The Key to JFK’s Leadership: Inspiration

WARREN BENNIS, USC Leadership Institute, USC Marshall School of Business.

This op-ed originally appeared at CNN on Nov. 21

I vividly recall those 13 days in the fall of 1962, watching President John F. Kennedy on our black and white television in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I was a professor at MIT focusing on the emerging field of leadership studies, and the Cuban Missile Crisis was about leadership writ large for the world to witness.

Fifty years after the Kennedy assassination, there is conversation everywhere about JFK’s unrealized potential. Amid the wave of sentimental reflection this year, there has been much focus on the mythical elements of Camelot or too many details about that tragic day in Dallas, and not enough on the real-world challenges of the JFK presidency.

Disaster Lessons Unlearned

COSTAS SYNOLAKIS, professor of civil and environmental engineering, USC Viterbi.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Nov. 12.

The human tragedy of Super Typhoon Haiyan is unprecedented for the Philippines and possibly for the region. Thousands are dead and tens of thousands displaced. As the relief effort builds, the question to ask is whether the human impact was predictable and preventable.

The disaster bears striking similarities to the Indonesian tsunami in 2004, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, and the Japanese earthquake and tsunami two years ago. In each case, local scientists did not expect the depth of the floods or the strength of the water current

The 21st Century Silver Spoon

ELIZABETH CURRID-HALKETT, associate professor of urban planning, USC’s Price School.

This op-ed originally appeared in the New York Times on Nov. 10.

In 1899, the sociologist Thorstein Veblen scathingly critiqued what he called the “conspicuous consumption” of America’s upper class. The rich were so obsessed with their social status, he wrote, that they would go to gratuitous lengths to signal it. His famous example was silver flatware: handcrafted silver spoons, though no more “serviceable” than and hardly distinguishable from aluminum ones, conferred high social rank and signaled membership in what he called the “leisure class.”

A silver spoon is no longer a mark of elite status. Take the nation’s top 10 percent of households. The top 1 percent — those making more than $394,000 annually — are today’s version of Veblen’s leisure class in terms of wealth, but they are not the biggest buyers of silver flatware. Instead, households in the rest of this high-earning cohort — those making between $114,000 and just under $394,000 — take the silver prize.

Don’t Chuck Remedial Education Out the Window Just Yet

WILLIAM G. TIERNEY, professor of higher education, USC’s Pullias Center.

This op-ed originally appeared in Inside Higher Education on Nov. 8.

Remedial education in higher education has become a target for reformers. Lawmakers in Florida have made remedial classes in math, reading and English optional for students entering community colleges in fall 2014. The placement tests to assess these skills will be optional as well.

Meantime, Tennessee and Connecticut have passed legislation making it easier for students to bypass remediation and enroll directly in courses that lead to graduation and completion of a major. And California State University has lowered its math and English placement test cutoff scores, requiring fewer students to do remedial coursework.

Roughly 60 percent of the 6.5 million students who enter the nation’s 1,200 community colleges enroll in remedial classes. More than half of them quit before finishing.

Can Data Build a Better L.A. Government?

CHRISTOPHER WEARE, research associate professor, USC Price School of Public Policy, and JULIET ANN MUSSO, associate professor, USC Price.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Oct. 21.

Last week, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti unveiled the first specifics of his plan to modernize the city’s sprawling bureaucracy, posting on his website some of the metrics by which he intends to hold city departments accountable for delivering services. They include such measurements as Fire Department response times and speed of graffiti removal and pothole repair.

The mayor’s attempt to improve performance is certainly timely. A recent USC Price/L.A. Times poll found that Angelenos want better services. For example, more than 60% of respondents were dissatisfied with the state of street repair in the city. But metrics and data collection alone won’t solve the city’s problems. Garcetti will also need to transform the culture of city government and convince city workers that the changes will stick.

The Huge Healthcare Subsidy Hiding in Plain Sight

EDWARD D. KLEINBARD, professor of law, USC Gould School of Law.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Washington Post on Oct. 15.

The political right has paralyzed government over the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, on the grounds that the ACA represents an unacceptable government intrusion into what today is the province of private markets. But the premise is fundamentally untrue.

Government’s hand has long shaped and subsidized health-care markets, for example, in Medicare and Medicaid (which dominate how medical care is organized and delivered in America, even for care that falls outside their reach), or the requirement that hospitals treat urgent care needs of indigents.