The Arizona Desert Lamp

Can’t you feel the synergy?

Posted in UA Transformation Plan by Evan Lisull on 12 May 2009

Hybrid Synergy DriveVia UANews, the muchfrettedover School of Public Administration has finally found a home in the College(s) That Ate the University (apologies to James Poulos):

The University of Arizona has announced the creation of a new school – the School of Government and Public Policy, in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

The new school, which is a joint initiative of the Eller College of Management and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, was approved by the Arizona Board of Regents on April 30, 2009.

The School of Government and Public Policy will join faculty and staff from the School of Public Administration and Policy, or SPAP, and the UA Department of Political Science as well as their degree programs.

Students, however, are not out of the woods yet:

All undergraduate and graduate degrees and students will automatically transfer to the new school. The degree programs will be revamped to account for curricular and scholarly synergies within the school’s faculty, which will greatly benefit the students, the University and the state of Arizona.

So when exactly will these degrees be revamped? One would assume that such synergization would apply only to those entering the program after the merger, while grandfathering the old program for those about to graduate (full disclosure: your author). While Public Administration is a natural fit within the school – if administration isn’t a social and behavioral science, then nothing is – there are certainly concerns about what this will do to an already overquantified field of study. To wit:

“The new school will significantly enhance the traditional political science curriculum by introducing new internship opportunities, career counseling services and professional training in areas such as environmental policy, foreign service and public law,” Dixon said.

. . .

Milward said the schools will allow the UA “to focus its research and teaching on many of the most critical public policy problems our country faces – environmental sustainability, crime, and reforming the healthcare system.”

Government is a growth sector of the Southern Arizona economy. [That’s one way to put it – EML]

The school will provide new opportunities to UA students and create a focal point for workforce development in the public and nonprofit sectors, especially in the high-demand areas of environmental policy, foreign service, criminal justice and health and human services.

It also creates an opportunity to develop and expand interdisciplinary treatment of public law and environmental policy at the undergraduate level. No other unit on campus offers this combination of policy-oriented undergraduate courses.

Policy-oriented courses, workforce development, and professional training – you know, this major used to be called ‘government’, and it used to be primarily about education, complete with discussions of important issues facing a polity – morality, for instance. But no longer – we have an economy to save! Now students of this newly synergized school can learn about new and exciting solar plants brought to you by Rep. Giffords, without wondering why the federal government needs a Department of Energy (or, nowadays, perhaps not even knowing what federalism is). Students will have a job, but they will not know anything substantive about it. The university is no longer a bastion of higher discourse, but rather a glorified job-training center.

This is not to say that these programs shouldn’t exist, or that Eller should be burned to the ground and replaced with an exact replica of the Library of Alexandria. There will always be pre-professional degrees. But there should be something for those students who actually want to get a higher education, in every sense of that word – now, the option of politicial science (an ugly, quantified term itself) appears to have been taken away. Philosophy or classics are the last remaining havens.

NB: Currently, students earning a B.A. in economics through the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences must pay a fee of several hundred dollars to Eller, to access the resources – i.e. the professors – that the business school. Will political science majors be required to pay a similar fee?

Image courtesy of Flickr user Beth and Christian

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5 Responses

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  1. mattstyer said, on 12 May 2009 at 12:48 pm

    Evan, I wonder if this post isn’t a little bit of a kneejerk against enviro policy and administration themselves, instead of the implementation, because of your preference for the free market.

    From the UANews article:

    “Also, the new tracks support the work of other units on campus devoted to environmental policy, law and globalization. The established programs of study in political science and other areas in public policy, public administration, criminal justice and health and human services will remain focal points for the new school.”

    The latter sentence seems to say to me that much will stay the same; just more is being added. What is being added are things that can’t really escape moral relevance. Public admin, policy, environmental science, and globalization are all absolutely steeped in moral questions (and I also attended an MPA open house last week – it didn’t seem overly-quantitative). I don’t see the problem with addressing moral questions through things with practical relevance. How else will you get people to be able to bring their moral compass to bear on their lives? It is not always clear from abstract philosophy courses how you get to real world institutions. They have their place, but I’d warn against considering a purely abstract or purely classical coursework being anything like well-rounded.

    In any case, even an undergrad public admin or public policy major doesn’t seem any different to me than an economics degree. My own bias is that one of the former would actually be more well-rounded than an economics one, because economics often tries to evade moral questions altogether: I take your questions about the Department of Energy and federalism and raise you the question of whether people really know what a market (or capitalism) is.

  2. Evan Lisull said, on 12 May 2009 at 4:14 pm

    “I don’t see the problem with addressing moral questions through things with practical relevance. How else will you get people to be able to bring their moral compass to bear on their lives? It is not always clear from abstract philosophy courses how you get to real world institutions. They have their place, but I’d warn against considering a purely abstract or purely classical coursework being anything like well-rounded.”

    I like this quote, and really the whole comment. If we’re talking biases, then the environment is a subset of a broader inclination away from government as the answer – replace “Energy” with “Justice”, and we’re talking crime issues.

    Another way to put this, though, is that I don’t want the UA’s SBS or Poli Sci. program to turn into a civic training school. I have far less of an issue with the subject matter than with the measures themselves – as I wrote, “Policy-oriented courses, workforce development, and professional training.” Increasingly, the major is less about being a citizen and more about bureaucrat preparation – which, perhaps, mirrors society as a whole.

    I think there’s a useful allegory to be seen in the rise of this administration program and the fall of class like Duvall’s. Remember when we used to read Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud? No longer – there’s no time when you have to plow through IPCC’s varied reports. Classes like Duvall’s are out, and public administration is in. So it goes.

    I would understand your critique if our department was over-philosophical, if it was hard to get a class about practical matters. But a quick purview of the course catalog reveals that the vast majority of poli. sci. classes are practically based, and it’s next to impossible to find a class concerned with higher thoughts. (I’ll bet you two drinks – two! – that not a single political science class at the UA teaches Burke. I’ll even bet one on de Tocqueville.) Just as changing the major from “government” to “political science” emphasized a shift, so does this.

    Economics doesn’t deal with moral questions (although it’s hardly alone). But does the UA – or, really, the American polity – want to turn its politics into economics? That strikes me as a horrible approach to the liberal arts, one that, at risk of repetition, places the quantitative as the despot of qualitative thoughts.

  3. mattstyer said, on 12 May 2009 at 6:08 pm

    Yeah I think we agree. I sort of lost track of that part of your comment. I think the unfortunate answer to your last question – does the American polity want to turn politics into economics? – is basically “yes.” Same with turning people into bureaucrats and managers instead of citizens.

    The MPA open house was a little disturbing in that respect. They pretty frequently insisted on the need for “good public managers.” I got the point – government is as good as its administrators, and government is “in” again – but the emphasis on “managers” miffed me. How about stewards or something?

  4. Jimi Alexander said, on 12 May 2009 at 6:35 pm

    I think this is the best thing that could happen to the SPAP, considering the alternatives. I think SBS is really where the program belongs. I don’t know what all of this means for me, a political science freshman who joined the program in February and as such has yet to start any major coursework.

  5. Andre said, on 15 May 2009 at 1:32 pm

    I’ll take you up on that bet son. A lot of political geography classes bust out the classics for their reading coursework. Also, check out Russel Dalton’s Good Citizen (bases the thesis on some of de tocqueville’s memoirs of his visits to the US). It is a lot of statistics, but his findings show that there may be a new definition of citizenship among our generation and the highly educated of today (again, statistically). Social shifts in America for the past decades along with the proliferation of education has lead to what may be a very different views of citizen between you and I in relation to our role in our society and what we expect from our government. In terms of political scientists and the new school, I think professional development and policy orientation addressing contemporary politics could only benefit those who have a brain and can differentiate between the jobs in the profession that fall in line with their ideology. Honestly, doing something about this is better than leaving the system how it is. If it frees up room for the department and can attract more professors and graduate students is the ultimate question in my mind. I already took all my major coursework, but how this plan works will determine the value of my degree.


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