July 24, 2003
Legendary basketball coach John Wooden, master chef Julia Child and Dr. James Q. Wilson, a famous graduate of Jordan High School in Long Beach, have one great accomplishment they share. Each accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom this week in Washington, D.C.
Brilliant Harvard and UCLA professor, social commentator and prolific writer, Wilson received the nation’s highest civilian honor from President George Bush.
"Professor James Q. Wilson may be the most influential political scientist in America since the White House was home to Professor Woodrow Wilson," President Bush said during the award ceremony.
"Throughout his career, he has demonstrated the best virtues of the academic profession. His theories and ideas are drawn from actual human experience, and therefore have great practical value in addressing social problems. He writes with authority on a range of subjects, from the workings of government to the causes and prevention of crime.
“Whatever his subject, James Q. Wilson writes with intellectual rigor, with moral clarity, to the appreciation of a wide and growing audience. And it is my honor to congratulate Professor James Q. Wilson."
Established in 1945 by President Harry S. Truman, the Presidential Medal of Freedom originally recognized notable service in the war. In 1963 President John F. Kennedy reintroduced it as an honor for distinguished civilian service in peacetime.
Since the beginning of his distinguished career as a professor of government at Harvard University in the 1960s, Wilson has earned a reputation as a criminologist, economist and political analyst. He joined the faculty of The Anderson School at UCLA in 1984 and was soon after appointed holder of the James A. Collins Chair in Management, a title he holds today in emeritus status. He also held a joint faculty appointment in UCLA's political science department.
Also prolific in the popular press, Wilson has written nearly 100 articles on such subjects as crime, bureaucracy, urban affairs, politics, criminal justice and economic regulation in such respected publications as Harper's, Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, The Public Interest, The New Republic and New York Magazine. Journalists worldwide continue to seek his thoughts for articles they are preparing on business, political and public policy issues.
Wilson has served on a number of national commissions concerned with public policy. He was chairman of the White House Task Force on Crime in 1967, chairman of the National Advisory Commission on Drug Abuse Prevention from 1972 to 1973, a member of the Attorney General's Task Force on Violent Crime in 1981, and a member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board from 1985 to 1990. He has also served as a consultant to the RAND Corporation since 1986 and is currently on the board of directors of the New England Electric System and the Institute for Educational Affairs.
In 1990, Wilson received the James Madison award for distinguished scholarship from the American Political Science Association, an organization for which he later served as president.
Wilson grew up in north Long Beach, attended University of Redlands, where he earned a bachelor of arts degree in political science in 1952. After college, he joined the United States Navy for three years, serving as a lieutenant, junior grade, in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations and on the USS Tarawa. After he left the Navy, he continued his academic pursuits at The University of Chicago, earning his Ph.D. in political science in 1959. He became a nationally respected scholar, researcher and author at Harvard, and has been awarded honorary degrees from six universities.
He was honored as the Long Beach Unified School District’s Public Schools Week Distinguished Graduate Award winner in 1977. He credits two of his Jordan High School teachers for helping to launch his stellar half century in higher education.
“I had two teachers who touched me deeply,” said Wilson. “Walter Smith taught me mathematics. Other people tried; Walter Smith succeeded. Why did he succeed? Not by force of terror but by force of example. I wanted to please him. I thought he was a fine man. He seemed to know something that was worth knowing. He could explain to me things that I didn’t realize I wanted to know the answer to until he tried to tell me what the problem was. And by revealing the problem and explaining how you answered it, he enabled me to discover a bit of myself--the ability to do something independently.
“Another man, Robert Crossan, who was my speech teacher and English teacher, found me sweeping out a store the summer I was supposed to be going to college and asked me what my plans were. He talked me into going to a college called the University of Redlands. I had no idea what college was. If he hadn’t cared to come to a store on a hot summer afternoon where I was sweeping out the floors, I would probably still be sweeping out the floors.”
Professor Wilson became a gifted and highly respected teacher. In 1986, he won the Executive MBA Program Teaching Award at UCLA. Courses he taught at The Anderson School and in the political science department covered a variety of topics: The Political Environment of Business, The Morality of Capitalism, Bureaucracy, Public Administration and Public Policy, and The Manager and Business/Society Relations.
In addition to writing dozens of academic journal articles and editing and contributing to scores of books on urban problems, government regulation of business, and the prevention of delinquency among children, Prof. Wilson authored or co-authored 12 books, including, "The Moral Sense," "American Government," "Drugs and Crime," "Crime and Human Nature," "Thinking About Crime," "Political Organizations," and "Varieties of Police Behavior.”