By: Terry Cooper
Terry L. Cooper ('10), University of Southern California, Professor Emeritus of Public Policy
Q. Who or what inspired you to become a university professor?
I was a professor in the Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California for 48 years before retiring in 2019. Before that I was a United Methodist minister for 10 years working mostly as a community organizer in what has become known as the Pico-Union area of Los Angeles. During those years I had students from USC and UCLA working with me as interns. I would always hold a weekly seminar focused on some book that we all read and discussed. As I found myself at odds with my bishop over my next assignment, I began to consider what my next career might be. Working with students on both practical problems and intellectual development in Pico-Union led me to think about becoming a professor. I have also been fortunate to have had several extraordinary professors whose example inspired me. Professors John Marder, Page Smith, John Cobb, Sidney Hyman, and Mortimer Chambers, who were all brilliant in their scholarship and teaching, so were powerful role models for me.
Q. What area of public policy interests you the most and why?
After finishing my PhD in Social Ethics in 1973, I received an appointment as an assistant professor in the USC School of Public Administration. With my academic training in social ethics and my background in community organization, my interests naturally focused on public policy related to administrative ethics and the interaction between citizens and governments. I had a deep conviction that ethics was at the heart of the administrative role and civic engagement was essential for democratic governance. Beyond teaching and doing research, I was one of the founders of the ASPA Section on Ethics because I felt that not enough was being done beyond academia to support those areas of policy with working practitioners. With respect to civic engagement, one of my major research projects focused on the creation of a unique citywide system of neighborhood councils. Our research team created an online searchable database to facilitate the local self-organizing efforts at the neighborhood level.
Q. What is your favorite hobby or activity that you enjoy doing in your free time?
My favorite activity in my retirement is helping care for my two granddaughters, one of whom is 2 years old and the other is 3 months old. My wife and I take care of them several days each week. In my younger years, I enjoyed sailing, bike riding along the Southern California beaches, and flying. My daughter and I began taking flying lessons together when she was only 12 and we both have private pilots licenses. We flew together for many years, but not for quite a while now.
Q. Who in your life has been an influential mentor or inspiration for you?
I have had some outstanding mentors during my life. During my years of deep involvement in the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a deep inspiration for me. One of the proudest moments in my life was marching behind Dr. King in the last leg of the Selma to Montgomery march. He modeled for me how a Christian minister could hold faith and social action together.
After becoming a professor, Dr. Louis Weschler, a senior colleague in the USC School of Public Administration, took me under his wing and taught me about tenure, how to prepare a syllabus, and teaching tips. We both lived in the Palos Verdes area and car pooled to USC together most days. We would talk about research and teaching as we made our way through the L.A. freeway traffic. I doubt I would have made it through the tenure process without Lou’s guidance.