A Closer Look: The USC Schwarzenegger Institute

“Never give up anything” – Arnold Schwarzenegger

On April 8th, former Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger repeated the same mantra to the students of his environmental policy class, while telling them personal stories of his struggles in politics and environmental law.

Schwarzenegger has followed this mantra, starting as a world-class bodybuilder to Hollywood star, and finally governor of California. At the end of his career, Schwarzenegger has dedicated his time to advancing civic engagement in youth. To do so, he established the USC Schwarzenegger institute, bringing political leaders and students together.

“[USC] is a place like no other,” Schwarzenegger said.

The institute stands in the confines of the USC Price School of Public Policy, a long-term partnership between the governor and the university to tackle political issues, like environmental policy, while advocating for less partisanship in legislative decisions.

“I wanted to continue on the policy that I felt very passionate about at the time I was governor, so the only way to do did you really can do that well is to be connected to an academic institution,” Schwarzenegger told The Relevant Report in an exclusive interview. “USC by far was the best place for me to be … they [had] out of the box thinking and they liked my ideas of the Schwarzenegger institute as a bipartisan institute.”

One of the ideas Schwarzenegger enacted was a class co-taught by him and former Senator Fran Pavely, titled Environmental Policy from Idea to Passage: AB32, The Global Warming Solutions Act. The course focused on the bill that Schwarzenegger signed into action, which mandated California to develop regulations in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Students learned about bill writing from senator Pavely, who wrote AB32, and the struggles that Schwarzenegger faced while enacting the law.

During his guest lecture, Schwarzenegger highlighted the importance of looking past the borders of Democrat and Republican, urging students to approach policy from a humanistic standpoint.

“Environmental Policy should not be a party issue, it should be a people’s issue,” Schwarzenegger declared. “It is crazy for anyone to think that Republicans have all the best ideas, or the Democrats have all the best ideas. We need everyone together.”

Schwarzenegger’s said his goal in teaching this class is to encourage students to become activists, taking historical information about environmental policy, specifically AB 32 and applying it to real-world use, whether it be social media campaigning or writing new legislation.

“I want all [the students] to become warriors in the environmental movement,” Schwarzenegger said.

Schwarzenegger has long admonished the federal government’s ability to pass legislation, citing gridlock and partisanship as a major obstacle for change.

“Don’t wait for nations to solve the problem, because you are going to wait for a long time,” Schwarzenegger said. “It has to be a combination of people rising up and protesting, of letting your voice be heard. It is an absolute essential thing because you all have so much power.”

Thus, Schwarzenegger has heavily encouraged students to face politics head-on, no matter the topic.

“Don’t just learn, but do something about it,” Schwarzenegger said. “Change politics the way it is done today.”

Associate professor of political science and public policy Christian Grose, who co-teaches the class with Schwarzenegger and former Senator Pavely, described the unique effect of combining traditional lectures and the stories of former political leaders.

“We basically are trying to combine…academic expertise on environmental policy and some of the politics of the policy-making process with a lot of the practitioners who worked on [AB 32],” Grose said.

According to Grose, the institute has invited many guest speakers to talk with students, including former Secretary Terry Tamminen of the California Environmental Protection Agency, and Mary Nichols, Chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board.

Schwarzenegger has also sought to instill his personal values with students. He emphasized the importance of teamwork, and trusting others, saying that his success arose due to the support of others.

“Think about how many people voted for me for being governor. Millions,” Schwarzenegger said. “I am not a self-made man. We [have] to be inclusive and open up our arms and bring people in.”

Beyond the environmental policy course, the institute has advocated for reforms to the gerrymandering, the political census system that affects how state districts choose their representatives, and also hosted international countries and the European Union in regard to economic investment and trade.

Francisca Martinez, Legislative Outreach Assistant of the USC Schwarzenegger Institute, notes their efforts to expand outwards, partnering with a political podcast climate to discuss bipartisanship on environmental issues.

“The cool thing about this [podcast] is that it really goes in line with our bipartisanship mission here at the institute,” Martinez said. “You have a Republican and a Democrat talking and discussing how to have effective climate action.”

The Schwarzenegger Institute hopes to recognize individual scholarship and has invested time and dollars in school outreach and hosting academic research conferences like the Schwarzenegger Research Symposium. Specifically, the institute points students toward political and social change, and urges them to persevere through obstacles and legislative gridlock. Going back to Schwarzenegger’s opening words, his meaning is clear.

“It’s important for people to know because it’s not just about winning. It is an end is the winning. But along the way you will fail,” Schwarzenegger said. “Never give up and you never listen to the naysayers.”

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