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James Q. Wilson and John Wooden, Presidential Medal of Freedom

  • Published Jul 1, 2003 8:00 AM

At the White House ceremony to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom, alphabetical order determined that James Q. Wilson and John Wooden would be seated together. But the two men have a stronger link than last names beginning with “W”: Both Wilson and Wooden played important roles at UCLA.

Wooden came to UCLA in 1948 to coach basketball. He kept that position for 27 years. During that time, he led UCLA to a record-setting 88 straight wins and 10 national titles in 12 seasons. In his final nine seasons as coach, Wooden compiled an unbelievable 259-12 record. As President George W. Bush remarked at the medal ceremony, “ . . . all his players will tell you, the most important man on their team was not on the court.”

Wooden’s pyramid of success and his epigrams are as much a part of campus life as the building that bears his name, the John Wooden Recreation and Sports Center. With his 93rd birthday approaching, Wooden is no longer a common sight on the Drake Stadium track. But he still regularly attends UCLA basketball games. When he visits the UCLA Store to autograph books, the lines stretch out the doors, with fans of all ages and interests.

Wilson was already a celebrated political scientist when he came to UCLA from Harvard in 1984. Among his influential work is the “broken windows” theory of crime: If police ignore public disorder, symbolized by broken windows, criminals will get the message that anything goes. Today’s emphasis on community policing is based on this theory and on statistical evidence of its effectiveness. In his remarks at the White House ceremony, President Bush mentioned another famous political scientist by the name of Wilson. “James Q. Wilson may be the most influential political scientist in America since the White House was home to Professor Woodrow Wilson,” Bush said.

Wilson held two appointments at UCLA: as a professor of political science and as the James Collins Professor of Management and Public Policy in the Anderson School. He is currently an emeritus member of the faculty. Wilson authored or co-authored 12 books, including The Moral Sense and American Government.

"John Wooden and James Q. Wilson embody the spirit in which this extraordinary accolade is presented," says UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale. "By achieving greatness in their respective professions, they have inspired countless others to pursue their own intellectual and personal goals. The UCLA family is honored to see that their service to society was deemed worthy of recognition at the highest level," he adds.

Past UCLA recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom include Ralph J. Bunche (1963), Jackie Robinson (1984), Arthur Ashe (1993) and Cruz Reynoso (2000).