Albert Coates: The Early Vision

Download PDF

I am reading a draft biography of Albert Coates by Howard Covington, who co-authored a terrific biography of Terry Sanford.  Covington is a good writer and he does a nice job of tracing the early origins of the Institute of Government.  Albert wrote, published, and distributed the first issue of Popular Government before the Institute of Government was established.  The entire 70-page issue was devoted to Albert’s preliminary study of the North Carolina criminal justice system.  According to Covington:

Popular Government was a one-song hymnal in the Coates church of criminal law. He declared that the citizens of North Carolina were ill-served by a criminal justice system that suffered from the inefficiency of overlapping jurisdictions, the unfettered discretion of prosecutors and judges who dispensed unequal justice, and law enforcement officers who were not properly trained to do their jobs. The pamphlet was Coates’s call for a detailed analysis of the entire justice apparatus. Coates argued for the application of scientific methods in the analysis of how police answered calls and handled arrests, the decisions of district attorneys in prosecuting crimes and the sentencing behavior of judges, as well as the fairness of the penal system.”

It is interesting that Albert’s original vision for the Institute involved much more than training, writing, and advising on current legal issues.  It involved more than making sure that officials understood their legal and administrative responsibilities.  His idea for the Institute included “the study of governmental institutions and processes in North Carolina.”  In other words, it encompassed making sure that the systems and processes themselves were good and effective.  I was struck by how much this sounded like one of the core areas of work we have identified: Improving the structure, organization, equity, and effectiveness of governmental systems and processes.  We continue to discuss the extent to which the School should be more involved in public policy, and I find it fascinating that Albert originally considered it a part of the Institute’s mission.  He didn’t call it public policy, and his early thinking about the Institute should not control our current work, but it is interesting.  Don’t you think?

2 thoughts on “Albert Coates: The Early Vision

  1. I like your observations, because it follows my own passion about the SOG work. So I totally agree. But when I see folks refer to Coates, even before I hear what the topic is, I always wonder, – why should Coates’ original vision be our vision? His vision was established 75+ years ago. Is it appropriate for North Carolina now?

    I know I am setting myself up for burning at the stake for heresy… I am not a very original person, and if I am thinking it, others might be too. I am already on board with the policy emphasis – I am a biased person with a degree in policy analysis. But I want to make sure we have a solid basis on which to move in this direction for everyone. So, Mike, what is it about Coates’ vision that makes it right for the next 75 years?

  2. What the Institute/School has accomplished for the past 75 years evolved from Coates’ vision. Although the issues and challenges facing North Caroina also change and evolve with time, if our current vision is similar to what Albert envisioned 75 years ago, and if we continue to to be successful in meeting NC’s challenges, I don’t believe our association with the founder of the organization is a bad thing. I think it only reinforces the strength of our mission and core values.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.