December 2016 | Does Public Administration Want Diversity…Really? By Leisha DeHart Davis

Kevin, · Categories: monthly_posts

Earlier this year, Dr. Marybeth Gasman of University of Pennsylvania wrote a Hechinger Report op-ed piece, where she argued that elite universities do not have diverse faculties because they do not want them. Her op-ed cited a litany of excuses used by the Ivies to exclude faculty of color, including low-quality scholarship and the absence of a pipeline. Her counterargument was that pipelines can be created and scholars from minority-serving institutions can be recruited and mentored. What’s lacking is the desire to do so. In response to her op-ed (which was picked up by the Washington Post), she received 6000 emails ranging from gratitude for her candor to overtly racist sentiments.

Gasman’s op-ed raises the same question for the public administration field: do we really want diversity?  As I contemplated the question recently, I realized that the question itself makes two assumptions: (1) that public administration is not a diverse academic field and (2) that the field itself – its associations, conferences, journals, and editorial boards — bears responsibility.

To shed light on the validity of these assumptions, I invited comments through an anonymous Qualtrics survey posted on twitter, the Academic Women in Public Administration email list, and PMRA’s listserv. Twenty-five people posted comments, the substance of which were thoughtful and thought-provoking.

For those inclined to dismiss the results because they are not the product of a large-n survey or random sampling, imagine yourself listening to 25 of your colleagues gathered at a percolator session at PMRC.

The survey asked only one question, “Based on your experiences, is public administration a diverse and inclusive academic field? Why or why not? If not, what can be done? All thoughts, ideas, comments, suggestions, critiques welcome.”

The comments ranged from hopeful to pessimistic. Some were resigned, others were angry. A few were perplexed by the challenges of diversity and inclusion in public administration, but keenly aware of the need for it.  Some themes that emerged:

Public administration is (not) a diverse academic field. A few commenters believe that public administration is diverse and inclusive; most do not.

Across comments, the point was made that diversity is more than gender: it’s race, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, physical ability, and political persuasion.With regards to political persuasion, two commenters felt there was no room for conservative voices in the field, with one arguing that the characterization of the right as hateful is hateful in and of itself.

One commenter argued that international students, particularly those from China and Korea, bring diversity to PA. As if hearing the argument across cyberspace, another commenter countered that, while Asian students do indeed bring diversity, that cannot be used as an excuse for ignoring the call for U.S. public administration to be more inclusive of women and faculty of color.

Of the affirmants, one felt that the study of administration’s impact on race, gender and income was a strength of the field. Other yeses came from those comparing public administration to other fields, such as political science and economics.

Another theme that emerged was the notion that public administration is a white field that excludes minority voices. This exclusion is thought to take place through a narrow range of acceptable quantitative methodologies and theoretical frames and through informal networks that privilege homosocial reproduction in hiring and publication.

Some were of the opinion that white men were overrepresented in power positions, whether in editorships, “manels”, or publication in top-ranked journals.

The creation of Academic Women in Public Administration was viewed by some as positive, but others suspect self-serving motives and white feminism at play. (Note to fellow AWPA-ers: these comments provide a valuable opportunity for self-evaluation in 2018).

Public administration gives social equity lip service, thought some, without adequately operationalizing it or incorporating it into research. Several commenters noted the paradox of social equity in public administration: it is bandied about as a foundational value, but largely absent from mainstream PA research.

Moving PMRC from University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill was a positive move for diversity and inclusion, but… The board’s decision to move the conference was based on HB2, the state’s bathroom bill that requires public restrooms to be designated for the gender of one’s birth.  But one commenter wondered why PMRA had not taken a similar stance when North Carolina passed a law in 2013 that undercut voting rights that disproportionately affected minority citizens (subsequently invalidated by the U.S. Court of Appeals).  

Now to the second part of the question: what can be done about increasing diversity and inclusion in public administration? Here are some suggestions identified by commenters for moving the field forward into the 21st century:

**Recognize that the absence of faculty and students of color at our conferences reflects a problem. From this perspective, it is no longer good enough to explain away our lack of diversity using the self-serving explanation that we simply have high standards. May this explanation never again escape our lips.

**Intentionally diversify editorial boards, place term limits on editorial positions and be transparent in the selection of journal editors, employing input from board members. Some commenters recommended these tactics as a way of opening the field to more diverse intellectual perspectives. 

 **Reach out to new faculty in the field, particularly faculty of color. Suggestions for outreach included showing interest in emerging scholars’ research and formally mentoring faculty of color.

Now back to the original question. Does public administration want diversity… really? The answer to this question will be revealed as PMRA decides how it will move the conversation forward.

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