Desire to make a difference by merging scholarship, practice led Jon Gould to ASU

Jon Gould is an internationally recognized criminal justice policy and reform expert whose talent for merging scholarship and practice is aimed squarely at making a difference in the world.

He credits his passion for applying the lessons of academia to the policy world, and vice versa, for leading him to the job of director of Arizona State University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice. Foundation Professor Gould took over as the school's director on Jan. 1 after serving as inaugural director of the Washington Institute for Public Affairs Research and chair of the Department of Justice, Law and Criminology at American University in Washington, D.C. He assumes the position from newly named Regents Professor Cassia Spohn, who is returning full time to the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice faculty to devote more time to scholarship and research.

ASU’s school appealed to him on several fronts, he said. He already knew many of the the school's faculty and found that the school is “operating on all cylinders.”

“It has remarkable scholars and is doing a tremendous job of putting ASU on the map to become among the nation’s leaders,” he said. “To use a sports metaphor, I want to lead a sports team that’s already in the playoffs and lead them to even greater glory.”

That means working to fortify the school’s already impressive national leadership position (ranked No. 5 for its PhD program and No. 6 for its graduate degree by U.S. News & World Report) to become even better known by colleagues around the country. To do that means to dive into what the school’s home, the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, is known for: solutions-based approaches.

“It is not enough, especially at a public university like ASU, to only have scholarship and to teach students,” Gould said. “You must be part of the conversation to create a solution for criminal justice systems in this nation and in criminal justice systems around the world.”

Originally from Chicago, Gould said one of his favorite quotes is from renowned architect and fellow Chicagoan Daniel Hudson Burnham (1846–1912), who said, “Make no little plans. … Make big plans; aim high in hope and work.”

Gould said he was lured to ASU by the opportunity to make a difference.

“When I sat down with the dean and the provost and talked ideas, with every single one of them, they said how they could push things forward,” he said. “I’m a guy who likes building things and this was an opportunity to work with top leadership that is like me and not scared of growth. This is rare in American academia, a university that is not fearful of growth.”

Jonathan Koppell, dean of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, said of Gould: “We couldn’t be more excited that Jon is joining Watts College to lead our School of Criminology and Criminal Justice. Jon is a terrific scholar, who is universally respected for his contributions, and an experienced leader with a track record of achievement. I am particularly enthusiastic about his desire to engage the communities of policy and practice, giving even more power to the findings and insights generated by our field-leading faculty.”

Gould’s desire for academic knowledge to be relevant and useful was satisfied during his time as a U.S. Justice Department senior policy adviser during the Obama administration. He wrote a policy applying to law enforcement agencies designed to help prevent wrongful convictions through identifying and reducing eyewitness misidentifications.

“It was one of those rare moments when you can put together what you studied with the opportunity to make change,” he said.

Among Gould’s first priorities as director is simply listening.

“I’m a big believer in this leadership — you can’t take people in a direction they don’t want to go, because even if you do, the change isn’t going to be lasting because it’s not part of the institution’s DNA,” he said.

Other goals include broadening the school’s influence while streamlining its message, making sure the school is deeply engaged in solving some of the policy problems in criminal justice systems in Arizona and beyond and to “bring ASU to Washington, D.C., and make sure our research is not only at the table, but that they’re using it.”

Ed Maguire, a criminology and criminal justice professor and associate director of ASU’s Center for Violence Prevention and Safety, has been a fan of Gould’s since both men were on the faculty of George Mason University in Virginia.  

“I was especially influenced by two aspects of Jon's work,” Maguire said. “First, in a field heavily focused on crime control, Jon's research reminds us how important it is to focus also on justice.

“Second, as both a legal scholar and a social scientist, Jon draws an important distinction between the law on the books and the law on the streets. This is an important distinction for understanding the reality of law and justice in people's lives.”

Maguire said Gould’s work on miscarriages of justice, particularly on wrongful convictions, is groundbreaking.

“Jon is also a gifted teacher. He has mentored many doctoral students over the years who have gone on to build impressive careers of their own,” Maguire said. “His unique contribution to their careers is his emphasis on blending sociolegal scholarship with more mainstream work in criminal justice. These are two very different research traditions and Jon does a great job of bringing them together, both in his own work, and in his teaching.”

Gould holds both JD and PhD degrees and is admitted to the bar in both the United States and in New Zealand. He conducted the interview for this article from New Zealand, where he spent part of December advising that nation’s Ministry of Justice on criminal justice reform, as well as teaching a comparative criminal justice and criminology class.

He is the author of four books and over 50 articles focusing on such diverse subjects as erroneous convictions, indigent defense, prosecutorial innovation, police behavior, hate speech, sexual harassment and international human rights. His first book, "Speak No Evil: The Triumph of Hate Speech Regulation," was a co-winner of the 2006 Herbert Jacob award for the best book in law and society. His second book, "The Innocence Commission: Preventing Wrongful Convictions and Restoring the Criminal Justice System," was named an outstanding academic title by the American Library Association.

Gould has won awards for his teaching and service and is a regular contributor to The Hill newspaper.

Mark J. Scarp
News image: 
mscarp@asu.edu