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Practical Discussions About Public Management

Monday, Mar. 19, 2012

While elected officials garner most of the headlines – good and bad—there is another important “player” in government: the public manager.

I was reminded of this last week when I had the privilege of addressing a group of graduate students at UCLA’s School of Public Affairs. The class included a few mid-career students as well as those who came to the program directly from their undergraduate institution.

Engaging with the students was the brainchild of their professor, Michael Dukakis, who is a visiting professor of political science. His class, “Bureaucracy and Public Management” is designed to look at leadership, especially “public management in the tough, day-to-day world of politics and intensive public scrutiny.”

Dukakis, a three-term governor of Massachusetts, began his public service as an elected town meeting member, then served in the state legislature before running for governor. He also was on the faculty of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard (KSG), which is where I met him. Serving as the 1988 Democratic nominee for president required him to leave KSG, but he still uses many of their case studies in his classes.

His syllabus includes “Politician as Outsider: Judy Nadler and the Santa Clara City Council ( This case describes an ethical dilemma I faced early in my city council career, and provides facts and circumstances that impact the city council, city manager, staff, the media, and the public. The discussion was rich, and it was exciting for me to see this group of bright students debate and hypothesize about the case.

A record number of public managers are retiring, and this and other classes like it serve as important gateways to public service. The experience is made all the better when someone like Michael Dukakis shares his wisdom, and invites, as he put it, “the woman behind the case” to join his class for this session.



Tags: Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Massachusetts, Michael Dukakis

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