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Bringing Experience, Expertise to Problem-Solving Professions Four scholars join UCLA Luskin’s faculty in Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning

By Stan Paul

Four new faculty members will add a wide range of knowledge and expertise to the world-class faculty of UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs, as of the 2017-18 academic year.

The four will expand research and teaching in public policy, social welfare and urban planning at the Luskin School, with expertise in areas including housing and spatial inequality, labor and human capital impacts of climate change, health disparities for marginalized populations, and youth and urban violence.

Kenya Covington, who has experience teaching undergraduate and graduate courses at Luskin, was officially appointed to Public Policy in July. She has taught courses at Luskin on housing policy, research methods, forces of urbanization, social inequality and urban poverty. This summer, Covington completed her second online version of the school’s popular undergraduate introductory public affairs course, which she developed. The course is a requirement for the public affairs minor.

Covington, a former longtime professor of urban studies and planning — and 2015 Distinguished Teacher of the Year — at California State University, Northridge, studies social and economic inequality associated with the structural makeup of metropolitan areas. Her work suggests ways to better utilize social and urban policies that likely mitigate disparities in economic opportunity. Covington earned her Ph.D. in public policy from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Latoya Small joins Luskin Social Welfare as an assistant professor from her former appointment at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill School of Social Work. Her research addresses health disparities and social justice issues for marginalized populations at the intersection of poverty, mental health and behavioral health. In her work related to HIV, women and children, she has looked at ways to empower HIV-infected youth in South Africa to maintain their medicine regimes and promote the avoidance of risky behaviors, while encouraging family participation in their health care.

Small earned her Ph.D. at New York University Silver School Of Social Work.

Karen Umemoto, formerly of the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, is expected to hold a joint appointment with Urban Planning at Luskin and the Asian American Studies Department. Umemoto, who holds a doctorate in urban studies from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, focuses her teaching and research on planning and governance in multicultural societies, race and ethnic relations, youth and urban violence, and community building.

At the University of Hawai’i, Umemoto taught courses on public policy and planning theory, community planning, community-based economic development, diversity and multiculturalism in planning, and qualitative methods and evaluation.

Jisung Park will join Public Policy as an assistant professor in January 2018. Park will also be a member of the faculty of UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health. His research agenda includes the labor and human capital impacts of climate change, the prospects for long-run climate adaptation, and environmental determinants of economic mobility.

Park, a Rhodes Scholar, earned his Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University, where he is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Kennedy School of Government. He has taught courses at the undergraduate and graduate level on American economic policy, and environmental economics and policy.

“Such an exceptional group of new faculty will bring tremendous opportunities and expertise to the Luskin School and our students,” Dean Gary Segura said in announcing the new faculty. “All three departments will benefit from these new colleagues and their path-breaking research and pedagogy.”

Paper on Nature of Cities Earns Accolades UCLA Luskin scholars Michael Storper and Allen Scott are recognized for their agenda-setting critical assessment of current urban theory

By Stan Paul

The majority of the world’s people live in cities, and numerous theoretical approaches from diverse fields have suggested frameworks for thinking about urbanization and the complexity of the urban form.

Now, two UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs scholars are being recognized for seeking to frame those approaches as a common language, or foundational concept, for the study of urbanization, an effort that has further enlivened and deepened an ongoing debate. It has also sparked a bit of controversy.

Michael Storper of the Department of Urban Planning and his longtime colleague and collaborator Allen J. Scott have been selected by the journal Urban Studies as recipients of the Best Article award for 2016’s “Current Debates in Urban Theory: A Critical Assessment.”

The journal’s website explains that the Urban Studies Best Article designation is awarded by the editors and authors to the most innovative and agenda-setting article published in a given year. Mark Stephens is editor of the international journal, which was established in 1964 and is published by SAGE. The winning article was selected in a process that narrowed a field of 20 initial candidates to five before the final selection was made.

Storper is a distinguished professor of regional and international development at UCLA Luskin, and Scott is a distinguished professor emeritus of public policy and geography. Their article proposed an analytical framework for urban studies while strongly critiquing three existing and influential perspectives: postcolonial urban theory, assemblage theory and planetary urbanism.

Storper, who also holds academic appointments at the Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po) in Paris and the London School of Economics, noted that this was the second paper on this subject in collaboration with Scott. In the earlier paper, the two UCLA professors had argued for a different approach, generating vigorous debate that led proponents of competing theories to offer their own critiques in response.

The newest paper addresses those critiques and offers further explanation by Storper and Scott. In the journal article, they wrote: “We claim that there are fundamental common genetic factors underlying urban patterns, and a robust set of conceptual categories within which urbanisation processes and urban experiences can be analysed, wherever they may occur in the world.”

Storper and Scott considered high levels of diversity and disagreement over the last century, writing “we asked if a coherent, stable theory of the city could be constructed.” Such a theory would need to accomplish all of the following: “account for the genesis of cities in general, capture the essence of cities as concrete social phenomena, and make it possible to shed light on the observable empirical cities over time and space.”

The authors identify and put forth five basic variables, or forces, that shape what they refer to as the “urban land nexus” at different times and places. These include:

  • the overall level and mode of economic development;
  • prevailing resource allocation rules;
  • forms of social stratification;
  • cultural norms and traditions;
  • and relations of political authority and power.

In refuting other theoretical formulations of what defines urban, Storper and Scott further conclude: “Not only does our analysis provide us with the tools for distinguishing between the general and the particular in urban outcomes, but also for separating out that which is distinctively and inherently urban from the rest of social reality.

“We must distinguish between phenomena that occur in cities but are not generated by urbanization processes as such, and phenomena that are legitimately elements of cities in the sense that they play an active role in defining the shape and logic of urban outcomes.”

The full article and lists of other finalists and previous winners are available online, as is a video explanation by Storper.

‘A Mission I Can Embrace’ New Dean Gary Segura discusses his first 100 days, and why UCLA Luskin is the ‘right fit’ for him

By George Foulsham

On Jan. 1, Gary M. Segura began his tenure as Dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

In a Q&A conducted soon after his appointment in October, Segura, professor of public policy and Chicano studies at UCLA and the former Morris M. Doyle Centennial Professor of Public Policy and professor of political science at Stanford University, discussed his new role and how excited he is to lead the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

First of all, congratulations on being named the new Dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. Can you tell us your initial reaction when you got the news?

Segura: I was stunned, in fact, and really quite surprised to hear the news. I was in Europe at the time and I’m a little embarrassed to say that I was on a beach when Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Scott Waugh called me. But he was in Europe too, so we were in the same time zone, and it worked out OK. But I was really quite surprised and very, very pleased.

Can you share with us your initial thoughts on what you hope to accomplish when you get started, maybe in your first 100 days at the Luskin School?

Segura: I’m not a physician — I’m not that kind of doctor — but my first rule is to do no harm. There are a lot of very good, wonderful and exciting things going on here. And my first step would be to find out what I need to do and where I can be helpful to enhance, enlarge and grow the existing areas of strength in the school. My second step will be a pure information-gathering one.

I need to know the faculty. I want to know what their interests are, what they think we can do better, what they think is working well. And, also, test out a few ideas in terms of how we might broaden the footprint.

In the coming years, we will see any number of important opportunities and changes come to the Luskin School. I want to be certain to figure out how to make opportunity for growth or renewal a win-win for everyone. I think the first 100 days will be a lot of information gathering and a few trial balloons floated, and we’ll see if they get shot down or if they actually make it to the ceiling.

The Luskin School’s previous full-time dean, Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr., believed that Luskin prepared students for the future by providing them with a “change-agent toolkit.” Do you see Luskin continuing that role of helping our students become change agents?

Segura: I would say I see Luskin continuing and extending that role, with the possibility of some additional programs at Luskin. I want to create an environment where we have a huge cadre of students who are going to engage the community as it exists. This is purposeful social science. This is the idea that understanding what’s happening in the world is only useful to the extent that we can then take it and make the world — at the individual level, at the family level, at the community level, at the nation level and maybe even globally — somewhat better than we found it before. So I definitely believe in engaged learning, the idea that the tools they get at UCLA Luskin can be brought to bear on their life goals and their own communities and families.

You are steeped in Latina/o, gender, political and all minority issues. How has your academic background informed and prepared you for your new role as Dean here?

Segura: This society is changing in ways that are unprecedented. In 1950, this society was 90 percent white. When Ronald Reagan was president of the United States in 1980, this society was 80 percent white. In the last national census, it was 63.7 percent white, non-Hispanic. And, in the next census, that number is likely to be around 60 percent. At the same time, we’ve had a revolution in gender relations in the United States over the last 50 or 60 years. So heterosexual white males, who have so dominated American society in all of its facets — whether it be governance, business, industry — those individuals comprise only about 30 percent of the national population. We have relatively little understanding of the other 70 percent. The traditional social sciences and even some of the public affairs and public policy folks in the world have devoted less attention because they were not the holders of power.

What we’re seeing now is a gigantic change in the composition of the United States at every level. And I think preparing our students — many of whom come from that 70 percent — to engage in an America that fundamentally looks different than the one you and I grew up in is an important change. My particular research interests speak to that, but I’m certainly not alone in that interest and expertise. There are others in the school and others on campus and that’s a primary concern.

Finally, any special message you’d like to share with our students, faculty, staff, alumni and donors?

Segura: I’m very excited to be here. When you look for opportunities to take a leadership role, many of them look like just administrative roles, basically file cabinet management.

I didn’t want that. I wanted an administrative role where I believed in the mission of what I was doing. Here, we have three wonderful departments, an array of research institutes, all of which are dedicated to the improvement of the quality of life, of people living in the United States and beyond, especially in the Los Angeles basin. That’s a mission I can embrace and get behind and something I can actually bring something to personally. This was the right fit for me. I hope I can do my best to help everyone achieve the goals that they have for their time here at Luskin.