I’m writing with an update about several good things that have happened recently involving the MPA Program. You already may have heard about some of them. In any event, these things made me feel good and I wanted to share them with you.
MPA Rankings. The U.S. News & World Report ranking of academic programs now happens every year. The good news is that our MPA rankings have improved, and they clearly are trending in a great direction.
The MPA Program overall moved from #23 to #21 in the public affairs category, which is remarkable given that it is a broad category covering a wide range of programs, including public policy and city and regional planning on our own campus. In other words, it is not a ranking focused only on our MPA Program. In recent years this category has tended to reward large schools that have consolidated smaller programs under a broad public-affairs umbrella.
There are a number of sub-categories under public affairs that directly affect the School. The most important one is local government, which is the primary focus of our MPA Program. This year we are ranked #2 in local government—which represents an increase from #3 last year and from #6 in 2012. We are ranked behind only Kansas, and I believe they benefit from a long history of being ranked #1. Our MPA Program has gained strength in local government in recent years, and I think Kansas has lost some of their traditional strength (we helped by recruiting Leisha Dehart-Davis). I see ranking as a lagging indicator that does not yet truly represent the excellence of our work in local government. The public finance and budgeting category also is relevant to our MPA Program. This year we moved from #20 to #17, and that is a huge jump from #29 in 2012.
While the public affairs rankings are based entirely on the subjective impressions of program directors across the country, we know generally what they care about. The scholarly reputation of a program’s faculty as demonstrated through research and publishing, and primarily in peer-reviewed journals. Faculty members in our MPA Program have done a great job of publishing, and they also are a strong presence at important national conferences. In other words, they are seen as national leaders in their respective areas of public administration. Hiring Leisha, Kim Nelson, and Whitney Afonso (the latter two could not have happened without funding from MPA@UNC) has contributed in recent years to our national prominence.
The good work of everyone in the Program, including the leadership of Bill Rivenbark and the support of our talented professional staff, deserves recognition for contributing to our rise in the rankings. This summer the School will host the Public Management Research Conference (PMRC), which is the premier conference focused on public organizations and their management. Hosting PMRC itself a major recognition and honor. My hope is that national scholars who attend PMRC in June will appreciate even more deeply how our MPA Program’s engaged scholarship and its unique connection with public officials makes it the best in the world. I recognize that I’m biased, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m wrong.
Leisha DeHart-Davis Receives Recognition. Leisha recently was honored by Brigham Young University’s Romney Institute of Public Service and Ethics with an invitation to give this year’s Gary C. Cornia Lecture. According to the headline of a press release from BYU, “Thought Leader Receives Cornia Award.” Absolutely. Leisha was honored because she “is someone who thinks deeply about how to improve academic programs and then digs deep to help realize those changes in the real world.” During her lecture, Leisha discussed “the importance of engaged scholarship, a research model that encourages both academic scholarship and practical guidance.” She emphasized “the positive impact of engaged scholarship and expressed her hope for other institutions to apply the research design method.” The School of Government is the home of engaged scholarship, and public administration is the perfect field to combine scholarship and practice. Congratulations to Leisha on receiving this nice honor
Deil Wright Lecture. The annual Deil Wright lecture was given on Thursday afternoon by Professor Donald F. Kettl. In 2002, the MPA Alumni Association honored Professor Deil Wright for his 34 years of teaching MPA students by creating the Deil S. Wright Lecture in Public Administration. A number of Deil’s children were present, as well as former colleagues and students. Professor Kettl is a professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, at the University of Texas at Austin. He is a leader in the field of public sector personnel management and intergovernmental relations. The title of Professor Kettl’s lecture was “States Divided: How the Invention That United the Nation Is Driving It Apart.” It was a thought provoking talk about how federalism essentially is out of balance because the states are making policy decisions in many areas that have produced growing inequality based on where you live. He argued that a stronger federal government is the key to providing greater balance in the system and greater equality among the states. It is an interesting theory that seems extremely hard to implement in practice, especially in the current political climate. The mark of a good lecture is that I’m still thinking about it.