A Big Turn to Government on a Small Scale

The Kennedy School's Taubman Center

When Richmond, Virginia City Manager Robert Bogg came to the Kennedy School of Government for an executive training program in state and local government in 1980, he was a little disappointed in the program's emphasis.

"I felt that there were some good case studies of local government, but most of the focus was on state and federal issues," Bogg says. "I felt there should have been more of a focus on local concerns."

Until recently that sentiment was common among K-School students who wanted to work in state or local governments, according to several professors and former students. Since its inception more than 50 years ago, the Kennedy School has consistently emphasized national and international issues.

Although the K-School still boasts many of the big-name scholars in international relations, the focus of the school's programs has shifted to include the less-glamorous fields of state and local government policy. With the announcement of a $15 million grant for the creation of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government, that shift has been firmly cemented into the Kennedy School's curriculum.

When the Graduate School of Public Administration was renamed in honor of President John F. Kennedy '40 more than 25 years ago, its mission was defined as producing a new cadre of elite, well-trained public servants. For most of the past two decades that mandate had been translated at the Kennedy School to an emphasis on training federal civil servants.

But by 1979, the school started to look into state and local issues, and then-defeated Massachusetts Governor Michael S. Dukakis was called in to head the fledgling program. Professors say that the program was a step in the direction of making state and local issues an integral part of the school's curriculum, but that they remained less important than national policy questions.

Today, however, the Kennedy School's focus and its faculty--have changed. A number of K-School officials say that many of the best students are becoming interested in state and local government because there is more creativity in those areas. And many more faculty members are doing research into state and local policy questions.

"For a number of years, the Kennedy School has been doing more work in the area of state and local government," K-School Press Director Steven Singer says. "There's a feeling among students and the faculty that most of the creativity in government comes at this level."

To provide for the increase in student and faculty interest, philanthropist A. Alfred Taubman last month donated $15 million for the creation of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government, which will serve as the focus for the school's state and local programs.

Professor of Urban Planning and Design Alan A. Altshuler was lured from his post as Dean of New York University's Graduate School of Public Administration to lead the new Taubman Center. The new director says that the center's creation indicates that the Kennedy School is committed to making the study of state and local government a full-fledged part of the school's overall program.

And his colleagues say that Altshuler--who is regarded by many as one of the top political scientists specializing in local areas--is a symbol of that commitment.

"It's a real coup for us and a great fit for the center," said Professor Jose A. Gomez-Ibanez '70, who chaired the search committee which brought Altshuler to Harvard. "We looked at an enormous number of people, but we didn't extend an offer to anyone but Professor Altshuler. It was one of those searches in which you comb the world."

Altshuler has published widely, focusing his work on urban planning and transportation issues, but also touching on industrial policy. In addition, he has experience in the public sector, Altshuler served as Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation from 1971 to 1975.

Colleagues say Altshuler's experience as a state official and as the chairman of MIT's Political Science Department will help the new center as it irons out organizational details.

"He's an articulate spokesperson for the mission of public service," said Dennis Smith, the NYU associate dean who helped bring Altshuler to New York. "We were seeking a dean at a time when bashing public servants was a popular sport."

In recent years, public service has become more and more popular, K-School officials say, and much of that interest has been directed towards the state and local levels. Twenty-three percent of Kennedy School graduates surveyed between 1981 and 1984 took their first job in state or local government.

Many associated with the school attribute those numbers to the Reagan Administration's policy of reducing federal involvement in local affairs.

"Basically Washington shut down," says New York City Deputy Commissioner of Income Maintenance E. Allen Kraus, who received a Master's in City and Regional Planning from the K-School in 1978. "Reagan came in and a lot of things changed. The job market shifted a lot and the fiscal condition of cities like New York and Boston improved. The K-School has to follow the market."

Kraus, who says he tries to hire Kennedy School graduates because they are well qualified for public service jobs, lauds the increased interest in local public service among K-School alumni.

"It used to be so hard to come to Cambridge to recruit people from Harvard to work for the Department of Sanitation," Kraus says. "Morgan Stanley would be in one office and the New York City Department of Sanitation would be in the other. It was a hard sell."

Teaching and Training

The Kennedy School runs a number of programs for state and local public servants, including executive training seminars for newly-elected mayors and senior agency officials. Graduates of those programs say that they provide students with sufficient training to handle the tasks facing state and local government.

"You need quick problem-solving ability and you have to be what I call, `witty with numbers,'" Kraus says. "The basic skills that the Kennedy school teaches--statistics, applied economics and policy analysis--are very helpful."

Amy Singer, a 1986 graduate of the school's mid-career Master's in Public Administration program and the acting assistant secretary of the Massachusetts Criminal Justice department, says that the K-School helped her prepare for work in state government, even though her courses didn't focus directly on state issues.

"Budgeting and dealing with the press are things that all government officials should know how to do, whether they be on the local, state or federal level," says Singer. "The classes were very practical. I don't think I was well-equipped to deal with budgeting or with the legislature in Massachusetts or the press before I went to the Kennedy School. It gave me more confidence."

Other graduates cite the ties to the school and the contacts they made while at Harvard as the most important part of their education.

"The benefits extended far beyond my time at the Kennedy School," Bogg says. "It's given me an opportunity to interact with experts around the country to ask for advice. The contacts were very important."

Research

But officials say that research, rather than teaching, will be the greatest area of impact at the Taubman Center. Several existing research programs will be incorporated into the new center, including the Ford Foundation Innovations program, which gives grants for outstanding state and local programs, and the Joint Center for Housing Studies.

Altshuler says that the Taubman Center will be involved in two types of research--structural research on the organization and management of states and local governments and substantive research on the problems those governments face every day. He added that real world practitioners will be included in the substantive research.

Graduates say they agree that current government officials should be integrated into the center's research to get feedback on problem-solving strategies for state and local policy issues.

"Some of the focus should be on specific urban problems," says Bogg, citing Black-on-Black crime as one of two major issues facing many urban communities. "The other issue is growth--how growth in surrounding areas detracts from growth within urban centers."

Gomez-Ibanez says the center's additional resources will allow him to continue his research on growth management in central cities and suburbs, noting that almost all the planning in Boston suburbs is under local supervision. Because this planning creates tension between neighboring areas, he says he is trying to find a strategy that "promotes orderly development."

Social Programs

But while Bogg acknowledges the need to study growth management, he says he hopes that the center will examine social and health issues important to cities.

"It's also very important that we learn how to deal with the ever-changing health and social issues like AIDS, teen pregnancy and literacy--as opposed to police protection and infrastructure," Bogg says. "Those are important issues, but I am finding that we are getting more and more immersed in social concerns."

Bogg, who was a city manager in the Midwest and California before assuming the Richmond position, says that these social problems are the ones with which he has been confronted in all of the cities where he has worked.

"There really is a common thread among the problems that we face in urban areas," Bogg says. "I'm elated to find the funds are there for this kind of research."