UCLA and USC should collaborate off the field

In recent months, many initiatives led by student governments and faculty members at USC and UCLA have called for increased cooperation between the two universities. One of these initiatives came directly from Emily Carter, UCLA’s executive vice chancellor and provost, who called the two historical rivals to work together to solve key issues.

“The reason I’m back in Southern California and the reason that I decided to take this job is because I think that places like UCLA and USC have a tremendous opportunity to have an outsized impact on the future of cities,” Carter said at the USC Women in Science and Engineering Presidential Distinguished Lecture last month.

And this call makes sense in many ways. USC and UCLA are similar in size, academic standing and location, which, besides being the main causes of their rivalry, can also be a source of cooperation and innovation. Similar environments make for similar issues and therefore call forth similar solutions. 

One of the most pressing issues that both USC and UCLA are trying to tackle is campus sustainability. The issue of sustainability is inherently global. Emitting carbon dioxide is only problematic because too many people all around the world are doing it. However, the way we do it differs by location. Therefore, each cause calls for its own solution. 

It is safe to say that USC and UCLA students have comparable carbon footprints because they live on similar campuses in the same city and share the consumption habits of a typical college student. If we looked for solutions together, we could make great strides in food and transportation sustainability or waste management, for example.

These are all great subjects to collaborate on not only because the issues and context are similar, but also because solving them requires great human capital and financial resources. Solutions are usually found through scientific research and implemented through legislation, which is why USC and UCLA scientists can better work toward their respective schools’ sustainability goals if they agree to research common topics together. Research is often a way for colleges to build prestige and compete with other universities. However, that should not prevail over the issue at hand. 

As world-renowned research institutions standing in the middle of California’s fight against federal environmental policies, USC could emerge as a leader in environmental policymaking for a more sustainable future in America.

At the city level, USC and UCLA can also work together to tackle the main issues affecting their city. Carter said the reason why she accepted her new position was that she thinks that “places like UCLA and USC have a tremendous opportunity to have an outsized impact on the future of cities.” She insisted that both schools can collaborate on “everything from sociology to public health to engineering to the arts and beyond to see whether or not [USC and UCLA] can transform Los Angeles together, in a way that shows the rest of the world how to do that.”

Fortunately, Carol Folt  — an environmental scientist who has reaffirmed her commitment to sustainability and collaboration with other schools during USC’s first-ever zero-waste presidential inauguration — might spearhead the beginning of a new chapter for USC-UCLA relations.

This is especially true considering both schools have set similar sustainability goals which include, among others, supporting environmental research and education, increasing energy conservation and waste diversion towards zero-waste and reducing potable water consumption as well as the use of single-occupancy vehicles.

By collaborating with UCLA, USC could also help UCLA achieve its “Sustainable LA Grand Challenge,” which aims to transition L.A. County to 100% renewable energy, 100% local water and enhanced ecosystem health by 2050. By doing this, both schools could reaffirm their commitment to sustainable practices and public service to the city.

Collaboration between USC and UCLA is worth our consideration. It could not only help us find innovative solutions to environmental issues, but also improve the lives of Angelenos and others throughout the world.