University Professor; Annenberg Family Chair in Communication Leadership; Former USC Annenberg Dean


Communication (BA)
Journalism (BA)
Public Diplomacy (MPD)
Specialized Journalism (MA)


213 740 4466


ASC 301B

More Geoffrey


(Traditional and Digital) Media Industries
Arts and Culture
Changing News Industry
Communication policy and law
Constitutional Rights
International Journalism
Los Angeles
Media Entrepreneurship
Media Ethics
Media Law
Political Journalism
Public Diplomacy
Public Policy
Public Speaking
US Presidency

Center Affiliation

Center on Communication Leadership and Policy
Center on Public Diplomacy

Throughout his career, Geoffrey Cowan has been an important force across a spectrum of communication and public policy arenas - as a lawyer, academic administrator, government official, best-selling author, distinguished professor, non-profit executive, and Emmy Award-winning producer. He is the author of the new book Let the People Rule: Theodore Roosevelt and the Birth of the Presidential Primary (W.W. Norton & Company), which was released in January 2016 and released in paperback in January 2017. 

In 2010, the trustees of The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands appointed Cowan as the first president of the Trust, where he served until August, 2016. He carried on the Annenberg legacy by developing Sunnylands into a world-class venue for important retreats for top government officials and leaders in the fields of law, education, philanthropy, the arts, culture, science and medicine. It welcomed President Barack Obama on five separate occasions, including three historic summits with other world leaders: one with China's President Xi Jinping in June, 2013; one with King Abdullah II of Jordan in February, 2014; and one with the leaders of all of the ASEAN nations in February, 2016.

From 1996-2007, he served as dean of the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. In 2007, he was named a University Professor (one of 21 at the university), the inaugural holder of the Annenberg Family Chair in Communication Leadership and director of USC Annenberg's Center on Communication Leadership and Policy. He holds a joint appointment in the USC Gould School of Law and teaches courses in communication and journalism.

At USC Annenberg, he launched new academic programs in public diplomacy, specialized journalism, strategic public relations, global communication and online communities. In addition, he established the first endowed faculty chairs at the school. He launched and remains involved with major USC Annenberg centers and projects, including the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, The Norman Lear Center, and the USC Annenberg School Center for the Digital Future.

Before coming to USC, Cowan spent twenty years teaching communication law and policy at UCLA, where he became the first director of UCLA's Communications Law program and founded the center for Communication Policy.

An award-winning author, Cowan's books include: See No Evil: The Backstage Battle Over Sex and Violence on Television (Simon & Schuster, 1980), and the best-selling The People v. Clarence Darrow: The Bribery Trial of America's Greatest Lawyer (Random House, 1993), as well as Let the People Rule: Theodore Roosevelt and the Birth of the Presidential Primary (W.W. Norton & Company, forthcoming 2016).

With the late Leroy Aarons, Cowan co-wrote the award-winning play, Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers, which explores the delicate balance between the press, the public's right to know and the government's need to protect some vital national secrets. Called an "engaging," "splendidly nuanced" and "crackling drama" by reviewers, Top Secret was originally produced in 1991 by L.A. Theatre Works as a radio play in front of a live audience for national broadcast on NPR, and presented Off-Broadway by New York Theatre Workshop in the 2010 season. It was also produced in 25 venues across the country during a national tour in the 2007-2008 season and completed two successful tours in China that included a number of top-tier venues, such as the National Center for the Performing Arts ("The Egg"), the Tianjin Grand Theater, and major venues in Hangzhou, Suzhou, Chongqing and Fuling.

Prior to becoming dean, President Clinton appointed Cowan to serve the nation as the director of Voice of America, the international broadcasting service of the U.S. Information Agency. During his years as VOA’s 22nd director, he increased the number of language services, started the first regularly scheduled international daily call-in talk show, Talk to America, and begun transmitting TV and radio shows on the Internet and through direct-broadcast satellite. He also served as associate director of the USIA and as director of the International Broadcasting Bureau, with responsibility for WORLDNET TV and Radio & TV Marti as well as VOA.

From 1979-84, he was a member of the Board of Directors of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, where he played a key role in the development of National Public Radio and the launch of its "Morning Edition" program.

When the City of Los Angeles sought to create an ethics code and new campaign finance law in 1989, Mayor Tom Bradley tapped Cowan to chair the Los Angeles commission. For his work in the capacity, he was named "Man of the Year" in 1989 by the Council of Government Ethics Leaders. He chaired the California Bipartisan Commission on Internet Political Practices and served on the White House Fellows regional selection committee during the Clinton and Bush administrations.

While teaching at UCLA, Cowan was also a television producer, winning the 1992 Emmy Award as executive producer of the television movie “Mark Twain & Me,” which was voted Outstanding Prime Time Program for Children by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Cowan serves on the board of the Harvard Kennedy School's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policythe Berggruen InstituteCommon Sense MediaDemocracy 21, and the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Pacific Council on International Policy, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Walter Lippmann Fellow of the Academy of Political and Social Science.

A graduate of Harvard College and Yale Law School, Cowan is married to Aileen Adams, former deputy mayor of Los Angeles and former California Secretary of State and Consumer Affairs. They have two children, Gabriel Cowan, a filmmaker based in Los Angeles, and Mandy Adams Wolf, a grade school teacher currently working at The Center for Early Education.