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Justice, Fairness, Inclusion, and Performance.

Fellow Spotlight: Carol S. Weissert (Ph.D.)

Fellow Spotlight

How have you been an advocate in your specific field?

I am a federalism scholar and have worked over the years to encourage young scholars to study federalism and to help publish top articles on federalism through my editorship of Publius: The Journal of Federalism and through my involvement in federalism organizations. The recent pandemic highlighted the importance of federalism to a broad swath of people who recognized that in the U.S. and other countries when officials at one level cannot or will not act, others at another level will. I am also proud of my advocacy of good public policy supported by top-notch research, especially when it becomes law. This includes local pensions, charter schools, health policy, and fiscal responsibility.

What does the future of public administration look like to you?

There is no better time for public administration scholarship to help explain and theorize about federalism issues. The old traditional theories don’t fit anymore. Today’s public administrator must deal with not only fellow bureaucrats at various levels but also interest groups, partisan organizations, and more engaged elected officials. Disinformation, distrust of government, and ultra-partisanship make everyone’s job tougher. Public administration and federalism scholarship should help inform these tough issues based on theory and supporting evidence. I’m particularly concerned about the future of election reform—a highly intergovernmental issue that has traditionally been extremely decentralized in the U.S. Recent efforts in election reform are highly partisan, with the Blue States expanding access and the Red States limiting it. Local election officials are often blamed for non-issues, and states move in for more control. The recent law in Texas where the state eliminated the local elections supervisor in one county and allowed the secretary of state to oversee that county’s elections is a case in point. Election reform is an area where public administration scholars and federalism scholars can work to document what is going on and then educate the public, who are uninformed.

What encouraged you to pursue a career in the field of public service?

I started as a journalist—good training for anyone. My first non-journalism jobs were at the National Conference of State Legislatures, National Governors Association, and the U.S. Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations. They were an excellent education about the importance of federalism, public administration, and public policy. I was hooked on federalism and got my Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.  At Michigan State, I headed the public administration program as well as a public policy institute that trained newly elected state legislators on public policy issues, sponsored state-relevant research and advocated for good public policy overall.

How do you advocate for inclusivity within your field and/or role?

I’ve served on more academic search committees than I can count, including those for dean and provost. On these committees, I worked to hire more diverse candidates, especially women. Committees to study diversity are important, but the bottom line should be how diverse your departmental, college, or university faculty is. I have been amazed at the continued resistance to hiring women who must be super-stars to make the cut.

What has been the most rewarding experience within your career thus far?

I love introducing undergraduates to the importance of public policy and public administration. They often don’t have a clue that public policies define their lives—and that they themselves can affect public policy. I enjoy introducing graduate students to federalism and public administration, often highlighting the many questions that remain unanswered. I hope these new Ph.D.s will take these questions on and help define these dynamic fields. Probably the most rewarding single experience was as a Fulbright Distinguished Chair in American Government in Australia in 2016. It led to many new friendships and a greater appreciation for the value of cross-county research. 

Do you have a specific goal for 2023?

Interestingly, for a scholar whose work has primarily been at the federal-state level, I am now spending my time at the local level. I’m in a small group of citizens encouraging my city and county to initiate and then utilize a citizens’ commission on homelessness. We’ve faced considerable opposition from local public administrators who like the system which is heavily provider-based and don’t want change. We have support from the county commission which should help.

What are two or three books that stand out to you and why?

The Price of Federalism by Paul Peterson first pointed out to me the biggest problem with federalism—the enormous inequities that flow from it. Certainly, these inequities are just as important today as they were in 1995 when the book was published. Deil Wright’s books on intergovernmental relations were important in highlighting this important area that too often is given short shrift by federalism scholars and political scientists. I thought Pressman and Wildavsky’s Implementation was right on the money and helped to launch an important subfield on implementation studies that I was happy to join. There is a great deal of excellent new research as well, much of which is highlighted in my new book due out in August entitled Rethinking Federalism Studies. Writing the book reinforced for me the importance of what we do—and what remains to be done. I had to think about what we scholars do well and what we need to work on. And it highlighted the never-more-important role of federalism in both defining and solving problems of our day.

Growing up, what was your dream job?

Being a reporter. I did that for my first years out of college and then moved on. But I’m grateful for the skills reporting requires that served me well throughout my career including asking the key questions, doing what needs to be done to give a full picture of the issue at hand, and writing on deadlines.     

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About Carol S. Weissert (Ph.D.)

Carol is professor emerita of political science at Florida State University. Before her retirement in 2021, she was LeRoy Collins Eminent Scholar and professor of political science, and director of the LeRoy Collins Institute. This statewide policy organization studies and promotes creative solutions to critical private and public issues facing Florida and the nation. She has published nearly five dozen articles in political science, public administration, and public policy journals. She is the author or co-author of five books, including Rethinking Federalism Studies, scheduled for publication in August 2023. Before coming to Tallahassee in August 2003, she was a professor of political science and director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University. Carol served as editor of Publius: The Journal of Federalism, an international journal on federalism and intergovernmental relations, for ten years. She served as president of the Southern Political Science Association and a member of the Council of the American Political Science Association. In 2016 she was the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in American Political Science in Australia. Her doctorate in political science is from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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