Dean Knott Shows Personal Side in Campus Talk
By Matthew Kredell
Did you know that USC Price School of Public Policy Dean Jack H. Knott was the first member of his family to go to college?
USC Price faculty, staff and students got to know the Dean in a more personal way on March 6 at Ground Zero Café during the speaker series “What Matters to Me & Why,” sponsored by the Office of Religious Life and Levan Institute for Humanities and Ethics.
“Here at Ground Zero, the Trojan family has the opportunity to hear from USC faculty and staff in a different way,” said Vanessa Gomez Brake, Associate Dean of Religious Life for USC. “Rather than lecturing on their area of expertise or research, we invite speakers to share their life journey with us – reflect on the values, beliefs and motivations that have helped to shape their lives.”
Knott was introduced by Carmen Gomez, administrative coordinator and office manager for the Price Office of Student Affairs. Gomez, who graduated from the Price School along with her son in 2011 and then completed an MPA in 2015, told the story of how Knott took time out of his busy schedule to administer the oath that swore her in after being elected to Paramount Unified School District Board last November.
“It was such an honor to have Dean Knott swear me in and see me voted in as president of the Paramount Unified School District Board,” Gomez said. “My run for office was inspired in part by the classes I took at Price in grad school and undergrad.”
Knott grew up in the working-class neighborhood of Grand Rapids, Mich. His parents didn’t graduate from high school, and none of his three siblings went to college.
It was going to a private religious high school that opened up a new world for him. Entering high school obsessed with sports, he left with scholarly intentions.
A summer scholarship between high school and college helped set the direction for his career. The Experiment in International Living sent him to Poland and the Soviet Union, during the heart of the Cold War.
“It got me interested in public policy, international relations, war and peace, and why it is we were in this situation,” Knott said.
Following a master’s degree in comparative political economy from Johns Hopkins University and a PhD in political science from the University of California, Berkeley, the boy who wanted to be a professional baseball player instead became a leading scholar in the fields of political institutions and public policy.
Knott’s core beliefs were developed from growing up in a conservative Protestant Christian household with Midwest values.
“Part of it is being forgiving to people around you, understanding the worthiness and having respect for each individual, giving unto others, and seeing a stewardship value around the environment and things given to you,” Knott said.
His belief in inclusiveness was forged at a young age, spending a summer in high school working in a youth program with kids in an African-American low-income community on the southwest side of Chicago, then in college having a summer job for Heinz working with migrant workers in a rural area.
Knott has quite the multicultural family. His wife, USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work Associate Dean Cherrie Short, was born in Jamaica of mixed races. He has two daughters-in-law who are Lebanese and one who is Chinese, creating grandchildren who are mixes of African, Arab, Northern European and Chinese.
“We’re a little like the United Nations right in our own family,” Knott said.
He has tried to reflect that ideal at the Price School by supporting the new Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Access Plan with its goal to incorporate those values into curriculum, along with the International Public Policy and Management Program.
He got into public policy after realizing that the private market, while creating jobs and wealth, also produced inequality and side effects that it doesn’t address.
“There’s a whole set of critical issues – education, health care, the environment – all involving public-good benefits for society that we all need but the market will underproduce without some involvement from public policy,” Knott said. “I’ve always been on the side of trying to balance the incredible dynamics of the market with these important public policy issues.”
As dean of the Price School, he is motivated by the impact he has on student lives and the ripple effect they put out into society, contributing to an understanding of the world through research, having a positive impact on the community and public policy, and the leadership role to shape an institution that in turn shapes lives.
“Being a dean of the Price School is one of the greatest privileges of my life,” Knott said. “Coming out of the kind of background that I have, I feel enormously privileged to be here at this institution with faculty and staff who care about educating students and advancing the field, but also care deeply about having an impact in the community and public policy. I’m in awe of the students, faculty and staff every day.”
C. Erwin and Ione L. Piper Chair and Professor