Reparations Task Force. Among them:

  • Black Californians concurred that racial bias in education, policing, housing and the workplace has diminished the quality of their lives, at times leading to emotional trauma and physical ailments.
  • An overwhelming majority of survey respondents from all races expressed support for reparations: 77% favored non-cash financial support such as housing assistance, debt forgiveness, land grants and community investment; 73% supported non-monetary remedies such as reforming the education and criminal justice systems; and 64% favored direct cash payments.
  • Those who were surveyed disagreed somewhat on who should be eligible for reparations: all Black Californians (supported by 30% of respondents); those who can establish that they are the direct descendants of slaves (29%); or those who can demonstrate that they have experienced race-based discrimination (24%).

With the community listening sessions complete, the state task force has asked a team of economists for recommendations on implementing an equitable program of reparations; a final report is due this summer. California lawmakers will then consider how to proceed.

Meanwhile at UCLA, the Black Policy Project has launched a study group to further analyze the findings. Stoll said the results of that new work will not only contribute to the ongoing policy conversation but also give more of the public a chance to parse the findings in different ways.

‘I really do believe if you fix the descendants of slavery in America … it actually allows the U.S. to say and show we were actually willing to clean up our own messes. We were willing to be the country we said that we were when we said liberty and justice for all.’

— An Oakland, California, resident interviewed for an oral history

After the group had delivered its report, Woods reflected on the opportunity to play a part in shaping history.

“We are in this unique and very, very privileged position to work on this as students at UCLA,” he said. “It feels like a lot of weight to carry because we know we have a lot of the nation paying attention to what we’re doing.”

For Nwonye, the experience prompted self-examination about researchers’ role when the subject is personal.

“You always want to maintain that level of professionalism that comes from a sense of objectivity. And there were days when I had to step away from it,” Nwonye said.

“But at the same time, I don’t know that we would have found the things that we found if we were not a Black research team. I don’t know that people would have been as open about telling their stories.”

Coulter, who earned dual master’s degrees in public policy and social welfare in 2022, recalled the anguish she found in the pages of transcripts from months of community listening sessions.

“I can’t even begin to fathom the collective trauma and the stress and just the pain that has been inflicted on the community for so long,” she said. “And it was heartbreaking, as a Black person, to hear the distrust and the hesitancy around the purpose of this. Is this massive effort truly going to resonate with the government? Or will it again fall on deaf ears?”

When Stoll and the students appeared at Los Angeles’ California Science Center in September to preview their findings, audio of some of the interviews they conducted was played for the Reparations Task Force and members of the public. The audience included people who had participated in the project, and they thanked the students for telling their stories.

“Even if nothing else happens,” Nwonye said, “we’ve already done something that is really important: allowing people to have their voices be heard.”

Read “Harm and Repair,” the research team’s report to the California Reparations Task Force.

‘I Love the School’ As interim dean at UCLA Luskin, Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris is giving back to a university that has been ‘extremely good to me’ for 33 years

By Les Dunseith

On Jan. 1, Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris became interim dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, filling a role that is expected to continue for at least two-and-a-half years until a permanent dean is named.

Loukaitou-Sideris, a distinguished professor of urban planning, had previously served as associate dean. A widely published scholar who joined the UCLA faculty in 1990, Loukaitou-Sideris helped lead a strategic planning effort to redefine the future of the School in the wake of the naming gift from Meyer and Renee Luskin in 2004. She drew on that experience a decade later to lead a campuswide effort that created a strategic plan for UCLA.

In a Q&A conducted during her second week as interim dean, Loukaitou-Sideris talked about taking on new responsibilities, how she is approaching the challenge and what she sees as the Luskin School’s immediate priorities.

What was your reaction when you found out you would be the interim dean?

Loukaitou-Sideris: Well, it was a mixture of excitement — because I love the School — and a little bit of being overwhelmed. I’ve had a very good life, heading all kinds of research-related activities, as well as being an associate dean for 12 years. This role brings with it a whole new area of work that is much more intensive, but also exciting.

At the same time, I know the School inside and out, and I have served the university in different capacities. I know the deans. I know the vice chancellors. There is an element of familiarity. And I feel that I’m giving something back to a School that has been extremely good to me all these years. 

Have you witnessed a lot of change in your time as a UCLA Luskin professor?

Loukaitou-Sideris: Absolutely. I pre-date the formation of this School in 1994. I was in the Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning, and at the time everybody in that program was very much opposed to moving urban planning to this new entity. In retrospect, we were wrong, as the new school opened up new and exciting opportunities.

The common thread is social justice and a desire to make cities and society better — to improve things. What is unique from the early days is the recognition that by bringing together our individual disciplines and finding common initiatives, we can attract more people who are interested in tackling complex issues and do so in a much more comprehensive way.

The Luskin School added an undergraduate degree program and new academic research centers in recent years. Growth is generally a good thing, but it also can be challenging. What needs to happen next?

Loukaitou-Sideris: We have reached a level of stability now. I anticipate leading new initiatives relating to global public affairs, real estate development and e-governance and the introduction of digital technology tools  — and we have been assured by the provost that such efforts will be supported — but compared to the last few years, growth is going to be more moderate.

What are your top priorities as interim dean?

Loukaitou-Sideris: It is very crucial to reassure people that the School is not only doing well but is going forward.

We’ve faced what I call a “triple whammy.” We had COVID. We had the UC strike. And we had the unexpected resignation of a dean. One of the very first things I’m doing is meeting with people and reassuring them. I have spoken with the Board of Advisors, the department chairs and many individuals, including the Luskins. I plan to meet with our students. I am holding a town hall for faculty and staff.

Both groups at once?

Loukaitou-Sideris: Yes, I insisted on that. I don’t believe in treating the two groups differently. We all work for the good of the School, and we all have a very important role to play. We don’t have first-class and second-class citizens here.

Morale is very important, as you know, in an organization. My door is open, and it will remain open.

Another priority is to tackle the economic realities brought about by the pandemic and the strike settlement agreement, which will increase labor costs, without diminishing pedagogic excellence. It is not the best thing for a new dean, you know, to start during an environment where you have to cut budgets. But I think that people understand.

And I have to say that people have been so far very responsive and very understanding.

As you know, research is a great love of mine. So yet another priority is that I want to see the School continue to increase our grants and ensure that tighter budgets do not reduce opportunities for research. I will be working closely with the research centers on that.

Taking 12th Grade Math Opens Doors to Higher Education, Research Finds UCLA-led study following nearly 27,000 L.A. Unified students yields insights that can help inform education policy

Students who take math in the 12th grade improve their chances of enrolling and continuing in higher education, according to a new report by the Los Angeles Education Research Institute at UCLA.

In partnership with the Los Angeles Unified School District, the institute’s researchers followed the educational journeys of nearly 27,000 students beginning in the 11th grade. Those who took a full year of math in the 12th grade were more likely to enroll in a four-year college and return for a second year, compared with academically similar peers who did not take math, the study found.

The report yields several findings that can inform current debates over education policy in California, said Meredith Phillips, co-founder of the institute known as LAERI, which is housed at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

One key takeaway is the importance of a robust curriculum that allows all students to continue their math education into their senior year, said Phillips, whose research focuses on the causes and consequences of educational inequality.

“School staff, parents and other adults would be wise to encourage students to take these courses, which open up college opportunities and a path to longer-term social and economic mobility,” she said.

The University of California and Cal State systems recommend but do not require a fourth year of high school math for freshman applicants. However, those who take math in the 12th grade may have an advantage in a competitive admissions process, particularly on campuses that no longer consider SAT or ACT test scores, the researchers noted.

“Enrollment in 12th grade math may also expose students to a peer group that is more college-focused, motivating them to pursue higher education,” said Leonard Wainstein, a visiting assistant professor at Reed College who served as the report’s lead analyst.

About a quarter of the students in the study did not take math in 12th grade. To determine whether specific groups of students were less likely than their peers to enroll in these courses, the researchers examined differences by gender, ethnicity, English proficiency and socioeconomic status. The findings can be used to inform L.A. Unified staff about whether particular types of students need more encouragement to take math or more access to 12th grade math courses.

The study, which followed high school students who were academically similar at the end of their junior year, identified benefits from taking any kind of math class in 12th grade, including traditional offerings such as precalculus or alternatives such as statistics or data science.

Even though students who took 12th grade math experienced a very slight reduction in their overall grade point average, the researchers identified positive effects on college enrollment and persistence.

The study was funded by the Oakland-based nonprofit College Futures Foundation and conducted by researchers affiliated with LAERI, which has collaborated with L.A. Unified for more than 10 years to produce research that district decision-makers and educators use to improve educational quality and equity in Los Angeles.

The research team includes Wainstein, a former postdoctoral scholar at UCLA Luskin; Carrie Miller, LAERI’s associate director and a PhD candidate at the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies; Phillips, associate professor of public policy and sociology at UCLA and faculty director of LAERI; Kyo Yamashiro, an assistant professor of education at Loyola Marymount University who co-founded LAERI with Phillips and served as the founding executive director; and Tatiana Melguizo, professor at the USC Rossier School of Education and the Pullias Center for Higher Education.

The researchers will follow up with a second report this year that looks more closely at college performance among a subset of the former L.A. Unified students.

Segura to Step Down as Dean, Remain on Faculty His six years leading the Luskin School has been marked by a deep commitment to equity, diversity and academic excellence

Gary Segura has decided to end his time as dean of the Luskin School for personal reasons. Here is a message sent to the UCLA Luskin staff and faculty by UCLA Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Darnell Hunt:

Dear Colleagues:

I write to share the news that Dean Gary Segura, who has led the Luskin School of Public Affairs since January of 2017, has informed me of his decision to step down as dean and return to the faculty. His last day will be Dec. 31, 2022. We will share plans for interim leadership of the school as soon as they are in place.

In his nearly six years as dean, Dean Segura has fostered within the Luskin School a deep commitment to academic excellence and to equity, diversity and inclusion. Under his leadership, the school has enrolled an accomplished and highly diverse group of students in its programs and appointed renowned scholars in areas such as poverty and inequality, immigration, criminal justice, education policy and more.

Dean Segura has helped to cement the Luskin School’s status as a leader in research, teaching and practice across the areas of social welfare, urban planning and public policy. Recognizing growing demand for the Luskin School’s programs, in 2018 he led the development of the undergraduate major in public affairs, which provides a multidisciplinary foundation in social science theories, data collection and analysis. Additionally, the school launched a certificate program in data analytics in fall 2021 and added a new dual master’s degree program offered jointly by our Urban Planning Department and the Urban School of Sciences Po in Paris.

Dean Segura also co-founded the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute in 2017 to address inequities and spread awareness of the most critical domestic policy challenges facing Latinos and other communities of color.

Chancellor Block and I are grateful to Dean Segura for advancing the public affairs disciplines at UCLA and for his work to deepen the Luskin School’s impact on communities near and far. Please join me in thanking Dean Segura for his leadership and wishing him well on his next chapter.

Abrams and Boston University Dean Call for Social Workers to Use Knowledge for Change Scholars must wrestle with the root causes of social inequality and strive toward bettering people's lives, they write

Professor Laura Abrams, chair of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare, and Dean Jorge Delva of Boston University’s School of Social Work (BUSSW) are co-authors of a newly published journal article looking at the opportunities and obligations of social work research.

Published by the Journal of the Society for Social Work & Research, “Social Work Researchers: From Scientific Technicians to Changemakers” is a call to action for social work scholars to direct their efforts toward high-impact research that produces findings that can be applied in a timely manner to influence programs, policies or movements that improve the lives of the most marginalized and oppressed populations.

Abrams and Delva note that amid recent social tumult, global challenges and increased attention to racism and anti-Blackness, there has been an increase in demand for research that is both scientific and attentive to social, racial, economic and environmental justice.

They say, however, that an empirical push in social work research has resulted in “a focus on quantity over impact; undue emphasis on publishing in journals, often in non-social-work journals that have high impact factors but are separated from our practice community; engagement in ‘traditional’ modes of scholarship that do not necessarily challenge the status quo; and pursuit of NIH funding as an end in itself.”

The authors acknowledge the value of National Institutes of Health funding but write that the “narrow focus on NIH as an arbiter of a successful scholar … has also reinforced the top-down, parachuting type of research whereby researchers drop into a community, conduct their research and depart with little to no involvement by and impact on the community.”

Pushing toward evidence without a solid anchor to communities is a phenomenon that the authors attribute to pressures within academia to attain ever-greater funding, power and prestige — pressures fed by incomplete measures of success such as the U.S. News & World Report rankings.

Delva and Abrams point to a paradigm shift, saying the next generation of social work scholars is ready for change. New momentum exists for the belief that current research practices function as tools of white supremacy, patriarchy and oppression, which is an idea advanced as early as 1968, when the National Association of Black Social Workers urged the National Conference on Social Welfare to publicly repudiate the welfare system.

Delva and Abrams say that social work must reach beyond the goal of implementing health research into practice and also wrestle with the root causes of social inequalities. In the same way that science alone could not have improved women’s lives without women’s rights movements, social science can only make an impact with communal support and momentum, the co-authors write.

Abrams, whose research centers on improving the well-being of youth and adults with histories of incarceration, joins Delva, the Paul Farmer professor and director of the Center for Innovation in Social Work & Health at BUSSW, in imploring academic leaders to make a more concerted effort to elevate and reward work based on public impact, community participatory research and social movements.

Kal Penn on Working for Change in Hollywood and Politics The actor, author, public servant and UCLA alumnus shares his multilayered life story with a Luskin Lecture audience

By Mary Braswell

To understand the folly of viewing people through a one-dimensional lens, just look at Kal Penn’s resume.

The UCLA alumnus has played stoners, doctors and Santa Claus on the big and small screens. As part of the Obama White House, he mobilized voters, helped shape policy and advocated for the arts. Now, he’s added a new entry to his list of achievements: bestselling author.

Penn published his darkly funny memoir “You Can’t Be Serious” in 2021, and he returned to campus on Nov. 3 to share tales from his circuitous life journey as part of the UCLA Meyer and Renee Luskin Lecture Series.

Penn, a familiar face to viewers of “House,” “Designated Survivor” and the “Harold & Kumar” stoner movie franchise, was moved to write the book during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many people were re-examining their career choices and life priorities.

“Maybe I do have a story to tell,” he realized. “Maybe now is the time to share how you can have the blessing and privilege of working in two totally different careers.”

His story begins in New Jersey, where he grew up as the child of Indian immigrants — two scientists who fretted about their son’s desire to make a living as an actor. His career arc started on a middle school stage, when Penn brought down the house as the Tin Man in “The Wiz,” even breaking through to boys who had bullied the drama kids.

“I just thought, wow, what an incredible experience, that something as simple as a school play and a joke that was improvised made somebody change their minds,” he remembered.

“There’s a magic to this in terms of having a captive audience and being able to introduce them to characters and perceptions that are different from theirs. And that really motivated me to want to be an actor.”

After graduating from UCLA in 2000 with degrees in sociology and theater, film and television, Penn tried to make his way in an entertainment industry that, despite its broad reputation as a bastion of liberal values, clung to all forms of racism.

In some roles that he auditioned for, a brown face and Indian accent were the top criteria, not the talent, humor and heart needed to develop a believable character.

Penn recalled his attempts to persuade a sitcom director that the character he was playing would be much funnier if he didn’t descend into South Asian stereotypes — and that it would mean a lot to his young cousins, fans of the show.

“‘This is not a conversation we’re having,’” Penn said he was told. “‘Your little cousins should feel lucky that you’re allowed to be on TV to begin with. And so should you.’”

Despite such tales of entrenched bigotry, Penn assured the UCLA audience that change, though slow, can definitely be measured. Sometimes it’s for business reasons, he said, citing the diversity of programming in the era of streaming platforms, which are funded through subscriptions rather than ad revenues that have a chilling effect on risk-taking.

Penn jumped from Hollywood to national politics during the Obama administration, when he served as White House liaison to young Americans, Asian Americans and the arts community and worked on policy matters including health care, immigration and LGBTQ rights. He was a national co-chair for the Obama/Biden reelection campaign in 2012 and served on the President’s Committee for the Arts and Humanities.

With that insider perspective on politics and governance, Penn weighed in on the current state of civil discourse in America. Speaking days before the contentious midterm elections, he acknowledged, “It is a dark time.”

One member of the audience, a student pursuing a master of public policy, sought Penn’s advice to young people called to public service but experiencing frustration and fear that they won’t be able to make a difference.

Don’t lose sight of important gains that have already been made, Penn counseled.

“When I do university lectures, a lot of times the tone of certain questions is like, ‘I can’t believe you worked for a moderate like Barack Obama.’ To me, what a great benchmark of progress, because at the time he was a progressive president.”

The notion that a generation of Americans now takes for granted the passage of the Affordable Care Act, repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and protections extended to DACA students is a sure sign of progress, Penn said. Just this year, a landmark climate bill passed “because so many young people were pushing the White House to do something.”

During the on-stage conversation moderated by Jim Newton, editor of UCLA’s policy-oriented magazine Blueprint, more nuances of Penn’s humanness came through. Many of his loved ones are private by nature, so not until his memoir was published did some readers learn that Penn is gay and engaged to his partner, Josh. His proudest accomplishment is earning a graduate certificate in international security from Stanford University, and he aspires to one day serve his country as a U.S. ambassador. And in answer to a question from the audience, Penn revealed that his favorite soup is matzo ball.

Penn’s appearance was part of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs’ signature Luskin Lecture Series, aimed at igniting dialogue on the most pressing policy challenges of our time.

Following the conversation, audience members snaked around the Centennial Ballroom at UCLA’s Luskin Conference Center, waiting to speak with Penn as he signed copies of his autobiography, complimentary to those who had registered to attend. They included students from the worlds of theater, film, global studies and public affairs, and Penn had a universal charge for each of them:

“Complacency is the greatest danger. … Just because things have progressed doesn’t mean they’re not going to slide back in any way, both in terms of diversity and career but also in terms of democracy.

“When you’re complacent, the other side will absolutely win.”

View photos from the lecture on Flickr.

Kal Penn Luskin Lecture

Grant to Support Study of ‘Lifers’ Who Are Given a Second Chance Project led by Laura Abrams of UCLA Social Welfare will focus on people convicted of offenses committed when they were under 18

Social Welfare chair Laura Abrams  has received a grant of $860,000 to lead an extensive national study of young people sentenced to life in prison who are ultimately given a chance at freedom.

The three-year study, funded by the Houston-based philanthropy Arnold Ventures, aims to build a base of knowledge that supports safe and equitable sentencing and “second-look” policies for people sentenced to life for offenses committed before they were 18 years old. Many have spent years or decades behind bars.

“This research seeks to answer critical policy questions,” Abrams said. “Can we develop a set of evidence-informed policies that provide second chances for people serving long sentences for violent crimes? Can we reduce our overreliance on long sentences in the future without compromising public safety?”

Abrams and an interdisciplinary team of scholars from across the country will focus on a subset of the “lifer” population — the roughly 2,800 people who were convicted of homicide as minors after being tried in adult criminal courts.

Harsh sentences of youth convicted of violent offenses increased dramatically during the “tough on crime” 1980s and 1990s, but two U.S. Supreme Court rulings over the past 10 years held that mandatory life sentences for minors are unconstitutional. This paved the way for the release of hundreds of people.

Working with data collected by the nonprofits the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth and the Sentencing Project, Abrams and her colleagues will track those who have been freed as well as those who remain incarcerated to determine whether releases are conducted equitably. They will also assess the level of preparation for reentry into the community and the risk of a return to criminal behavior.

The team includes experts from UCLA, University of Cincinnati, Johns Hopkins University, University of Michigan, Northwestern University and Temple University, representing disciplines such as social work, human development and behavior, public health and criminology.

While the research will focus on those incarcerated as minors, the findings can be used as a foundation for broader reforms of sentencing and second-chance policies.

“This study has strong potential to inform policies related to the over 50% of U.S. prisoners serving sentences of 10 years or more,” Abrams said.

Michael Storper Receives International Geography Prize The prestigious Vautrin Lud Award honors a scholar whose contributions are globally recognized

By Stan Paul

Michael Storper, distinguished professor of regional and international development in urban planning and director of Global Public Affairs at UCLA Luskin, was selected by an international jury to receive the prestigious 2022 Vautrin Lud International Award for Geography.

Storper traveled to Saint-Dié-des-Vosges in northeastern France to accept the award at an Oct. 2 ceremony, part of the annual three-day International Festival of Geography founded in 1990.

The Vautrin Lud Award is typically given to a person who has made outstanding contributions to the field of geography and has achieved a wide international reputation as an outstanding scholar.

“It is always an honor to be elected by one’s peers around the world,” said Storper, who joins a select group of UCLA Luskin faculty who have earned the accolade. The late Edward Soja received the honor in 2015 and emeritus professor Allen J. Scott won in 2003.

Woman and man holding prize check

Associate Professor Celine Vacchiani-Marcuzzo of the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne, left, presents the Vautrin Lud Award to Michael Storper. Photo by Andrés Rodríguez-Pose

“Michael Storper’s contributions have been transformative and, in the spirit of urban planning, provide practical guidance on developing metropolitan regions around the globe,” said Chris Tilly, professor and chair of Urban Planning at UCLA Luskin.

Storper, who received his Ph.D. in geography from the University of California, Berkeley, and who has been affiliated with UCLA for four decades, is an international scholar who focuses his research and teaching on the closely linked areas of economic geography, globalization, technology, city regions and economic development.

He holds concurrent appointments in Europe, at the Institute of Political Studies (“Sciences Po”) in Paris, where he is professor of economic sociology and a member of its Center for the Sociology of Organizations; and at the London School of Economics, where he is professor of economic geography.

The Vautrin Lud Prize, created in 1991, rewards the work and research of a single distinguished geographer, identified after consultation with hundreds of researchers around the world. The prize, sometimes referred to as the “Nobel Prize in Geography,” is considered the highest international award in the field.

The annual award is named after the French scholar who was instrumental in naming America for the Florentine navigator Amerigo Vespucci, whose account of landing on the North American continent found its way to the group of Saint-Dié-des-Vosges scholars directed by Lud. In 1507, the group used Vespucci’s accounts to publish one of the earliest geographical treatises regarding the New World.

The honor adds to awards Storper has received for his decades of work and research.

The American Association of Geographers awarded Storper its Distinguished Scholarship Honors for 2017, and he received the 2016 Gold Founder’s Medal from the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers).

Storper, co-author of the 2015 book, “The Rise and Decline of Urban Economies: Lessons from Los Angeles and San Francisco,” was previously named to the Thomson Reuters list of the World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds of 2014. In 2012, he was elected to the British Academy and received the Regional Studies Association’s award for overall achievement as well as the Sir Peter Hall Award in the House of Commons. He also holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands.

Jim Newton Receives 2022 Carey McWilliams Award Editor-in-chief of UCLA Blueprint magazine receives honor recognizing journalistic contributions to society’s understanding of politics  

By Les Dunseith

UCLA’s Jim Newton is the winner of the Carey McWilliams Award, which honors a journalist or organization each year for intellectual forthrightness and political independence.

Newton is the founding editor-in-chief of Blueprint magazine, which is based at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. He’s also a lecturer in the departments of public policy and communications studies.

The McWilliams Award has been given since 1982 by the American Political Science Association in memory of a California lawyer who became an influential political leader, author and editor. McWilliams edited The Nation magazine from 1955 to 1975 and wrote landmark books that focused on migrant farm workers in California and the World War II internment of Japanese Americans.

“I’m deeply honored by this prize and especially by the thought that it binds my name, in some small way, to that of McWilliams, who has long been a personal polestar of integrity and wisdom,” Newton said.

The award, which recognizes Newton’s work at UCLA and other accomplishments, was officially presented Sept. 14 in Montreal at the association’s annual meeting. He has written several books about historical figures of political importance with a California connection, including former CIA chief and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren and former Gov. Jerry Brown. At the Los Angeles Times, he was a reporter, editor, columnist, bureau chief, editorial page editor and editor-at-large.

Past recipients of the award include well-known broadcast journalists such as Judy Woodruff, Bill Moyers, Lesley Stahl and Nina Totenberg; other respected newspaper writers such as Seymour Hersh, Molly Ivins and Ronald Brownstein; authors and professors; plus chroniclers of political discourse from a diverse array of outlets that includes the New York Times, Washington Post, Cook Political Report, the Congressional Quarterly, National Public Radio and the Huffington Post.

UCLA Luskin colleague Zev Yaroslavsky first became aware of Newton’s tough-but-fair journalistic approach during his time as an elected official in Los Angeles.

“Jim’s coverage of the LAPD — and the reforms spawned by the Rodney King beating and the Rampart scandal — is still the gold standard” for news reporting in Los Angeles, Yaroslavsky wrote in a letter recommending Newton for the McWilliams award.

Henry Weinstein, a former L.A. Times colleague who is now on the faculty at UC Irvine Law, also wrote an award nomination letter. “He is a potent and graceful practitioner of what I call ‘the Journalism of Illumination’ — articles and books that take a reader deep into important subjects, regardless of whether they occurred yesterday or 75 years ago — just as McWilliams did in an earlier era.”

A third recommendation letter came from a former Times colleague who has continued to work with Newton as a frequent writer for UCLA Blueprint, Lisa Fung. She praised Newton’s ability to build connections among the worlds of politics, journalism and academia.

It’s become increasingly difficult to understand the motivations of government and policy officials, but through his work as a writer, editor, author and educator, Jim is leading the charge to bring about change and to show people why they should care,” Fung wrote.

Newton said his appreciation of McWilliams grew while writing his book about Warren, the former chief justice of the United States. In fact, as governor of California, Warren clashed with McWilliams and actually fired him from a government job in part because he was an outspoken critic of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

“McWilliams is the only principled person at the time who stood up and said, ‘This is a bad idea,’” Newton said.

He founded Blueprint magazine, which is based at the Luskin School and distributed online and in print twice yearly, as a way to connect intellectuals to policymakers in light of what he perceives as a growing need.

“The policy universe, in particular, had really been stripped of a lot of its research apparatus just over the time that I had been covering it,” Newton said. “It’s true at the city, county and state levels — legislative analysts just don’t have the firepower they once did.”

Filling that gap was the germinating notion of Blueprint, which often highlights academic researchers who are tackling policy questions.

“Let’s make policymakers aware of the research that might inform policy, and let’s also engage researchers in what’s going on in the policy universe,” Newton said.

He imagines an elected official facing a difficult policy issue and eager to find a fresh, independent perspective.

“Instead of just listening to labor or business, you realize that there’s some thoughtful, nonpartisan research that’s being done that can help guide you to a good answer,” said Newton, whose goal is making scholarly research accessible to a non-academic audience.

 “We don’t want it to be an academic journal,” he explained. “That’s why it’s brightly colored, and it’s designed the way it is, with illustrations and graphical presentations in print and online.”

UCLA scholars are often featured, but the magazine’s focus extends beyond the university.

“So, we write about Norman Lear or David Axelrod or Joe Stiglitz or Jerry Brown — people who are broadly interesting and who are concerned with culture and politics and civic life,” Newton said.

Blueprint’s press run has been reduced in recent years amid financial constraints, and a plan to publish quarterly instead of twice-yearly was shelved in part because of pandemic-related challenges. But Newton is hopeful for a return to the magazine’s full reach — and even expansion. Meanwhile, production has endured, and reporting for the fall edition is currently underway.

“It’s themed around fear,” said Newton, who noted that fear can be constructive when it drives urgency of action around issues like homelessness or climate change. But, of course, fear also has the potential for harm as a tool for some politicians.

“Immigration would be a good example of the kind of illogical fear of other people that results in policy that’s profoundly misguided,” he said.

The theme is particularly timely with political rhetoric heating up as midterm Congressional elections and races for mayor of Los Angeles and the governor of California loom in November. Fear not, the next edition of Blueprint will be available in mid- to late-October to shed light on the political shadows. 

UCLA’s Jim Newton receives the Carey McWilliams Award from Lisa Martin, president-elect of the American Political Science Association. Photo from APSA