Guess what, public administrators… there’s a knock at our door. That sound? Why yes, that is opportunity. Perhaps relevance, legitimacy and validation knocking too. Of course, we all understand our value as fiduciaries of public interest. However; we also understand our own professional achilles of the public recognizing our craft and value.
As a lifelong student of public administration and steadfast proponent of applied learning, I have been heartened to see daily examples of our craft in practice throughout the occurring pandemic. Examples of federalism have permeated the daily media. Recent examples include: the banding together of state governors to create regional blocks to combat federal directives; question of authority between local and state geographic and political boundaries; and most recently from a geopolitical standpoint, President Trump’s decision to withhold U.S. funding for the World Health Organization. The scholarly readings and applied theories prevalent in our classrooms of public administration have now become dinner table conversation. This is a great moment for our profession, even if it comes at a time of great loss and uncertainty.
The term black swan is often used in our school, looking at the proverbial silver linings that emerge from times of adversity. Holes in our pandemic, crises and mutual aid plans at all levels of government have been exposed. But with this exposure, the need to remedy the plans for future pandemics has come to light. We have lost lives around the world, and there is no consolation for this loss, but we have also witnessed the strength and convictions of our medical professionals and first responders. As a nation, we have gained a new appreciation for not only material objects of perceived need, but of emotional connectedness. We have found ways to strengthen bonds through walls in our own homes and neighborhoods in the name of public health and safety, and these lessons learned will reshape personal and professional orbits.
Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been quoted in saying that one should “never let a serious crisis go to waste.” COVID-19 will not be a memory to miss, but if we do not see the black swan of coronavirus as public administrators, we are missing a great opportunity to further our work and call to public service. Stay strong, Trojans.
Dr. Matthew Wheeler joined the Sol Price School of Public Policy faculty at the University of Southern California (USC) in 2012. As a part-time member of the faculty, Dr. Wheeler instructs graduate level courses in all three modalities; the USC main campus in Los Angeles, the USC State Capital Center in Sacramento and online. Read more.