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Manuel Pastor pledges himself to civility and social change

USC Dornsife professor is installed as the first holder of the Turpanjian Chair

Manuel Pastor is installed as the Turpanjian Chaie in Civil Society and Social Change
Manuel Pastor is installed as the Turpanjian Chair in Civil Society and Social Change. (Photo/Steve Cohn)

At a ceremony honoring his installation as the inaugural holder of the Turpanjian Chair in Civil Society and Social Change, Professor Manuel Pastor made three pledges for how he will serve USC and the greater Los Angeles community in his new role.

The first pledge was to recognize what a privilege it is to represent the university.

“We have a responsibility to deliver scholarship of consequence to the world and understand that while we may be a private university, we are a public actor and a key part of the civil society we hope to study,” said Pastor, a professor of sociology and American studies and ethnicity at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

The second pledge was to be rigorous in his work.

“We have a saying in the two research centers I currently direct: ‘If you uncover an interesting new trend in the data, you might be on to something, or you might just be wrong,” Pastor said.

Showing off his wit, he added, “Understanding if you’re right or wrong before you release the work, teaching students that accuracy is key and convincing everyone that the term ‘nerd’ is just another way of saying ‘research god or goddess’ are crucial to the academic enterprise.”

Pastor’s third pledge was to “recognize that teaching and research about civil society needs to focus not just on big names and famous leaders — but on the everyday people and daily practices that stitch together society and make change possible.”

The ceremony, held Feb. 5 at the USC University Club, brought together Pastor’s family members, donors Gerald and Patricia Turpanjian and their family, as well senior university administrators, faculty and staff. Also in attendance were representatives from service-oriented organizations such as United Way, The California Endowment and the Los Angeles Office of Immigrant Affairs.

Addressing social woes

Pastor, who founded and directs USC Dornsife’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity and the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration, is a trained economist who conducts rigorous research to address significant social problems.

Turpanjian, who endowed the chair through the Turpanjian Family Educational Foundation, said he sees Los Angeles as a potential laboratory for studying how to improve communities on national and international levels — an idea that melded perfectly with Pastor’s pursuits.

The rapidly growing civil society sector is transforming the economic and social landscape of the 21st century.

Gerald Turpanjian

“The rapidly growing civil society sector is transforming the economic and social landscape of the 21st century,” Turpanjian said prior to the event. “As a USC alumnus, I am proud that the university will be leading the way is this vital area of study. Developing a better understanding of the increasing impact of NGOs, nonprofits, philanthropy and volunteerism is a critical component of economic study and public policy.”

During the ceremony, USC Dornsife Dean Steve Kay reflected on the importance of Pastor’s work on a broader scale.

“Public service is projected to be 34 percent of America’s GDP by 2025,” Kay said. “By building relationships with people who live in Los Angeles, Manuel is able to analyze how society looks now — and how it will look in five, 10, 50 years. Then he unites coalitions of people who use these findings to help promote economic growth across the board.”

Mutual respect

USC Interim Provost Michael Quick elaborated on the values Pastor shares with Turpanjian.

“They have developed mutual respect for each other’s work and problem-solving approaches — active approaches that you might say, ‘just make sense,’ ” Quick said. “And in today’s world, where we see so little of that, things that make sense are, indeed, worth celebrating.”

As holder of the Turpanjian Chair, Pastor will host an annual symposium on civil society that will showcase the best research and practices of leaders engaged in social change. He will also begin a phased increase of his team, which will include recruiting a postdoctoral fellow.

To close the ceremony, Kay presented Pastor with a wooden chair inscribed with the university seal. The Turpanjians also received a miniature replica of the chair to honor their generosity.

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Manuel Pastor pledges himself to civility and social change

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