Spotlight on Public Policy

Spotlight on Public Policy 2017 with Dr. Greg Thorson

Would you share with us what intrigues you about public policy as well as some highlights of your own research in field?

I believe people are hungry for non-partisan, evidence-based solutions to public problems.

 Between the federal, state, and local governments, we spend over $7 trillion a year on government in the United States. Are we getting our money’s worth? It’s doubtful, but we are taking steps in the right direction. Virtually all new grants and programs require organizations to use the methods of public policy to measure the impacts of their programs. We are still in our relative infancy as a field, but I believe the prospects are incredibly bright to improve the efficacy of our programs aimed at improving people’s lives.

As for my research, I’m most excited about a current project that I’m working on with University of Redlands undergraduates Sera Gearhart and Lidya Stamper. Together we’re examining the effects that a country’s economic inequality has on its educational performance. The results are very large and statistically significant. Excessive levels of economic inequality can be very damaging to countries and their people. 

Tell us a bit about the history and current state of the public policy program at Redlands.

 Prior to 2008, there was only a single course offered in public policy that was taught once every three years. We’ve come a long way since then. Today our interdisciplinary course guide lists 16 pages of courses available to public policy students.

 Our Public Policy major launched in 2013-14 and has experienced explosive growth. We now have 61 majors and minors, a 60% increase from just a year ago. Some of our most popular subfields are environmental policy, health care policy, education policy, economic policy, defense policy, and national security policy.

 In your opinion, what does the future of the public policy program at Redlands look like? 

 I think the undergraduate program will continue to grow and be popular among students. Students appreciate the ability to define their own areas of concentration in consultation with the director.

 The next big question might well be whether we pursue a Master in Public Policy (MPP) program at the University of Redlands. I certainly think there is interest and demand in the Inland Empire, and there seems to be some interest among our administration at examining the feasibility of such a program.

 The Hall Network is fairly new to Redlands. What is the connection between the Halls and public policy? How did the Hall Network come into existence and how has it developed?

 Ken and Lynn Hall can be credited with all of this resurgence in public policy. Their original generous gift led to the creation of an endowed chair in public policy in 2008. That was instrumental in the expansion of the public policy curriculum and the creation of the major.

 The second major gift is just as exciting if not more so. Under the extraordinary leadership of Andrew Wall, the Hall Policy Network is inviting nationally recognized public policy figures to campus, convening local policy makers at the university to discuss and address regional policy issues, encouraging the curricular growth of public policy across all three schools, and supporting faculty and student research in public policy. The Hall Policy Network is truly moving the university to the next level in the area of public policy.

 How do you see the Hall Network furthering public policy?

 I think we will continue to lead by example. Our commitment to a non-partisan, non-ideological, evidence-based program will pay enormous dividends as we become the university within the region not only to study public policy, but as the place to go to solve regional problems.