Judicial Administration at the University of South Carolina

By Douglas, James W. | Justice System Journal, May 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

Judicial Administration at the University of South Carolina


Douglas, James W., Justice System Journal


Where would a student interested in pursuing a career in judicial administration go to acquire appropriate organizational skills and managerial training? Where would a future scholar interested in studying the courts go to gain a basic understanding of how the judicial branch administers its operations? On the surface these questions appear to have easy answers. Are there not masters of public administration (MPA) programs throughout the country that provide future public servants with the tools and skills necessary to administer public programs and organizations? Don't doctoral programs in political science allow students to specialize in the study of public law? One would imagine programs such as these would include components examining the uniqueness of judicial administration. Unfortunately, this would be an incorrect assumption.

An examination of the MPA programs accredited by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) or of the curriculums of doctoral programs in public law will reveal a dearth of courses dealing with court administration. This is of no great surprise to scholars of judicial administration, for serious devotion of resources to the administration of the third branch has only just begun in recent decades, and in many cases is far from adequate (see Hays and Graham, 1993; Tobin, 1999). If, as Woodrow Wilson (1908) argued, the judiciary is the linchpin of our democracy, and, as Russell Wheeler (1988) suggests, effective administration is necessary to secure judicial independence, then ensuring that both practitioners and scholars of the courts be exposed to sufficient training in judicial administration must be an important goal of graduate programs. It is with these considerations in mind that the faculty in the Department of Political Science at the University of South Carolina decided to develop and offer a course in judicial administration.

REASON FOR THE COURSE: SATISFYING UNMET NEEDS

Before spring 2004, judicial administration was not taught in the Department of Political Science at the University of South Carolina. However, both the department's MPA and PhD programs provided a constituency for such a course. The general population of MPA students on several occasions had requested that a more diverse range of electives be offered in the MPA program. Students complained that they sometimes had to go outside of the department to take courses they felt were relevant to their particular career paths. A course in judicial administration would expose them to public administration issues that exist outside of the traditional curriculum's focus on executive branch agencies and executive-legislative relationships.

A judicial administration course was of particular interest to an important subset of MPA students. In conjunction with the university's law school, the department offers a joint MPA/JD degree. This enables students to acquire both a law degree and an MPA within a four-year time period, rather than the five years it would take to complete both degrees separately. The students participating in this program constitute a unique, albeit relatively small, component of the MPA program-about 5 percent of the MPA student body. The vast majority of these students plan to enter careers working either within or with the judicial branch of government. Therefore, obtaining a knowledge of important administrative issues relevant to the third branch is vital for their educational development. Before the establishment of the judicial administration course, the only exposure to the courts they received in their studies was discussion of how court rulings and actions affected the operations of executive agencies. The ways in which the judiciary differs as an administrative entity, an understanding of which was important for their careers, was rarely examined.

Doctoral students make up the final group interested in studying court administration.

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