Geoffrey Cowan, a USC University Professor and dean emeritus of the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, has been named the first president of the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands.
The Sunnylands Trust is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit operating entity established by the Annenberg Foundation primarily to hold high-level retreats that “address serious issues facing the nation and the world community.”
Sunnylands is the name of the late Walter and Leonore Annenberg’s 200-acre estate in Rancho Mirage, Calif. The estate will serve as a venue for important meetings of top government officials and leaders from education, philanthropy, the arts, culture, science and medicine.
The Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands will advance the trust’s mission of promoting world peace, facilitating international agreements, improving the functioning of the three branches of government and providing the widest range of opportunities for high-level interaction and communication in the public interest. A new visitors center and desert garden – set to open in late 2011 – will offer a variety of educational programs and public tours of the historic estate.
“We have an opportunity to use one of the world’s most spectacular venues to make an impact on a range of important issues,” Cowan said. “I am honored that the trustees have asked me to take on the challenge of helping to create an institution that will build on the Annenbergs’ extraordinary legacy.”
He added, “The trustees and I are looking forward to launching Sunnylands in the next 18 months and to advance the public’s appreciation for the historic and architectural significance of the Sunnylands estate.”
In an arrangement designed to create useful synergies for both the Sunnylands Trust and USC, Cowan will remain a member of the USC faculty as a University Professor, holder of the Annenberg Family Chair in Communication Leadership and director of the USC Annenberg School’s Center on Communication Leadership & Policy.
Cowan has been a force in almost every facet of the communication world — as a public interest lawyer, academic administrator, best-selling author, award-winning teacher, playwright, television producer and government official.
From 1996-2007, Cowan served as dean of the USC Annenberg School. One of 21 distinguished members of the USC faculty to hold the rank of University Professor, he serves on the faculties of the School of Communication, the School of Journalism and the USC Gould School of Law.
Prior to becoming dean, he served as the 22nd director of the Voice of America and as director of the International Broadcasting Bureau.
In other public service, Cowan chaired the Los Angeles commission that wrote the city’s ethics and campaign finance law – cited as a model for the nation – for which he was awarded “Man of the Year” by the Council of Government Ethics Leaders. He also chaired the California Bipartisan Commission on Internet Political Practices.
A graduate of Harvard College and Yale Law School, Cowan is the Walter Lippmann Fellow of the American Academy of Political and Social Science and an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
He is the author of See No Evil: The Backstage Battle Over Sex and Violence on Television (Simon & Schuster, 1980), and The People v. Clarence Darrow: The Bribery Trial of America’s Greatest Lawyer (Times Books, 1993).
He co-wrote the play Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers, which explores the delicate balance between the press, public’s right to know and the government’s need to protect vital national secrets. A production of the play was presented at 25 venues around the country in 2007-08 and an updated version was produced Off-Broadway in New York City earlier this year.