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The Humphrey School of Public Affairs is the University of
Minnesota's school of policy and planning.

Advancing the common good in a diverse world: Public affairs leadership and the Humphrey School

Humphrey School Assembly, December 14, 2011

I want to thank Provost Tom Sullivan for his generous remarks, as well as the faculty, staff and students of the Humphrey School, members of the Humphrey School Advisory Council and Alumni Board, and other members of the University community.

My sense of excitement about being at the Humphrey School stems directly from the School’s mission statement: to inspire, educate and support leaders to advance the common good in a diverse world. Throughout my own career, I’ve sought opportunities to do just that – whether it was through fact-finding and reporting for Human Rights Watch early in my career, responding to humanitarian crises around the world during my stints at the White House and the State Department, addressing the imperatives of disaster prevention as the UN Deputy Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, or training aspiring public servants at Princeton University.

Some might say that this succession of positions simply means I cannot keep a job, and there may be something to that.

But I also hope my path reflects a deep commitment to the principles that animate this institution and provides an indication of why I’m so happy to be here.

My interest in the Humphrey School was also stoked by stories from my sister, a graduate of Minneapolis College of Art and Design, about the graciousness of Minnesotans. My admiration for scholars, activists and public officials I’ve known from Minnesota also heightened my excitement about coming here, as did my 2009 visit to the Twin Cities when I was Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration. That visit gave me a powerful sense of the increasing diversity of communities in this part of the country, as well as emerging policy challenges and opportunities.

So it was with great enthusiasm that I packed up my Honda in October and headed this way. And, while the state trooper who clocked me on the Ohio Turnpike at a speed I will not divulge didn’t seem to regard my excitement as adequate justification for my haste, I was nonetheless delighted to be making the trip.

I approach this address with humility, as the Humphrey School is a strong institution that was led with distinction, dedication and vision by my friend and former colleague, Brian Atwood. And during the interim period following Brian’s departure, the School benefited so greatly by the caring, committed and highly effective leadership of Greg Lindsey.

Humility also seems appropriate for someone who has been on the job for nine weeks.

But I’ve tried to make good use of these weeks.

I’ve met with every member of our faculty, individually, and I’ve listened carefully as they’ve offered me their perspectives. I’ve met separately with key groupings within our faculty, professional, administrative and civil service staff and students, including our Curriculum Committee, chairs of our policy areas, directors of our research centers and members of our Diversity Committee.

I’ve visited with students – in informal plenary session, as well as in smaller groups that included the Humphrey Students of Color Association and the Public Affairs Student Association.

It’s been a delight for me to meet with our Advisory Council and our Alumni Board, as well as public figures who’ve had a connection to this institution.

And I’ve studied the historical and contemporary documentation surrounding the Humphrey, relating to its mission, its programs, its structure and its finances.

So while I arrive at this event with much more to learn, I’m ready to offer some ideas on the way ahead, informed by the wisdom of Humphrey faculty, staff, alumni and supporters.

The starting point is our mission, and the elements that make the Humphrey School of Public Affairs so important at this moment in history.

As I mentioned, that mission is to inspire, educate and support leaders to advance the common good in a diverse world. We are the place at the University of Minnesota with responsibility to prepare future professionals to tackle the challenge of governance, in the broadest sense, at the local, state, regional, national and international level. And we are the institution that serves as a public affairs portal between the University and the broader community, disseminating our research and applying our public affairs expertise to the most vexing policy challenges.

This expertise is more critical now than perhaps at any point in the last half-century. All evidence indicates that highly effective public institutions will be critical to social and economic advancement in years and decades to come, as governance becomes more complicated and demanding. Americans may have legitimately differing perspectives on the best role for government. But there should be no disagreement with the fundamental proposition that vibrant democracies require highly effective and accountable public institutions, with personnel to manage complex issues, and with political processes that prize dialogue, civility and a reasoned effort to transcend political differences. Without those elements, we will fail to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and our failure will have profound implications for our children and for future generations.

At a time when these perspectives are under political stress, it is our obligation to vindicate the principle that public institutions and public dialogue matter.

And we are uniquely credentialed to do so.

It is our legacy.

When, for example, Hubert Humphrey pressed for a statement at the 1948 Democratic National Convention affirming civil rights; and when he pressed later for passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and when that law took effect, it was powerful evidence of the importance of public institutions in promoting equality of opportunity throughout our land. When he worked closely with Republican Everett Dirksen to enact that landmark legislation, he demonstrated the value of bipartisanship, dialogue and compromise.

The Humphrey School is well positioned to vindicate these fundamental principles, as the quality and culture of our scholarship and service reflect the proudest traditions of American public life. Our culture is characterized by a commitment to ensuring that the principles of democratic governance inform our scholarship and service, with an emphasis on political dialogue, collaborative decision-making and the role of public institutions in promoting opportunity, and an international perspective informed by the principles of human security – in short, a dedication to democratic leadership for the common good, at home and aboard.

The quality and the culture of our institution provide us with an opportunity – and an obligation – to play a national leadership role in defining, sustaining and strengthening public affairs education and the public service mission. And we should be playing as active and influential a role as any public affairs institution in the country.

Under the careful stewardship of Dean Atwood, the Humphrey School’s progress in scholarship, teaching and service has positioned us well for this challenge.

Over the past six years, the School has experienced unprecedented success in research productivity, accompanied by the addition to our faculty of some of the country’s most dynamic young scholars. They have joined veteran faculty members of great accomplishment, and the quality of our collective scholarship is matched by the breadth of the subject areas of specialization, including transportation and land use planning; science, technology, and environment policy; leadership; social and economic issues impacting the most vulnerable communities; politics at the local, state and national levels; foreign policy and national security; and international relations and development.

The Humphrey School is also deeply engaged in the dissemination of knowledge and expertise in service of the broader community, whether it is working in our own Cedar Riverside neighborhood; providing assistance to municipalities, the State of Minnesota and the federal government; testifying before the Minnesota State Legislature and the U.S. Congress; training lawmakers on legislative and budget procedures; or providing expertise to key international institutions. This engagement complements our efforts to serve as a forum for policy dialogue, reflected most recently by the visit to the Humphrey School by Google Chairman Eric Schmidt

The fundamentals for continued excellence are in place, and we have the opportunity to accelerate the trajectory of our growth and development, in terms of the practitioners, scholars and scholarship we produce; our engagement in policy and our role as a forum for civil debate; and our national influence, reputation and profile.  From Wilmer to Washington, from Duluth to Dhaka, and from Montevideo to, well, Montevideo, leaders in education and in public life should look to us a source of enlightened public service expertise – and these are all goals to which we can reasonably aspire.

At the same time, we confront – and ignore at our peril – several significant challenges that reflect long-standing areas of fragility and highlight the need to build resiliency as we enter economic times that may be as challenging as any we have experienced in recent memory.

The opportunities and the challenges ahead of us underscore the critical importance of and measurable progress on three sets of objectives which relate, first, to augmenting our revenues and endowments and ensuring financial stability, second, to bolstering our connection to and engagement in the public policy debate; and third, to enhancing our academic program so that we better equip our students here and throughout the University to meet the challenges of public service. And we must pursue all three sets of objectives in the context of concrete measures to enhance diversity.

 First, we must indeed augment our revenues and endowments, as part of a broader effort to ensure financial strength and stability.

This means vigorous and focused Humphrey-wide development efforts that provide us far greater resources to invest in our students, through more scholarship support and career services, and our faculty, to support their research – and to retain them when other institutions express interest in hiring them away from us.

Funds for scholarships and faculty support will be among my highest priorities. In fact, through the identification of unexpended balances in our endowment accounts, we will next year make available at least an additional $100,000 in scholarship support for incoming students. I am also prepared to commit resources for an alumni directory, a critical resource for students seeking professional opportunities.

In terms of faculty support, many of you will recall that, in August, Greg Lindsey announced about a quarter million dollars in measures to assist faculty in research and teaching. We will review the evolving impact of these measures, and look for other opportunities to enhance the quality of professional life for our faculty.

But these are modest efforts, upon which we must build through more concerted fund-raising.

We are fortunate that there is enormous enthusiasm about the Humphrey School among our alumni and other supporters, and we will seek to enlist them in disciplined and energetic efforts to strengthen our annual giving, to encourage support among major donors, to develop a planned giving campaign, and to engage systematically philanthropic organizations that care deeply about public service.

With these goals in mind, I am delighted to announce that Steve Lewis of our Advisory Council has agreed to serve as an advisor as we gear up these important efforts. In particular, Steve will prepare an assessment early next year on the kind of management and program enhancements we need to achieve substantial development progress. I look forward to working with Steve, who, as President of Carleton College between 1987 and 2002, made enormous progress in building support for that institution.

Our current financial situation puts the imperative of promoting this kind of development effort into sharp focus.

As I begin my tenure, we are confronted with a deficit in our recurring budget, based largely on tuition revenues this year that were lower than projections made in the spring and summer of 2011. Over time, our challenge is to diversify and expand our sources of support, as well as promote best management practices and encourage equitable cost and revenue-sharing between the Humphrey School and the University. Such measures will strengthen our School and make it more attractive to students, and thereby enhance our capacity to manage enrollment and plan for our future.

In the near term, I am committed to managing this shortfall effectively, and balancing our budget transparently through deferral of non-essential initiatives and administrative efficiencies, but without substantial reliance on limited reserves – which we must safeguard for strategic investment critical for longer-term growth. We have also taken measures in the recruitment process to ensure that aspiring public affairs students are aware of the great benefits of a Humphrey education. And I look forward to discussing our budget situation in our engagement with central University colleagues during consideration of the 2013 budget.

As we seek to promote increased revenues and greater financial stability, we will pursue a second major goal – strengthening our efforts to connect the Humphrey School to the world of policymaking and to the range of audiences that need to know about our work.

We already actively promote this goal through an array of activities: when we bring policymakers to the School to engage our students, scholars, community members and local media on key issues; when we ensure that the work of our scholars is a prominent part of the political debate; when we serve as a convener for dialogue among citizens, politicians and public officials; and, when we enhance the capacity of communities, as well as local, state and national officials to address critical issues.

We will look systematically for opportunities to strengthen further the connections between policymakers and the Humphrey School. With this in mind, I am pleased to announce that, with an initial contribution from the Provost of $50,000, we are initiating a Dean’s Practitioner in Residence program. We will sponsor short visits to the Humphrey School by public figures engaged in key issues, inviting them to address the Humphrey community, the broader public and the media, involving them in our classes, and giving students the chance to meet with them to discuss policy and career questions. Our first practitioner in residence, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Reuben Brigety, visited the Humphrey School on November 17. Thomas M. Pickering, who is perhaps our country’s most distinguished former diplomat, has agreed to visit our School this spring.

We will also make more systematic efforts to broadcast the works of scholarship produced at the Humphrey School, in the popular media, among public officials and public affairs institutions, and in other key constituencies, and we will improve the timeliness, attractiveness and relevance to students and the general public of the Humphrey School’s website.

We will continue to pursue design planning for the renovation of the Humphrey Forum and our atrium area, the goal of which is to honor the Humphrey legacy of reasoned debate and discussion by transforming the School’s capacity to serve as a vital source of dialogue among citizens, scholars, politicians and public officials. Before moving forward, we will ensure that we have the capacity to raise necessary funding, but I am encouraged by declining cost estimates as work on the design has progressed.

Our Strategic Directions report emphasizes the importance of internationalization of our activities, which is critical to broader policy engagement with external audiences, and I intend to build on the important progress in this area led by Dean Atwood. With our new Master of Development Practice program, with appointment of new faculty members focused on international issues, and – before too long – with Dean Atwood’s return, we are poised to further strengthen our global scholarship and outreach.

Let me also say that it is fitting that so much of the focus of our international scholarship and service is on vulnerable communities, as that reflects so much of the spirit that animated the professional life of Hubert Humphrey. Moreover, in light of the daunting challenges faced by women in developing countries, this focus provides useful context as we consider the direction of our work relating to gender and public policy.

I am also particularly committed to developing stronger connections between our School and governments and academic institutions overseas, so that we can build on ongoing efforts to establish programs that bring foreign students to the Twin Cities and increase the breadth of our perspectives at the Humphrey School.

We will also continue to consider how our overall organization can best enhance our capacity to produce research that engages the world of policy. Our Area structure – global policy, leadership and management, politics and governance, regional planning and policy, science, technology and the environment, and social policy – is designed to integrate the outreach efforts of our research centers and effectively communicate our broad priorities.   As the focus of our scholarship and issues of our concern evolve, this structure merits periodic review, with attention to the relationship between our policy areas, our research centers and our degree programs.

In light of this objective, I’m pleased to announce that Professor Paul Teske, Distinguished Professor of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado and Dean of the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado at Denver, has agreed to review our area and center structure, guided by our current priorities and aspirations for scholarship, service and engagement, as well as training and assistance to our students. As a scholar and administrator of great accomplishment on issues of concern to the Humphrey School, Paul and his work will stimulate a valuable and focused discussion on enhancements we might make.

There are a third set of goals that are critical to our future success: we must strengthen our academic program to better equip students at the Humphrey School and throughout the University to meet the challenges of public service.

We will work closely with the faculty to ensure adequate course offerings and content relating to the practice of public affairs – involving skills our students will require and scenarios they will experience as policy professionals. In this respect, faculty members and students have expressed interest in a Washington, DC academic and internship program, which we will explore.   Faculty members have also told me they strongly support the development of additional coursework in ethics in public affairs, and as a practitioner who wrestled with ethics questions day-in and day-out while in government, I have great sympathy for that perspective.   Finally, faculty members have questioned me about the status of subject matter concentrations within our degree offerings. Some faculty have urged the addition of new concentrations, while others have expressed concern about the absence of a strategy for their overall role in the curriculum, and this is an area that merits review.

I am also eager to ensure our curriculum serves communities beyond the Humphrey School. We must do better in making the thousands of graduate students at the University aware of our course offerings and our programs. And we must seize opportunities to address unmet demand for public policy, planning, and public affairs education by undergraduate students. Beyond the University, we must continue to strengthen our engagement with the local community – for example, through capstone projects that address social and economic issues.

This is an ambitious list, but one to which we must attend. Thus, I am asking our Curriculum Committee to examine each of these issues, and to provide a preliminary analysis and recommended plan of action by March 15.

I have had extensive discussion with faculty members about a proposed Ph.D. program, described in both the 2011 compact and strategic directions report as a key priority for the School. The design and financing of the program is now under active consideration prior to a vote of our faculty, and, with an initial commitment of recurring financial support from the University in 2013, I hope we will be in a position to move forward.

If we believe so passionately in the public service mission, and we see ourselves as a leader nationally in public service education, that leadership requires a full investment in scholarship reflected by a Ph.D. program. Moreover, whether our Ph.D. students enter the academy or public service, the program of training they receive will provide them with tools of exceptional and unusual value.

Let me now comment on the context in which each of these objectives must be achieved and, in particular, the importance of realizing our commitments to diversity.

We are proud that the Humphrey School received the inaugural Diversity Award of the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Public Administration, but we all know there is much more we must do. As President Kaler said in remarks last month, the issue is of special relevance to Minnesota. Within the next 25 years, some 25% of Minnesotans will be people of color, but Minnesota now has a disturbingly wide achievement gaps between K–12 students of color and white students. While we at Humphrey School cannot solve Minnesota’s challenge on our own, we can certainly impact our own community.

To that end, we will create a strategic and action plan for diversity at the Humphrey School. In a partnership between the Humphrey School’s Diversity Committee and its One Humphrey One Community working group, key alumni, faculty advisors, and others at the School, this strategic planning process will begin in February 2012 and conclude by the end of the semester. We will provide the Committee at least $5000 from the Dean’s Strategic Initiative Fund to support research assistants working to develop a variety of materials in support of this effort.

I have also asked a group of seven distinguished friends of the Humphrey School, most of whom are graduates of our program, to serve as an advisory group to this Committee, and to receive, review and assess its recommendations. Members include Paul Williams, the Deputy Mayor of St. Paul, Jonathan Sage-Martinson, Executive Director of the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative, Rosa Tock, State Personnel Development Grant Planner in the Department of Education, MayKao Hang, President and CEO of the Wilder Foundation, Kate Rubin, Vice President, Social Responsibility, United Health Group and President of the United Health Care Foundation, Kiyoshi Nagasaka, CEO, Washington CORE, and Trista Harris, Executive Director of the Headwaters Foundation for Justice.

I have described ambitious objectives in challenging times. But if I may borrow from a recent Humphrey School report, and, I quote, “institutions do not become great by tackling small challenges.”   The report goes on to say that Hubert Humphrey earned the nickname the Happy Warrior because of his fierce optimism in pursuit of seemingly insurmountable challenges. And while these objectives are formidable, they are not insurmountable.

To be sure, the progress we seek may require adjustments in our structure and operations, and I intend very shortly to undertake a review of this area. But the key to success will not be internal structure; it will be dedication to the mission and task, and strategic and tactical perseverance. Many of the enhancements I’ve suggested hardly require elaborate strategic planning efforts. Rather, they require we invest energy, imagination and creativity – investments to which I know we are all deeply committed.

We are a truly comprehensive school of public affairs, with expertise in scholarship and teaching across a broad array of areas.

But we are more than that.

In 2009, members of our community were surveyed and asked about strengths of the Humphrey School. A consistent theme across all groups was that the School – had a soul.

I suppose you might say we are “wonks with soul.”

But in seriousness, our community’s reference to soul was, I believe, short-hand for a proposition I advanced at the outset of this presentation: That Humphrey School scholarship and service – the Humphrey School culture – reflect the proudest traditions of American public life, and are characterized by a commitment to ensuring that the principles of democratic governance inform our scholarship and service.

As I also mentioned, the quality and the culture of our School provide us with a critical opportunity both to strengthen our institution and to play a national leadership role in defining, sustaining and enhancing public affairs education and the public service mission.

I can think of no more noble a challenge than to develop our capacity to achieve these critical objectives in months, the years and the decades to come.

Thank you.