2016 Election Motivates USC to Launch Public Leadership Program to Prepare Students for Political, Civic Involvement
Read the announcement from political strategy expert Dan Schnur, who will lead the program.
Like many of you, I’ve spent a lot of time over the course of the 2016 presidential election trying to figure out how our politics got so broken.
After watching two remarkable populist uprisings against the political establishment — one led by Bernie Sanders on the left and the other by Donald Trump on the right — many of us realized for the first time how many of our fellow Americans had become so unhappy, so disillusioned and so resentful toward our political system and its leaders. The lesson I learned is that the fears and frustrations that so many Americans feel can no longer be addressed within the parameters of traditional politics — and that the solutions must come from outside those confines.
I am writing to you to let you know that to confront this challenge, I will be starting a new campus leadership program for our students at USC. Rather than simply talking to students who come to us with a pre-existing interest in politics and government, we must engage the entire campus in a discussion about the importance of civic leadership and community involvement. Our graduates may become doctors and engineers and multi-media entrepreneurs, but they will also be citizens and voters, and we need to prepare them for those responsibilities regardless of their academic interests and professional aspirations.
For the last eight years, I have worked alongside a group of extraordinarily talented and dedicated individuals at USC’s Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics to motivate our students to become involved in the worlds of politics, government and public service. From an internship class that enrolled nine students in the fall of 2008, we now place more than one hundred USC students annually in public service internships across our country. Every summer, we award more than $100,000 in scholarships that allow students who would otherwise be unable to afford a non-paid internship to work in Washington, New York, Sacramento and other centers of political and government activity. We organize and lead 20–25 dedicated Unruh Institute programs every semester in which we bring political and policy experts to talk with our students. In addition, we organize and lead programs for high school students from throughout Southern California to learn about politics, leadership, and civic engagement.
One of our most visible programs has been the USC Dornsife/LA Times statewide political poll, which I founded in 2009. It has attracted wide public and media attention, and more importantly, provided valuable educational opportunities for our students.
I am extremely proud of what we have accomplished at the Unruh Institute over those years, but it’s clear that an even greater challenge awaits those of us who are charged with preparing our next generation of leaders.
Since the election, I’ve talked with a number of senior university officials about what can and should be done on campus to motivate, prepare and guide USC students toward assuming the responsibilities of leadership in their communities. While the details of this new project are still coming together, it has become apparent that it is simply not possible for me to both develop a new leadership program such as this while still overseeing the daily work at Unruh. As a result, I will be stepping aside as the director of the Unruh Institute in order to focus on the development of this new initiative.
I’m happy to announce that my colleague Bob Shrum will be stepping in as Unruh director in January. As you may know, Bob spent decades working in the corridors of political power in Washington, DC, making him a very capable choice to preside over events that focus on the traditional political sphere. The USC Dornsife/LA Times statewide political poll will continue to be run out of the Unruh Institute as well, with its continued commitment to bipartisanship and even-handed analysis.
We will make a formal announcement of the USC leadership project in the near future, when we can provide some additional details which are still under discussion. In the meantime, I wish you all a very happy holiday season, and I’ll look forward to updating you on this this new, exciting initiative in the New Year,
P.S. And of course, I will also continue teaching this spring — at both the Annenberg School for Communication and the Marshall School of Business.
Dan Schnur is an expert in political strategy, campaign communication and government reform. He served as the director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC from 2008 to 2016 and is an adjunct faculty member at the USC Annenberg School and the Marshall School of Business.