December 1, 2005
Vol. 25 No. 6

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    Board announces political scientist, scholar Wilson will receive University’s highest honor: Alumni Medal

    James Wilson

    The University Alumni Board of Governors has announced that James Wilson (Ph.D. ’59), the Ronald Reagan professor of public policy at Pepperdine University School of Public Policy, will be honored with the 2006 University Alumni Medal.

    Wilson will receive the medal at the Alumni Weekend Convocation, Saturday, June 3, 2006, at which he will deliver the Convocation address. He joins such Chicago luminaries as journalist David Broder (A.B., ’47, A.M., ’51), former president of the University of California system Richard Atkinson (Ph.B., ’48), and Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens (A.B., ’47) in being awarded the University’s highest honor.

    Wilson has had a distinguished career as a political scientist, a criminologist, a scholar of public administration, a policy analyst, a government advisor and a public intellectual. A native of Long Beach, Calif., he graduated from the University of Redlands in Southern California in 1952, and then served in the Navy until 1955. He earned his doctorate in Political Science at Chicago in 1959, under Edward Banfield and briefly served as an instructor at the University.

    In 1961, Wilson moved east to teach at Harvard University, where he became the Shattuck professor of government in 1985. He also was director of the Harvard-MIT Joint Center for Urban Studies.

    Wilson returned to California to serve as the James Collins professor of management at the University of California, Los Angeles, from 1985 to 1997, then moved to his current post at Pepperdine.

    Wilson is considered to be America’s preeminent political scientist. The American Political Science Association honored him with its James Madison Award for a career of distinguished scholarship in 1990, and with its John Gaus Award for exemplary scholarship in the fields of political science and public administration in 1994. He served as president of the association from 1991 to 1992.

    Wilson is most widely known for his “broken windows” theory of crime, holding that public disorder and police acceptance of nuisances and low-level crimes lead to further deterioration of the urban environment and public passiveness, which in turn foster higher crime rates. Wilson’s solution, emphasizing community-based foot patrols and enforcement of nuisance violations, was later implemented in New York City and was credited with reducing crime significantly during the 1990s.

    Wilson’s book American Government. is more widely used on university campuses than any other government textbook. His earlier empirically oriented books include Negro Politics, The Amateur Democrat, City Politics (with Edward C. Banfield), Varieties of Police Behavior (1968), Political Organizations (1973), Thinking About Crime (1975), Crime and Human Nature (with Richard J. Herrnstein), Bureaucracy (1989), and Drugs and Crime (with Michael Tonry). His more recent works, which emphasize political and moral philosophy, include The Moral Sense (1993), On Character (1995), Moral Judgment (1998), and The Marriage Problem (2002).

    As a policy analyst and government advisor, he has served as Chairman of the White House Task Force on Crime, on the board of directors of the Police Foundation, as Chairman of the National Advisory Commission on Drug Abuse Prevention, on the Attorney General’s Task Force on Violent Crime, and on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. Most recently, Wilson was a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics, and in 2003 the White House honored him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

    As a public intellectual, Wilson is one of the founders of the journal The Public Interest, devoted to rigorous and skeptical analysis of government policies. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a fellow of the American Philosophical Society, and serves on a number of public and private governing boards.

    As noted in one of the written recommendations to receive the Alumni Medal, “Wilson has often expressed . . . the importance of his education at the University of Chicago and the debt he owes to our University. It was at Chicago where he acquired his devotion to sound empirical research, his appreciation of the ‘big questions,’ his courage to cross disciplinary boundaries, and his willingness to think thoughts out of fashion . . . Though he has taught at Harvard, UCLA and other places, he regards himself intellectually and professionally as a man of Chicago.”