Paradigm Lost: Public Administration at Johns Hopkins University, 1884-96

By Hoffman, M. Curtis | Public Administration Review, January-February 2002 | Go to article overview

Paradigm Lost: Public Administration at Johns Hopkins University, 1884-96


Hoffman, M. Curtis, Public Administration Review


How broad should the curriculums of public administration programs be? Is there a place for normative values and public philosophy? Certainly, the era of ascendancy for narrowly focused management curriculums seems to have ended. The National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA 1997) mandates that accredited MPA programs include components on political, legal, economic, and social institutions and processes. NASPAA further requires that programs enhance students' abilities to act ethically. Current introductory textbooks often include substantial material on ethics, law, political philosophy, or history (McKinney and Howard 1998; Shafritz and Russell 2000; Starling 1998; Rosenbloom 1998; Stillman 1996). In addition to this broad scope, many scholars are at least implying that a public administration curriculum should provide a normative grounding in some form of public-service philosophy (Frederickson 1997; King and Stivers 1998; Wamsley and Wolf 1996; Denhardt and Denhardt 2000). Through such content, students might come to appreciate the field in spite of their predisposition for being skeptical of government's potential, scared of bureaucratic power, and cynical about public-service motivations.

This expansion of scope and purpose may be a new stage in the discipline's academic evolution. However, it may also represent a return to the discipline's roots. Evidence for this is found in the very first curriculum specifically aimed at educating American public servants. (1) At Johns Hopkins University, from 1884 to 1896, Herbert Baxter Adams, James Bryce, Richard Ely, Albert Shaw, and Woodrow Wilson, offered a curriculum aimed at building a justification for--and confidence in--American public administration. They taught a broad foundation that included politics, economics, history, law, and ethics.

This approach influenced a generation of public servants who, in turn, contributed immeasurably to the Progressive era changes in American government. Although it was a powerful intellectual force, the Johns Hopkins curriculum failed to become the discipline's exemplar, and soon it was eclipsed by an approach more focused on management, personnel, budgeting, and organization structure. For better or for worse, the current turn toward greater breadth and normative content restores the public administration curriculum to the scope first defined by these early public administration educators.

This article is an intellectual excavation of the foundation of public administration education as laid down by these five Johns Hopkins University instructors. Each of them inculcated in their students particular ideas about the form and function of local public administration. With an ambition to create a national civil service academy, Adams guided the development of the curriculum's public administration focus. Through his observations and criticisms of the American polity, Bryce inspired the tone of reform that pervaded Johns Hopkins. Building on his German education, Ely taught a political economy that legitimized the use of governmental power to check the power of private interests. He also advocated a Christian ethic that gave a purpose and direction to the public-service vocation. As a well-traveled witness to many foreign public works projects, Shaw imparted a European enthusiasm for the use of municipal powers to improve the urban condition. For his part, Wilson provided the legal and philosophical underpinnings for expanding public power. Because each of these men contributed a unique component to the overall curriculum, it is worth examining the ideas and values that each professed while teaching at Johns Hopkins.

At the time, Johns Hopkins University was a unique institution in America. Other American universities were providing classical education to highbred undergraduates. From its founding in 1876, Johns Hopkins's mission was to provide graduate education to a public-spirited middle class. …

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