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A Surprising Look at 2016 Faculty Applicants

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By William Earle Klay
October 21, 2016

Today’s new faculty members undoubtedly will influence the future practice and scholarship of our field. A look at a group of current faculty applicants reveals surprises, some encouraging and others troubling. In 2015, the Askew School at Florida State University advertised widely for an assistant professor position to begin in August 2016. Our broadly defined job announcement indicated that we primarily sought applicants who could help us teach core MPA courses. Our program includes required courses in management, policy and research methods.

faculty-979900_640We eliminated some applicants as not qualified, mostly because they did not have a terminal degree before employment. The remaining pool—55 applicants—appeared somewhat representative of those who have sought public administration teaching positions in the United States this year. Of them:

  • 29 were male, 26 female
  • 28 were international (25 Asian), 27 American
  • 13 of the females were international, the same number American
  • 3 were African-American and 2 Hispanic-American
  • 11 of the American males were non-Hispanic white
  • 27 of the 28 international applicants had U.S. doctorates/ABDs
  • 25 had one or more years of practitioner experience

When ASPA was founded in 1939, its founders were overwhelmingly white, male, non-Hispanic Americans. That is not what the future “professoriate” of American public administration will look like. Only 20 percent of the applicants were in that category and nearly half of international and American applicants were women. I anticipate this new reality will bring some interesting and constructive changes.

The meager number of American minority applicants is very troubling. Only three African-Americans and two Hispanic-Americans applied, despite efforts to encourage minority applications. I live in a state where there is no longer any majority ethnic group among our children. Our nation is swiftly moving in that direction. For decades, scholars in our field have wisely argued that public organizations must demographically represent the diversities of those they serve. Our professoriate will not. We need to do much more to encourage and enable our best minority students to consider careers in the teaching of our field.

Less than half of the applicants had any more practitioner experience than required for a typical MPA internship. Twenty-five applicants had one or more years of this experience but very few had five or more. A majority had never done anything more than a brief internship.

The dramatic decline in the number of ASPA’s practitioner membership is due mainly to a wide practitioner/academic gap in our field. The future of ASPA depends on bringing relevance to practice. If we do not encourage—and enable—our young scholars to link what they do to practice, the future of our field is likely to be a shallower one.

As one of five veterans on the faculty of the Askew School, I was disappointed that only one American applicant was a veteran. Considering that a majority of applicants lacked significant practitioner experience, I expect our future profession would benefit if our nation adopted a policy of universal public service in useful roles.

I teach classes of doctoral students who collectively look very much like the pool of applicants. Still, it was startling that a slight majority of applicants were born and raised in other countries, primarily East Asian ones, though almost all international applicants did their doctoral studies in the United States. Historian Dorothy Ross, in The Origins of American Social Science, concluded that social sciences in this country originated to enhance the functioning of social institutions (economics, the economy, sociology, the family and other groups). Our field was created to enhance the functioning of a democratic republic. Clearly, we are fulfilling that role on a global scale

A theoretical framework for the “doing” of public administration in ways that enhance the legitimacy of our democratic institutions has existed since the late 18th century. That framework was successfully implemented but scholars largely ignored it. Nearly all the applicants were educated in this country, but many of our doctoral programs do not teach students about the history of our field and its vital role in strengthening democracy. It now seems obvious that we need to do so…and do it very well!

Author: William Earle Klay is professor and director of the Askew School of Public Administration and Policy at Florida State University where he has taught for many years. Klay is a former army logistics officer, federal civilian systems specialist, policy analyst for a state legislature, and coordinator of state agency planning for a governor. He can be reached at [email protected]

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One Response to A Surprising Look at 2016 Faculty Applicants

  1. Pingback: Without Practitioners, Public Administration Risks Irrelevancy | mikeinoshkosh

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