A Look Into The New School of Public Policy at UCR with Founding Dean Anil Deolalikar

Public Policy may not ring a bell for many students but this valuable tool for governing is an up-and-coming subject of study. Relatively few universities offer public policy master’s programs and even fewer offer undergraduate degrees in this major. The University of California at Riverside (UCR) has made it a priority to promote diversity in all aspects of campus life including composition of the student body, variety of campus organizations, and range of academic programs. UCR is the only UC campus to offer public policy as an undergraduate major, and only a handful of other universities around the country, such as Stanford, Brown, and Carnegie Mellon, offer similar programs. After a four-year delay due to UC budget problems, the new School of Public Policy will open its doors to the inaugural class of Master’s of Public Policy students in the fall of 2015. HerCampus chatted with founding dean Anil Deolalikar to discuss the story behind the implementation of the program. The brand-new School will offer a Master’s of Public Policy, a Master’s of Science in Global Health, and a PhD in Public Policy, as well as a joint MD/MPP program with the School of Medicine. 


Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into the exciting position of starting a new school of public policy at UCR.

I have worked as a development economist for the last 30 years, researching the economics of developing countries such as India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Kenya. Development economics is pretty much all about formulating, implementing, and evaluating sound economic (and social) policies to improve the lives of people in poor countries. I have served as a policy advisor for a number of international development organizations and developing country governments in Asia and Africa. When I joined the UCR faculty as a professor of economics in 2003, part of what drew me to the university was the idea of building a program in public policy studies from the ground up. There was a lot of interest among campus faculty and the regional policy community in establishing a School of Public Policy that would not only train the future policy leaders of the region but would also conduct policy research on the big challenges – pollution, water scarcity, food safety, poverty, low educational achievement and large health disparities – facing communities in Inland Southern California and beyond.

What is public policy?

Public policy is the study of how government policies can make a difference in people’s lives, and what consequences can result from different policy actions. Public policy students learn how different public interventions can address the major challenges facing societies today, such as climate change, air and water quality, food security and safety, energy and water shortages, poverty, child obesity, and crime, among many others. At the UCR School of Public Policy, we will provide students with the analytical tools and real-world experience they need to identify – and then implement – the most cost-effective and sustainable policies for addressing these grand societal challenges.

What are some questions students should ask themselves before studying public policy?

First and foremost, students of public policy need to be idealistic, socially-motivated, and interested in making a difference to people’s lives. Next, they should be willing to work hard in acquiring rigorous analytical tools that will enable them to analyze real-world evidence and choose among different policy options. Although there are plenty of rewarding jobs for talented policy analysts, it is not a field to go into if you are only interested in making money! You need to be primarily interested in bringing about social change on a large scale, because that’s what good public policies can achieve.

What are some career choices future graduates could choose from?

Public policy is a very versatile degree. It equips you to go into a range of different careers – as a policy analyst for local, regional, state, or national government agencies, a governmental or public relations officer for a private-sector firm, an employee of a public advocacy group, or as a leader of a community-based, nonprofit organization.

What are some of the biggest policy issues of this generation?

There are so many challenges facing this generation. Many of these challenges are present in all societies. Among these challenges are poverty and rising levels of income inequality; climate change; falling levels of educational achievement; water, food and energy insecurity; and communicable (e.g., HIV/AIDS) and chronic diseases (e.g., diabetes and heart disease). Like other major research universities around the world, UCR is pioneering bold solutions to these complex challenges. But the job of the public policy expert is to “translate” and apply the solutions developed by scientists and academics to the real world.

By the way, the good news is that the current generation of youth is ready to address these challenges. I sense a renewed sense of idealism among today’s students – almost of the type we used to see in the 1960s. This idealism waned in the 1980s, but is back (and strong) today. So even though we have all these challenges facing the current generation, I am confident that this generation will rise to the challenges and solve them.

What types of programs will the new school offer?

Our flagship program will be the Master of Public Policy, or MPP, which is currently pending UC system-wide approval. Once the program is approved, we plan to launch a vigorous student recruitment campaign in the fall, and we hope to welcome our inaugural MPP student cohort to the campus in the fall of 2015.

After the MPP’s approval, next up in the pipeline will be a Master of Science in Global Health as well as a Ph.D. in Public Policy. We also are looking to offer an MD/MPP program in conjunction with the UCR School of Medicine. And, of course, we plan to port the highly-popular undergraduate major and minor in public policy (currently based in CHASS) to the School of Public Policy within the next two years or so. So eventually we hope to offer a full complement of programs in the SPP – from undergraduate, Master’s professional to the Ph.D.

What personality traits do you think a successful public policy student should have?

As I noted earlier, the ideal student should be someone who wants to use knowledge to change society and improve people’s lives. Public policies have enormous potential for changing the way people live and work. A successful student should also be willing to acquire the scientific skills needed to formulate, implement, and assess evidence-based policies.

What advice would you give to prospective students?

For students interested in our soon-to-be-launched MPP program, you must have a bachelor’s degree and you must have successfully completed courses in microeconomics, statistics, and an introduction to politics and government or their equivalent during your undergraduate study. Prepare now to take the GRE if you haven’t. And if you are an international student, make sure to take the TOEFL or IELTS, as these scores will be required. Also start lining up references, as the application process will require three letters of recommendation, two of which must be from your academic advisors.

What are some near future goals for the new school?

We are looking to get approval soon for our Master of Public Policy program, and we hope to enroll our first class in the fall of next year. We are also working on several other graduate program offerings: the Master of Science in Global Health (MGH), Ph.D. in Public Policy, and a joint M.D./MPP.

In addition, we recently started a new internship program that was spearheaded by Ron Loveridge, the former mayor of Riverside and currently a political science professor and the director of one of our School’s research centers. Through his leadership, we have partnered with several local public agencies to provide our students with top-level internships. We are looking to continue these partnerships and provide our undergraduate—and soon graduate—students with meaningful fieldwork experiences.

But, as I said earlier, our ultimate goal is nothing short of training the leaders of tomorrow – students who will go on to become policy analysts and policy makers and address the big challenges facing communities in Inland Southern California and beyond.

What makes this UCR addition unique in regard to other Public Policy schools?

We are a school that focuses on the community, but we promote a “think globally, act locally” mindset. Issues like water scarcity, climate change, poverty, and inadequate access to health care and education are issues faced not just by our region but also by rapidly-growing emerging countries, such as Brazil, Mexico, China and India. There is much we can learn from the experiences of these countries, and there is much that these countries can learn from our policy experiments in Inland Southern California. This “global-local connection” will be one of the distinguishing characteristics of our educational programs at the SPP.

Also, relatively few programs treat social policy and environmental policy as part of a holistic and integrated eco-social-political system. At our School, we understand that in order to properly evaluate public policies, policy makers need to be sensitive to this interdependence and synergy across the two sets of policies. For instance, many of our environmental problems are directly the result of social processes, such as population growth and immigration, and economic development. So the unintended consequences of, say, immigration or economic development policies have to be kept in mind when one is formulating immigration or development policies.

Finally, most policy schools focus on policy-making on a jurisdictional level, but many of today’s critical policy issues often cross administrative boundaries. For example, Inland Southern California’s air quality depends very much on how Los Angeles County – and even northern Mexico – addresses its air pollution problems. In our programs, we will stress the importance of coordinated, regional policies whose impacts cross county, state, and even national boundaries.

As a researcher focusing on development, how would you rate the power of policy in relation to development?

As a developmental economist, my research focuses on challenges like malnutrition, poverty and illiteracy in low-income countries, and what can be done to improve the lives of people affected by these problems. The research that development economists have conducted over the last five decades has improved tremendously the quality of public policies, and these sound policies in turn have led to unprecedented economic and social development in much of the emerging world over the last quarter century. For instance, nearly a billion people around the world have been lifted out of poverty in India and China alone during the last two decades. This reflects the enormous power of good policy. By the same token, bad policies can have disastrous consequences. As an example, the policies pursued by the Chinese government under the “Great Leap Forward” during the late 1950s contributed to the Great Chinese Famine that may have killed anywhere from 15 to 45 million people!

Our campus being one of the most diverse in the nation, how do you think this characteristic contributes to the quality of our public policy program?

UCR is located in one of the most diverse regions of California, and its student body is one of the most diverse in the nation. However, the policy community in the region does not reflect the ethnic and racial diversity of the population. A diverse policy community is more likely to recognize, appreciate, and address policy challenges that are associated with a large and growing minority population. The School of Public Policy will strive to prepare tomorrow’s policy leaders with an emphasis on cultural competency and sensitivity to the unique and diverse population of Inland Southern California and beyond.

Having served in many capacities at UCR across different departments, do you feel that the introduction of the public policy curriculum will contribute to the university’s overall research program?

Definitely. Public policy as a discipline pertains to almost everything we do on this campus. There are many synergies between our School and other UCR strengths throughout campus. Many existing programs have strong policy dimensions. For example, there will be opportunities for partnering on policy research related to environmental issues, water, sustainable suburban development, biodiversity and species conservation, poverty and economic development, agriculture and biotechnology, health, and education, just to name a few. Our new School is already collaborating extensively with faculty from CNAS, CHASS, BCOE and the School of Medicine. Indeed, half of our faculty in the SPP will also have joint appointments in other units on campus. So the SPP will result in large “externalities” for the rest of the UCR campus.