Discussion Series on the ‘Future of Democratic Governance:’ Takeaways from the First Lecture of the Series and Looking Ahead to the Next Conversation

You can watch a recording of Al Robert's lecture here.

The School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA) and Institute for Policy and Social Research (IPSR) at the University of Kansas has recently launched a discussion series focusing on the ‘Future of Democratic Governance.’  The series is designed to raise the critical issues confronting liberal democracies in the middle part of the twenty-first century. The Edwin O. Stene Distinguished Professor, Chris Koliba at SPAA described the rationale for the series this way: “Any of us who are committed to public service and democratic values are troubled by the current political condition and fragile state of liberal democracies around the globe and in the United States.  These are not ‘normal times’ - when public administration scholars and public servants would ride the wave of political turnover occurring between political parties that did not include the transgression of small-l liberal, democratic values. More spaces need to be created to surface, debate, and advocate for the principles of practice of democratic governance.”

Al Roberts, Professor and former director of the School of Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and author of many critically acclaimed books relating to public administration and global trends kicked off the discussion series in February. Robert’s talk was titled, “The Challenge to Democracy:  Is the Field of Public Administration Ready to Meet IT?”  He posed three propositions during his lecture: there are universal human rights, democracy, and academic freedom are universal human rights, and we should express and act on our commitment to universal human rights. He then laid claim that the field of public administration, as a field of scholar and practice, can and should be a conduit for the expression of these propositions.

Roberts noted how historically the field of public administration has not always done enough to champion these propositions. He asked critically if there is consensus on them and explored some of the long-standing debates in the field regarding the distinction between politics and administration. At the heart of his argument is that we cannot afford to divorce public administration from democratic standards, and cited instances where leaders in the field have made compromises, and in some cases failed to align the field of public administration scholarship and practice with the democratic values and appeals to universal human rights. 

He then cited instances throughout recent history where the field has claimed global reach and relevance, but in the process may have compromised on democratic principles and values, while not doing enough to elevate and support public administration scholars in established and nascent democracies around the world. Roberts explicitly appealed to public administration scholarly associations and peer review journals to do more to highlight the importance of the voices of those working to institute and sustain democratic values and their implications for the public sector.

He ended the talk by making appeals for more focused attention on the role of politics in the administration of public affairs, citing the tendency of the field to ask middle-level questions of management, and not focusing enough on the bigger questions of values and principles of liberal democracies. Roberts concluded his talk by taking questions about the challenges with engaging in social advocacy and the most appropriate and effective avenues for taking action. 

You can watch a recording of the lecture here.

The series continues with the Ethan Allen lecture on March 29, 2024, provided by Massachusetts Institute for Technology Professor Dr. Charles Stewart III. This particular lecture is named after longtime KU faculty member, Ethan Allen, who held many roles at KU including a chair of the Political Science department, developing the Bureau of Governmental Research at KU, and collaborating with Edwin O. Stene to established the Master of Public Administration (MPA) program

Dr. Stewart's presentation which is titled, “Miracle of Tragedy? Anticipating the Challenges of Administering the 2024 Election,” will be held in person at the KU Welcome Center in the Bruckmiller Room from 10:00-11:30 a.m. and will be livestreamed via Zoom for online participants. The description for this upcoming lecture is highlighted below:

The 2020 election has been described as both a miracle and a tragedy—a miracle, because of how the nation rallied to conduct a professional election despite the challenges of Covid-19, and a tragedy, because of the aftermath that instilled doubts among many Americans in whether the result was legitimate. What will 2024 bring? This talk will highlight how a variety of data sources and quantitative approaches can be used to document the success of 2020, how that success may manifest in 2024, and the effects of the distrust that lingers among much of the electorate.

To register for the Ethan Allen lecture on March 29th, please visit here. For questions and access needs, contact Ann Ermey at aermey@ku.edu or 785-864-7901.