Although the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics is saying goodbye to its director this fall, officials say the institute’s mission to facilitate student political discourse will continue under a new interim director.
Dan Schnur, the director of the institute since 2008, will take a leave of absence from the university this fall to serve as the chairman of California’s Political Practices Commission, a bipartisan independent body that serves as the chief political watch dog group for the state.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced Schnur’s appointment on June 1.
“The people of California deserve a political environment that is fair and puts their needs first,” Schwarzenegger said in a press release. “Dan Schnur has spent years teaching and advocating for equality and transparency in California politics and I am grateful that he will continue his service to our state in this new role.”
Having served on four presidential campaigns, the most recent of which was in 2000 as the director of communication for presidential hopeful and Arizona Sen. John McCain, Schnur said one of the most important lessons he has learned is that anyone can have political influence.
“I was 20 when I joined my first presidential campaign,” Schnur said. “I drove from my home in Wisconsin to Washington, D.C. The most important thing I have learned on the campaign trail is that even a young person can make a real difference if they decide to get involved.”
Schnur has worked to get young people engaged in the political process at USC. He has taught a number of classes at the university in political science and journalism, and played a major role in the organization of the USC College/Los Angeles Times poll.
“The polls received national and international attention,” Schnur said. “But to me, the most important part is giving the students an opportunity to experience how political opinion and polling is accomplished.”
Part of polling, Schnur said, is bringing students into political discussions. One of the Unruh Institute’s more visible events, the weekly “Students Talk Back” luncheons, give students the chance to participate in conversations with current political figures.
The Daily Trojan co-sponsors the luncheons, which also include speakers from campus political organizations.
“Our focus is on providing quality experiences for students to engage with politics,” said Kerstyn Olson, the deputy director for the institute. “We supplement the USC course experience by creating programs for students to engage in outside the classroom.”
Ann Crigler, professor and chair of USC’s department of political science, will serve as acting director for the institute during Schnur’s absence this semester.
Crigler said the institute has several events planned for the semester — and elections — ahead.
“We will be hosting a combination of things this semester, such as a series of programs on the elections that will be important to get students to know what’s going on,” she said.
With the goal of bringing students together in the political realm through discourse and hands-on experience, those involved in the Unruh Institute said it is a resource for all students.
“Steve Jobs of Apple talks about making a dent in the universe,” Schnur said. “The single best way for anybody to do this is through public service. If you are serious about making your city or country or world a better place to live, the place to do it is working on behalf of a candidate or cause you believe in.”