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Mission Failure

How to ignite new ways that realize the mission of educating public servants

Public policy schools were founded with the aim to educate public servants with academic insights that could be applied to government administration. And while these programs have adapted the tools and vocabularies of the Reagan Revolution, such as the use of privatization and the rhetoric of competition, they have not come to terms with his philosophical legacy that describes our contemporary political culture. To do so, public policy schools need to acknowledge that the public perceives the government as the problem, not the solution, to society’s ills. Today, these programs need to ask how decision-makers should improve the design of their organizations, their decision-making processes, and their curriculum in order to address the public’s skeptical mindset. 

I recently attended a public policy school, Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), hoping to learn how to bridge the distrust between public servants and citizens, and to help forge bonds between bureaucracies and voters who feel ignored by their government officials. Instead of building bridges across these divides, the curriculum of my policy program reinforced them—training students to navigate bureaucratic silos in our democracy. Of course, public policy students go to work in the government we have, not the government we wish we had—but that’s the point. These schools should lead the national conversation and equip their graduates to think and act beyond the divides between the governing and the governed.

Most U.S. public policy programs require a core set of courses, including macroeconomics, microeconomics, statistics and organizational management. SIPA has broader requirements, including a financial management course, a client consulting workshop and an internship. Both sets of core curricula undervalue the intrapersonal and interpersonal elements of leadership, particularly politics, which I define as persuasion, particularly within groups and institutions.

Please select this link to read the complete article from The Stanford Social Innovation Review.

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