Education for Public Administration: Graduate Preparation in the Social Sciences at American Universities

By George A. Graham | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2 OBJECTIVES

YOU MAY BRING DOWN a bird by closing your eyes and pulling the trigger, but the procedure hardly commends itself, even to a sportsman. Seeing objectives clearly is also important for the administration and faculty of a university who would train students for public administration.


TO BE OR NOT TO BE

The most obvious question about objectives, in fact so obvious as to be frequently overlooked, is whether to attempt to train students for public administration at all. Although simple, the question is serious, for a positive answer carries responsibilities disruptive of the traditional tenor of university life. This question is particularly serious for colleges of liberal arts and science, whether standing alone or in company with other schools and colleges, for training for public administration is inevitably professional or vocational in character in the sense that it is preparation for action rather than education for understanding alone.

The goal of the liberal arts college, a high and worthy goal, is to help a young man to understand life, the world, the universe, to foster serious curiosity, and to equip the student to grow continually in knowledge and appreciation of life. But this goal implies no organized action, no particular field of endeavor. The attitude is peculiarly detached and passive. The pure scientist may contemplate the collapse of a society as readily as the smashing of an atom, for the process of disintegration is illuminating, and knowledge is its own reward.

This atmosphere has its uses, but it is not suited to training for public administration.1 The on-the-other-hand habit of mind is all right so far as it goes, but too often it goes no farther. Those who wish to prepare students for administrative careers must deal with problems that require decisions, not merely understanding, must make dogmatic assumptions about the continuance of government and the continuity of the social order, and must help students to keep the thought of

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1
This spectator attitude, of course, has a proper place in the education of the administrator, but the place is in the preprofessional stage of his education. The place of the undergraduate college in training for public administration is to be discussed in chap. 7.

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