Friday, April 15, 2016

From vehicle safety and environmental policy to housing needs assessments, the University of Iowa Public Policy Center (PPC) seeks to make academic research widely accessible to policy makers and the general public. The center hosts symposiums, brings in speakers, and supports interdisciplinary research and education across campus.

“We do applied research—research that’s happening in the real world on real questions—and try to share that with publicpolicy makers so they can make better decisions,” said Director Peter Damiano.

Damiano said PPC, part of the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development, does not advocate for particular policies but simply tries to inform.

The center’s current areas of research include the environment, health, politics and policy, social and education policy, and transportation and vehicle safety. All PPC faculty have joint appointments in other academic departments across campus.

The center’s planning committee also includes leaders from other universities and groups, such as the Governor’s STEM Council, the Women’s Resource and Action Center, the Grant Wood Area Education Agency, and more. By bringing together people from diverse fields, the center seeks to grow interdisciplinary collaboration and expand knowledge and understanding across Iowa.

For example, in 2008 the PPC established the Forkenbrock Series on Public Policy to expand the center’s public engagement activities by providing interdisciplinary fora to share information on important policy-related topics with policymakers and the public. The series sponsors lectures and symposia designed to bring together researchers, policymakers, and other key stakeholders such as business leaders, students, and the public on the most pressing issues of our time.

Upcoming events hosted by the PPC include a lecture by Robert Bullard at 7:30 p.m. April 19 at the Englert Theater titled, “The Wrong Complexion for Protection: Flint Water Crisis.” Bullard is the Dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas, and is often described as the father of environmental justice. The lecture is a collaboration with the “Just Living” Theme Semester and the University Lecture Committee.

Related to the Bullard lecture, the PPC will hold a symposium in June called “Iowa's Drinking Water: Could Flint Happen Here?” This symposium will explore the current state of Iowa's drinking water and the future challenges confronting water providers in the state.  Co-organized with the Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination (CHEEC), this all-day event will include panels of water experts from academia, industry, and the public sector including the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as well as a member of the Flint Water Study that uncovered the lead issues in Flint.  The event will be held June 17 at Hy-Vee Hall of the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines. 

Additionally, the Forkenbrock Series will host free speech advocate Mary Beth Tinker at 6:30 p.m. May 5 at the Iowa City Public Library, 123 S. Linn St., to address the current state of free speech and civics awareness among America’s young people. Tinker was among the small group of students suspended in 1965 after wearing black armbands to school to mourn those lost on both sides of the Vietnam War and show support for Robert F. Kennedy’s call for a “Christmas truce.” In the U.S. Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. School Dist., the court upheld the students’ right to wear armbands and made it clear that all students have First Amendment rights, even while they are in school.

The policy center’s website also contains hundreds of publications to make research as accessible as possible to policymakers, other academics and the public.