Social ills that ail us at the core of our state — the highest rate of incarceration in America; pockets of abject, endemic poverty; traces of systemic racism, reflected in housing and educational disparities — demand scholarly research that may lead to social improvements in our state. With few social solutions working, it’s time to think again.

In creating a doctoral program in Justice Studies, approved in June, scheduled to start in 2021, the University of New Orleans is linking real-life challenges in urban New Orleans and around Louisiana to a search for real-life solutions. President John Nicklow, in seeking the University of Louisiana System’s OK to offer the research program, told the board of supervisors the goal is to produce scholarly problem-solvers who can effect “meaningful, real-world change.”

What better service can a university provide its community?

Our spring and summer have simmered with global and national bad news, including a pandemic that has threatened our lives; police-involved shootings of black victims that have peeled back the veneer of racial harmony in the U.S.; national and personal peril from an economy that’s been torpedoed by the coronavirus, as schools stay closed and jobs dwindle; the threat of homelessness with mortgages and rent payments at risk. That’s for starters.

But credit UNO’s academic leadership with appreciating massive social challenges in that city and beyond and crafting this new doctoral program — one that focuses on promoting social justice — two years ago. Review and polish of the program since then brought it before the Board of Supervisors on June 25 — the timing was a case of academic serendipity — but it arrived right on time, given the urgency of our troubles. Our world needs more thinkers.

Jim Henderson, president and CEO of the University of Louisiana System, of which UNO is one of nine member institutions, suggests the program’s timely arrival comes by more than simple good fortune.

“Anytime you have development of programs of this type, it’s not by happenstance,” he said. “The development of the program closely mirrors the phenomena in the community at large. UNO had the foresight for the need. We should be at the cutting edge.”

As much as the program seeks to develop scholars in UNO’s own urban area, they will draw others, as well, from around the country from fields like criminal justice, sociology, education, history and more. We like the wide room with everyone included to discuss our imminent needs in improving prisons, law enforcement, educational opportunities, race relations and lots more — not only in New Orleans, but in other, far-flung pockets of poverty and hopelessness.

Given current challenges, we need new and better pathways to provide justice here and everywhere. Let’s find them in Louisiana.