Feb. 6, 2011 would have been former President and California Gov. Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday — an occasion prompting many events and tributes across the nation and around the world.
The USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development and the Reagan Presidential Foundation are adding scholarly substance to the celebrations by presenting the Reagan Centennial Academic Symposium, a two-day examination of his leadership and legacy, Feb. 1 and 2.
The symposium will bring more than 25 outstanding scholars, pundits and former Reagan staffers to the USC campus and conclude with a special panel at the Reagan Library moderated by former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw Feb. 2. All events are free and open to USC students, faculty and staff, as well as the public (RSVP at usc.edu/sppd/events/reagan/).
“USC is extremely honored to host the first academic symposium examining the historical legacy of President Ronald Reagan,” said USC President C. L. Max Nikias. “It’s fitting because in 1966, he delivered one of his most famous speeches — ‘The Creative Society’ — in Bovard Auditorium, the same place where he gave his first speech after leaving the White House.”
The exemplary collection of presenters and panelists at the symposium includes Pete Wilson, former California governor; Douglas Brinkley, editor of The Reagan Diaries; Lou Cannon, author of President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime; Peggy Noonan, speechwriter for President Reagan and Wall Street Journal columnist; Peter Hannaford, senior communications adviser to President Reagan; and Ralph Bledsoe, special assistant to President Reagan and the first director of The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
USC is represented by, among others: provost Elizabeth Garrett; historian and University Professor Kevin Starr, author of America and the California Dream; SPPD dean Jack H. Knott; journalist Richard Reeves, author of President Reagan: The Triumph of Imagination; Geoff Cowan, dean emeritus of the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism and president of the Annenberg Foundation Trust; Richard Callahan, SPPD’s director of state capital and leadership programs; and Tom Hollihan, USC Annenberg professor.
The USC symposium — organized by the USC Judith and John Bedrosian Center on Governance and the Public Enterprise in conjunction with USC Annenberg, is the first and largest of a series of Reagan Centennial educational events held at research universities across the country, including the University of Virginia, the University of Notre Dame and the United States Naval Academy.
“We’re having each university focus on the different aspects of the president’s life, leadership and legacy. USC is setting the stage for this entire partnership by talking about the overall biography and leadership of President Reagan and what made the man the successful person that he was, even well beyond the presidency,” said Stewart McLaurin, executive director of the Ronald Reagan Centennial Celebration. “USC is a great public policy school in our country, and we think that this is a terrific partnership to focus on the president’s life and leadership.”
Knott, the C. Erwin and Ione L. Piper Dean of SPPD, considers the symposium an important learning opportunity for USC students, many of whom were born after Reagan was out of office.
“He’s truly a historical figure to them,” Knott said. “Yet he played a critical, important role, and it’s important for students today to know about his legacy, his leadership abilities and the substance of his policies and decisions.”
The program consists of four panels: “Executive Leadership From the Inside Out: Presidential Perspectives on Reagan”; “Communicating Leadership: Reagan, Rhetoric and the ‘Great Communicator’ Revisited”; “Branching Out: Policy Leadership and Legislative Relations Under Reagan”; and “Biography and the Construction of Presidential Legacy.”
Starr will deliver the keynote address the evening of Feb. 1.
For each panel, USC has commissioned a related academic paper suitable for publication in order to stimulate further research and scholarship into the Reagan era and presidency.
“We are at a time when we need to educate our society as a whole about governance,” said John Bedrosian, benefactor of the USC Judith and John Bedrosian Center on Governance and the Public Enterprise and SPPD board of councilors member. “The university, the school and the center are perfectly positioned to pull together academic knowledge and real-world perspectives, then pass them along to the next generation.”
Professor Daniel A. Mazmanian, holder of the Bedrosian Chair in Governance and director of the Bedrosian Center, added, “There’s a really important educational purpose to this. Questions of presidential leadership are always with us, often discussed and debated both in the general public and in the scholastic community. For our school, that’s quite important. The centennial gives us an opportunity to convene scholars, political pundits and journalists to think through this issue in light of Ronald Reagan’s leadership.”
USC trustee and SPPD board of councilors member Richard DeBeikes Jr., who helped initiate the partnership, said, “Ronald Reagan was first and foremost a Californian and a great leader for California, and USC is a great leader in California and recognized nationally. We see a great collaboration occurring because of these commonalities.”
Knott added: “We would like to see this partnership continue. There is a lot more that can be done.”