Category: Research

The Communication Field Lives in an Ivory Tower

ERNEST J. WILSON III, dean of USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

This op-ed originally appeared in Inside Higher Education on July 29.

It has become conventional academic wisdom that the modern world is leaving the industrial age and entering a post-industrial age driven by networks of digital communications. Yet despite the unprecedented shift of technology-enhanced communication to the center of our modern lives, the academic field of communication has failed to live up to its potential as a central scholarly field for our time and remains, relatively speaking, on the sidelines. Communication scholars have failed to seize this moment’s unprecedented opportunities, and the field remains too much at the periphery of scholarship and public engagement.

Silicon Valley Needs a Foreign Policy

ERNEST J. WILSON III, dean of USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

This op-ed originally appeared at Foreign Affairs.

As California’s high-tech firms grew to become economic powerhouses in the American economy, they punched below their weight politically. For the most part, they are not very savvy about the ways of Washington — they came late to the lobbying game — and their political strategies were naïve compared with those of old industrial sectors like oil and automobiles.

That seems to be changing. In January, a group of high-tech heavyweights, including Google and Wikipedia, along with less prominent combatants (155,000 Web sites in all) and nonprofits such as Fight for the Future, joined in a massive online blackout to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Since the bill’s introduction in May 2011, a wide mix of representatives from the film, television, music, and publishing industries had been championing SOPA and its sibling, the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), two pieces of legislation designed to address international theft of copyrighted U.S. intellectual property.

An Ounce of Prevention Could Save Billions

DANA GOLDMAN, director of USC’s Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, talked to Gina Kolata about reining in healthcare costs by improving access to preventative care.

The Q&A originally appeared in the New York Times.

How much are we spending on treating diseases that might be prevented?

The most consistent estimates, and most widely cited, seem to come out of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lobbying groups like the Tobacco-Free Kids initiative, and the president’s prevention initiative. Instead of blanket measures, they focus more on diseases relating to “lifestyle” decisions like obesity and smoking, and their estimates include costs for lost productivity in addition to medical expenses.

The Missile Mishap That Nobody Predicted

JACQUES E.C. HYMANS, associate professor of international relations, USC Dornsife.

This op-ed originally appeared in Foreign Affairs.

The dismal failure of North Korea’s April 13 long-range missile test — it broke into pieces after 81 seconds of flight time — has also exposed the poverty of standard proliferation analyses. In the days leading up to the test, most commentators apparently took Pyongyang’s technological forward march for granted. Even the more sober voices evinced little doubt that this test would go at least as well as the country’s 2009 effort, which managed to put a rocket into flight for about fifteen minutes before it malfunctioned. Meanwhile, other technical experts regaled readers with tales of the “emerging” bona fide North Korean Read more →

The Ivory Tower Can No Longer Ignore K-12 Education

C.L. MAX NIKIAS, president of USC, and WILLIAM G. TIERNEY, university professor and director of the USC Pullias Center for Higher Education.

This op-ed originally appeared in Education Week.

As we look back on research universities in the 20th century, one regrettable legacy we see is the firewall between too many of them and our public schools.

University administrators and professors missed meaningful opportunities to help K-12 educators manage and overcome the challenges they face daily. There was little sustained interaction between public school teachers and professors. Commonalities across high school and college curricula were largely nonexistent. What students learned in a math class in their senior year in high school, for example, frequently did not prepare them for freshman-level math. And the academic and social gulf between high school and university left too many of our poorest children unprepared for the transition.

This disengagement has much to do with how research universities were born and evolved in the 20th century. Institutions that were small, parochial scholastic backwaters morphed into academic powerhouses whose raison d’être was research. Faculty members doing research earned new respect within and outside the academic world, a development reinforced by the rise of nonacademic funding sources, such as foundations. By the end of the 20th century, research-oriented professors received higher compensation than their peers who only taught in the classroom. Growth and distinction became the new watchwords. Admired throughout the world, these universities helped drive American economic pre-eminence, especially in the second half of the 20th century. But the rise of the American research university had little to do with the creation or sustenance of K-12 education.

Times have changed and so, too, must the research university’s lack of engagement with public schools. No problem is clearer and more compelling where those of us in the research university might add our voice, knowledge, and support.

While not as bleak as commonly perceived, data on K-12 student achievement have remained sobering for over a generation. Many of our urban high schools are “dropout factories,” with up to half of the entering students never graduating. At too many schools, fewer than half the seniors will qualify to enroll in a four-year college or university. At many of our state universities, more than half the entering freshmen require courses in remedial math or English—or both. Several recent studies show that the performance gap between affluent and poor students in terms of test scores, high school completion rates, and, ultimately, wage earnings continues to grow at an alarming rate.

Liberated From Paper

RANDOLPH W. HALL, vice president for research at USC.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

I was probably among the last doctoral students to write a thesis entirely on a typewriter. In 1982, barely nine months after the release of the IBM PC, the personal computer was out of reach for me. Cut and paste (literally), Liquid Paper, rub-on Greek symbols, and the correcting back space were my editing tools. Punched cards were my computer code.

Today almost all research papers are born digital. Words, images, data, models—all of the things that research creates—have been liberated from paper to the more malleable and dynamic world of bits and bytes. Yet when it comes to reviewing, publishing, and distributing research, the academy runs the risk of discouraging digital scholarship through structures that inhibit innovation and fail to reward innovators.