Academic journal article Public Administration Review

The Role Demands and Dilemmas of Minority Public Administrators: The Herbert Thesis Revisited

Academic journal article Public Administration Review

The Role Demands and Dilemmas of Minority Public Administrators: The Herbert Thesis Revisited

Article excerpt

In 1974, ten years after passage of the Civil Rights Act, the Public Administration Review published a symposium entitled "Minorities in Public Administration" (Herbert, 1974a). This symposium included six essays that addressed a variety of topics ranging from the difficulties faced by African American elected officials to the forms of discrimination experienced by Hispanics at all levels of government. Adam W. Herbert (1974b), the symposium's editor and author of one of the essays, candidly states in the introduction that the tone and content of the symposium's essays reflect a degree of "cynicism," "discontent," and "guarded pragmatic optimism" (p. 519). Herbert attributes such skepticism and cautiousness to four factors: (1) the persistent racial and cultural biases that restrict minorities from acquiring prominent professional and executive level positions in governmental agencies; (2) the failure of public administration scholars and practitioners to sufficiently acknowledge the "intellectual and operational contribution of minorities to the public service;" (3) the shortage of highly visible and active minorities in administrative and elected positions to ensure that public agencies are responsive to the needs of minority communities; and (4) the lack of commitment on the part of colleges and universities to provide adequate training for minority administrators to "research problems, analyze, advocate, and implement public policies which address the needs of low-income people" (p. 519).

The pioneering efforts of the symposiums contributors has had a significant influence on how we view minority public servants and their role in governing our democratic republic. Maria Diaz deKrofcheck and Carlos Jickson's (1974) discussion of the forms of discrimination encountered by Hispanics and William Nelson and Winston Van Horne's (1974) vivid description of the trials and tribulations of African American elected officials are as relevant today as they were then. Deryl G. Hunt's (1974) appeal for the integration of the "black perspective" into public management education and practice has found a receptive audience; public and private organizations as well as institutions of higher education are now recognizing the importance of multiculturalism.(1)

Cheryl Dobbins and Dollie Walker's (1974) assertion that the education of minority public administrators requires greater institutional cooperation among African American universities, predominately white academic institutions, the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) and the National Association of Schools of Public Administration and Public Affairs has captured the attention of academic administrators and the public administration community.(2) The Conference of Minority Public Administrators (COMPA) is still, as Rose Robinson (1974) predicted in her essay, a viable "force for increasing the representativeness of ASPA and the field of public administration" (p. 556). Adam Herbert's essay has provided a useful theoretical framework for understanding the role demands and dilemmas of minority public administrators.

Although each author has increased our understanding of the challenges and experiences of minority public servants, we are especially interested in Herbert's essay, "The Minority Administrator: Problems, Prospects, and Challenges." This widely cited essay has received considerable attention from public administration scholars and practitioners Martinez, 1991; Karnig and McClain, 1988; Henderson, 1988).

Our purpose in this article is to report the results of an empirical study based on Herbert's work. Because 1994 marks the 20th anniversary of the symposium and the publication of Herbert's article, we thought it particularly fitting to reexamine this essay in light of the passage of time. We wanted to know whether Herbert's theory was still applicable given the myriad of technological, political, and social changes that have occurred in the United States over the past 20 years. …

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