A flurry of recent national news stories underlines the importance of public service education. Whether the subject is Ebola preparedness, IRS confiscation practices, or White House security, these stories point to the importance of sound policies, rational procedures, and program assessment in government. When they are lacking, the public is not well served. Yet here in Maine, public service education is being systematically dismantled in the state. There is only one graduate public policy/public administration program left —at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service— and that is on the U Maine System chopping block. Where will non-profit and public service professionals learn the public leadership expertise, values, and skills they need to administer programs, non-profits, and agencies in an increasingly complicated and underfunded world?
They can hope for mentoring from bosses and colleagues. They can contact professional associations or consultants like me for help. They can get a degree from out of state. But Maine nonprofits and local governments can no longer send their best and brightest to learn public administration and policy analysis at a public university in the state of Maine. Nor will they be able to hire employees trained within our state and familiar with laws, policies, and regulations here.
The Public Policy and Management program (PPM) will be discontinued and replaced by an interdisciplinary program in the environment/sustainability. However laudable the field of environmental studies, it is not the same as “Public Financial Management” or “Measuring Performance in the Public and Nonprofit Sectors”—to randomly pull two course titles out of the Muskie School catalog.
Public service is not trendy nor highly respected in a post-Tea Party world. But our state is a better place because of many highly skilled and conscientious people who graduated from the Muskie School with a passion for public service. This short sighted decision will harm Maine for a very long time.