On Jan. 1, Gary Segura began his tenure as dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
In a Q&A conducted 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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.
This Q&A appears on the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs website.