Academic journal article Public Administration Review

The Profession of Public Administration: An Ethics Edge in Introductory Textbooks?

Academic journal article Public Administration Review

The Profession of Public Administration: An Ethics Edge in Introductory Textbooks?

Article excerpt

The ethics boom ignited by Watergate has echoed throughout the corridors of government and the halls of academe for more than a generation after the Nixon presidency. Rather than dissipating through the years, the echoes seem to intensify. In the practice of public affairs, the result has been sensational revelations, numerous investigations, new laws, and chastened officials and agencies. Within the study of public administration, national ethics conferences have been convened, course offerings have been expanded, and a growing literature has been created (Bowman and Menzel 1998). Quite clearly, moral considerations are of fundamental importance to the quality of democracy and its administration--the soul of modern public administration (Frederickson 1996).

Given the considerable interest in the topic, this study examines the attention introductory public administration textbooks devote to it. These volumes define the proper area and focus of a discipline, its paradigm and essential elements (Kuhn 1970); they also likely affect how ethics is presented in the classroom (if it is).(1) Since standards of practice are inherent in professional life, such self portraits reveal the nature of the commitment made to excellence in both technical competence and moral character. Indeed, the distinguishing characteristic or edge of a professional (Berman et al. 1998) is not merely the possession of expertise, but also a dedication to ethical practice. How this commitment is fulfilled, especially in light of recent evidence demonstrating the value of ethics training and education (for example, Bruce 1998; Menzel 1997), has important implications for the profession and the public it serves.

It should be noted that no formal standards exist for the scope or content of ethics in public administration education; the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs, Policy, and Administration (1992) requires only that the curriculum "enhance the student's values, knowledge, and skills to act ethically and effectively" (3). Nevertheless, textbooks discuss the topic, and it is therefore sensible to ask what might and should be included.

The data reported here should be of interest to the entire profession: those involved in standard setting and accreditation (who could require reconsideration of this essential subject), practicing managers (who sometimes wonder about the efficacy of academic treatises, especially on ethics), book authors and their publishers (who might need to review ethics coverage in their volumes), and students and instructors (who may wish to check the adequacy of the textbook they use). The investigation begins with the identification of essential dimensions comprising public service ethics. The conceptual framework used in the research is then presented, followed by the findings from the study, and concludes with a discussion of the implications of the data.

Pillars of Ethics

As Callender (1998) observes, "The sense of public service, a strong emphasis on ethical behavior, a well-developed group identity, and well established professional bodies that support the ideals of public service all provide part of the professional identity of the public service practitioner" (1767). Clearly, those who aspire to such status need to buttress their mastery of specialized learning and managerial skills with ethical sensitivities and a commitment to public service. Given the central place of ethics in professionalism, it is important to briefly canvass its role in current public administration theory and practice.

A body of literature has developed that goes beyond values to be upheld and includes insights into ways ethics can be understood and encouraged in oneself and others. Specifically, there are four pillars of ethics: (1) value awareness; (2) reasoning skills; (3) the role of law; and (4) organizational implementation (modified from Ozar 1998; West et al. 1998).

A near-consensus exists about the values that underpin public life: responsiveness, fairness, economy, integrity, and competence. …

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