Changing rather than researching the world
As a faculty leader of GPS’s new MPP degree program, Professor Zoltan Hajnal is committed to shaping policymakers in the classroom and actual policy outside of it
By Sarah Pfledderer | GPS News
Run Zoltan Hajnal’s name through a search engine and within a scroll through the first page of search results, one can grasp his academic interests—or as he puts it, “my thing.”
A professor in UC San Diego’s Department of Political Science, Hajnal has committed his nearly 16 years at the university toward examining racial and ethnic politics, including publishing four books and multiple award-winning papers on the topic.
Now, also serving as an affiliate professor at the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS), he’s no longer working toward observing these principles but improving policies surrounding them.
“As I advance my career, I actually would like to make a difference, change the world a little bit,” Hajnal said. “Talking about policy, researching more on policy, being involved in a larger institution that cares very much about policy is very attractive.”
Which is why he stepped up to serve as a faculty leader for GPS’s Master of Public Policy (MPP) degree program.
Hajnal has been instrumental in designing the curriculum for the new two-year, full-time professional degree program, which welcomed its first cohort in fall 2016. He taught the MPP introductory course, Policy Decisions in the U.S., in fall quarter, and will teach the capstone course in spring 2018.
A main objective of the degree, Hajnal emphasized, is to instill in students how to think analytically about empirical policy problems and how to think analytically about how to influence policymakers.
“Those are two of the main lessons we want students to come away with,” Hajnal said, “as well as for them to have the skills and foundation to be readily employed.”
Aside from the intellectual challenge of shaping a degree program, Hajnal said, the opportunity to teach master’s students for the first time has proved personally enlightening.
“GPS students are enjoyable in the sense that they care about the real world and are knowledgeable about the real world,” he said. “They’re very engaged.”
Their perspectives, Hajnal added, lend comparative experiences to inform his own research.
Currently, he is honing in on election timing. Particularly, Hajnal is working toward addressing the pattern that cities that hold elections the same day as a presidential election have the highest voter turnout in comparison to cities that hold elections on a day not coinciding with a presidential election.
“The research I’ve done shows that has massive implications for who gets elected and which policies are passed,” Hajnal explained. “The low turnout elections show that American democracy is being run by a small, select, white older population. In our grand scheme of policy areas we can move forward, this is one that has enormous support by the public. It’s nonpartisan. It actually saves money and is very easy to do in most cases.”
Another area that Hajnal is tackling with promise to push policy is voter ID laws, looking at the ways in which those laws impact racial and ethnic minority voter turnout. The stricter the voter ID laws, the larger the gap in white and nonwhite voter turnout, Hajnal said.
To that end, he is collaborating with the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP to pinpoint court cases demonstrating discrimination to have voter ID laws overturned—a prime example of how his research is moving tangible results versus producing theories, also a premise of the MPP.
“The substance of my research isn’t changing,” Hajnal underscored. “But I am shifting from just researching the world to also trying to change it.”
3 questions with Professor Zoltan Hajnal
What are the real-world impacts of your research?
All of the research I do seeks in different ways to expand the representation of the disadvantaged in American politics. I am proud my research helped Los Angeles and California move toward on-cycle local elections, which bring out a lot more voters, help more racial and ethnic minorities get into office, and lead to local government policies more in line with the preferences of the broader public.
What skills or understanding do you hope students leave your class with?
I hope they garner the analytical skills to be able to logically and comprehensively analyze any future policy problems they come across.
What is your academic focus?
I care above all about race, inequality and politics. I examine all kinds of different aspects of representation in American politics. Who is less well-represented? Why? And what can we do about it?
- A day in the life of a remote student
- Ulrike Schaede and the business reinvention of Japan
- Robertson Fellows show commitment to public service
- Alumni-nominated spotlight: Jessica Keegan MAS '16 of the International Republican Institute
- A rundown of binge-worthy shows and films
- Global connections foster global solutions
- Taking the reins at CGT
- A message from Dean Cowhey on COVID-19
- A gift to enhance U.S.-China relations
- Reflections of a harrowing journey through China's turbulent revolution
- A day in the life of a teaching assistant
- Ensuring diversity and inclusion
- Deploying mangroves to fight climate change
- Alumni-nominated spotlight: Alisha Tomita-Yu ’16 of Oracle
- Student group puts focus on China
- Decoding the Hong Kong protests – and more
- Is the MPP the right degree for me?
- Through knowledge we gain understanding
- Mapping a cleaner San Diego
- A day in the life of a NCAA Woman of the Year Honoree
- Nirupama Rao defines the future of Indo-Pacific relations
- Winter reading for the bibliophile
- Alumni-nominated spotlight: Booz Allen Hamilton consultant Maura Deignan
- Leading from the front
- Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies expands research on drug war and migrant crisis
- A marriage of policy and advocacy
- Decarbonizing the grid
- Sylff Fellows translate vision into reality
- Stanford study finds poor air quality responsible for one in five infant deaths in sub‑Saharan Africa
- Office hours: Associate Professor Jennifer Burney
- Class of 2018 graduates embody global citizenry and leadership
- Science Policy Fellows program nurtures effective interdisciplinary scholars
- Building cross-border relationships
- Geoengineering a greener future
- Sponsored Student Spotlight: Adnan Saygili
- Celebrating academic excellence
- Painting the picture of an MPP student’s day
- Gregory Lee looks at the future of digital health and technology
- A sustainable seafood hero
- Pass the pen: Alumnae nominated spotlight
- Campus recognizes alumni as leaders and changemakers
- Innovation in mobile technology
- Ian Johnson chronicles the rise of religion in China
- Writing the book on China’s economic policy
- Broadening horizons through international experience at BCG
- Office hours: Professor Gordon McCord
- New evening option for working professionals
- China's infrastructure investment as a development strategy
- Rethinking the war on drugs in Mexico
- Creating theoretical frameworks
- Nurturing future leaders at TechPolis
- The future is female
- Jamal Russell Black on Veridian Analytics' entrepreneurial spirit
- Love is in the air
- A day in the life of an MCEPA student
- Health and human capital
- Eduardo Porter finds journalistic inspiration at GPS
- Technology assessment at the nexus of STEM and policy
- IGCC receives coveted UC research grant
- Battery storage at the center of energy policy
- Researching how humans and the environment interact
- Office hours: Professor Ulrike Schaede
- Fighting wildfires with web based imagery
- United we dream
- Our 2017-2018 Boren Fellows
- Applying game theory to study behaviors
- Students craft views on climate change at COP23
- Molding future technical experts
- Why GPS: A niche in life
- The art of entrepreneurship
- Solar energy and pursuing the policy dream
- Social entrepreneur and first time author Ken Davenport ’90 of “The Two Gates”
- Why GPS: Discovering a passion for all things math
- Our 2017-18 Dean’s Fellows
- A Living, Learning Laboratory
- A ‘Prep Program’ for success, before day one
- Office hours: Professor Gordon Hanson
- Adding to a truly interdisciplinary academic environment
- Why GPS: Apply now and figure it out later
- Sponsored Student Spotlight: Noritoshi Kurokawa
- West Coast-Trained for a Washington, D.C. Think Tank
- Linked in Latin America
- Facilitating a ‘family affair’
- Nico Ravanilla retreats to Oxford for research
- 2016 alumni remember their first year in the real world
- Pioneering international excellence
- Research at the border: A living laboratory of transformation