In July 2014, Reggie Robinson began as the Director of the School of Public Affairs and Administration. This week marks Reggie's ninth month with the School, and we checked in and asked him to share some of his initial thoughts and impressions.
Q: What have you absorbed in the first months as School Director?
A: Three things stand out for me. First, and this would not be a surprise to anybody, is the quality and commitment of the faculty and staff. We have a terrific faculty that is remarkably committed to high-quality teaching, while at the same time publishing top-tier research in top-tier journals, and also a staff that is devoted to providing exceptional support. You can’t walk into this position and not be struck immediately by the quality of the folks that are part of your team. So, that’s the first thing that’s been really impressive to me since I’ve started.
Second, is the depth, passion and energy of the alumni network embodied in the KUCIMAT organization. When I was a KU undergraduate in the late 70s, I was aware of the public administration program, as was anyone on campus who had any kind of interest in anything related to government at all. In the intervening years, I have had so many different interactions with the University that it’s been clear to me for a long time, at an intellectual level, that KU has a great public administration program that is producing professionals who are exceptionally well-prepared people who are launching impressive careers in local government and rising to assume important leadership roles in communities all across the country.
It is one thing to appreciate the reputation of the School and the KUCIMAT organization at an intellectual level, but then quite another to experience the depth and quality of that reputation during the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) conference last September. The overall presence of the KUCIMATs and KU at this international conference was almost overpowering. What a tremendous network of people who love the School, love this program, and want to support the work we do. Most importantly, it’s a network of committed public servants who want to improve their communities. So, the passion and energy of our alumni network – that’s been a second huge impression that I’ve experienced since I’ve been here.
Third, and again this isn't something that should be shocking, I’ve been impressed with how highly-regarded this program is within the University. No matter what the discipline and no matter what the area of emphasis, people throughout the University have a deep appreciation for the quality of this program. Even if they don’t know much about the substance of what we do, they know the program is high-quality, and they value it. I am remarkably proud that our KU colleagues value and appreciate the quality of what happens in our School. So, those things are the three impressions that have struck me the most significantly.
Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge for the School?
A: The University and all of its units rely significantly on appropriated state dollars to do the work that is so important for us to do. Assuring that we are sufficiently and adequately funded through that state funding process is always a challenge. That challenge becomes even more acute when the state is facing, as is currently the case, some significant revenue challenges. Those resource issues present an important challenge for our School. Private financial support from our friends and alumni, always vitally important for us, will become more important than ever.
A second important challenge relates to honoring and embracing our past while seizing the opportunities to build an even better future. There’s no question that our MPA program has brought us an incredible reputation and great prominence. I think it’s a challenge for an organization that has achieved such brand prominence in one area to continue to honor that and nurture it while at the same time finding strategic opportunities to build upon that during revenue challenges.
To me, the challenge is exciting, and it’s important that we get it right. We don’t want to take steps that undercut the value of the core that has brought us the prominence that has meant so much for our School. We've got to build on that value, enhance that prominence, and embrace that prominence as we seize strategic opportunities that work to benefit the entirety of the School. The challenge is to make that work in a harmonious way, and I’m convinced that we have the team here to pull it off quite effectively and to make it work in ways that take the School to even higher levels of achievement.
Q: What is the School’s biggest strength?
A: In an academic unit, if the faculty is not your biggest strength, then I don’t know whether you can truly be an exceptional unit. An exceptional faculty is a threshold requirement for excellence. Our faculty is our biggest strength and are the core of the outstanding quality that we provide. That’s ultimately what it’s about – the quality of the classroom education that you are able to deliver to students and the quality of the academic research that builds new knowledge and has the capacity of improving practice in the field. And that’s what our faculty delivers.
A commitment to service is also critical. We have faculty engaged in local service, university service, national service, both governmental and through a range of academic organizations.
This faculty cares about teaching, values it highly, and works hard to advance high-quality student learning. They are also contributing to top journals in ways that add incredible knowledge to the field, and doing so in a way that's valuable for the practice. When you have a faculty that is operating so effectively across all of those dimensions, your School is bound to benefit. That's the biggest strength that the School brings to the table.
Q: How do you see the relationship between the School and the Public Management Center (PMC) evolving over the next five to ten years?
A: First, I should say I'm really thrilled that we were able to bring Laura Howard on-board as the Director of the PMC. She is ideally suited for the role, and I think folks who don't know her will come to realize that very quickly, as well. She’s smart, hard-working, and she brings to the table a great range of successful experience as a public servant, with impressive levels of leadership and management, both at the state and federal levels. Laura is already providing great leadership for the PMC, and will be a great partner for me as we think about and develop the School and PMC relationship in the years to come.
I think the PMC has been appropriately seen as the professional development arm of the School. That will continue to be true, but I also think that one of the most exciting things about Laura's arrival is that we are both interested in exploring how to broaden and deepen that role.
I expect the PMC to continue to function primarily and significantly as the professional developmental arm that provides important training to individuals working at all levels of government, with a little bit more integration, at least at a working level, between faculty members at the School and instructors at the PMC. Some of that has happened already. I think Laura's arrival gives us a chance to build on what we have done in that regard and maybe even do some more of it. I think that the School and PMC may also work jointly to convene leaders and thinkers around important issues of public management and administration. There are some exciting opportunities for us in that space.
Q: Is there anything else we should know about you?
A: I'm married and have two daughters. My older daughter, Clare, finished school at Trinity University in San Antonio and is currently involved in Teach for America. She taught for two years through Teach for America – ninth grade English in a downtown Miami, Florida high school. She has a real public service commitment, and she’s now working for Teach for America – Miami, doing fundraising and community relations work.
Her sister, Paige, is a senior at Howard University majoring in political science and administration of justice. She has a keen interest in administration of justice issues, which demonstrates her public service bent. It will be interesting to see what she does, as well, but I think they both will have some dimension of public service as a part of their careers going forward.
My wife, Jane, is a clinical professor of nursing at Washburn University, but she is also a Jayhawk. She earned her master’s degree in nursing from KU. She and my daughters have been very pleased, excited and supportive about this wonderful opportunity that has emerged for me.
KU is home for me in so many important and fundamental ways. It’s great to be back in the “nest.”