The University of Southern California just announced that it was starting a think tank with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and appointing the former governor as a professor of state and global policy.
This news has provoked predictable snickering and worse, most of it involving whether this is merely a trade of USC’s prestige for Schwarzenegger’s money and fame.
That snickering should stop. I wrote a book about Schwarzenegger and know USC fairly well, and this strikes me as a very smart and natural partnership that should be good not only for the governor and USC, but also for students and for Los Angeles as a whole.
Whatever you think of Schwarzenegger politically or personally, he is a smart man and natural student, who knows more about more things than almost anyone I ever met. And this new gig fits his strengths.
As governor, he was terrific at doing what a think tank does—bringing together the best thinkers from across the spectrum, and synthesizing new policy. His proposals in various policy areas were praised as bipartisan and thoughtful.
What the governor wasn’t as good at was turning those proposals into action, particularly on fiscal matters, sometimes because of his own political weaknesses, sometimes because the state’s broken governing system got in the way.
But those failures will be useful to this new enterprise, as Schwarzenegger can apply what he learned from defeats (and maybe teach people how not to repeat them).
Schwarzenegger isn’t exactly professorial in mien (though it’d be funny to see him wearing tweed), but his students will consider themselves lucky.
He has a command of policy – and the various schools of thought – in a host of areas, with particular strengths in environment, energy, and political reform. And he can leaven lectures with entertaining anecdotes.
The guy is not a lightweight. I learned more from my time talking to and observing Schwarzenegger than I did in four years at Harvard.
One caution to students: Schwarzenegger has a history of being demanding about scripts and speeches, so I wouldn’t expect him to be an easy grader of your papers.
Schwarzenegger’s own academic record was undistinguished. I shudder to think what his former middle-school teachers back in Graz would say when informed that such a middling student had become a professor at a distinguished American university.
His bachelor’s degree is from the University of Wisconsin’s Superior campus.
But he did get some experience as a teacher there.
While a student there 30 years ago, Schwarzenegger, already famous as a bodybuilder, gave a series of lectures on physical education that were smart and heavily subscribed (Note to the governor: some of the humor from those 1979 sessions would not be appropriate today, if it ever was).
And what about those of us who don’t get to go to USC?
The good news is that Schwarzenegger will be devoting his time and his money to a vital Los Angeles institution.
Universities all over the world would have happily grabbed him, and USC did LA a public service by keeping him at home.
The think tank will host public symposia. So Schwarzenegger should be able to draw speakers and thinkers and students and money to LA that otherwise might not have come.
Fight on, Professor Schwarzenegger! See you ‘round campus.
Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).