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Justice, Fairness, Inclusion, and Performance.

Fellow Spotlight: Michael A. Pagano

Fellow Spotlight

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

I have enormous respect for federal, state, and local public servants, not because of my personal experiences in that realm but because of my observation of their skill, dedication, and knowledge. My small contribution is in the arena of workforce development. At a young age, I was drawn to the dynamic and fascinating world of research, teaching, and learning. My parents were educators, and my spouse was too. Touching the future, as the astronaut Christa McAuliffe said, is a rewarding career for educators, and touching the future of public service was particularly exciting for me.

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

Civics in US high school classrooms and more intensive historical readings on political philosophy in college classrooms ought to provide a broad understanding of a society’s political architecture based on the sovereignty of individuals and not monarchs. Problems that can be addressed or resolved by the collective require individuals to relinquish some authority to elected representatives to propose collective solutions or join a collective to solve social problems. Either way, solutions require implementation or an administrative apparatus to ensure that we, the collective, are all rowing together. And the beauty of public administration is that we organize in a way that is most likely to resolve social problems with collective action.

Since social challenges will continue so long as humans come together to meet common goals within a constitutional framework built on the freedom of individuals and the distribution of formal powers to check authoritarian impulses, the future of public administration in the US—at all levels of government-- is bright. The challenges to meet future social problems lay in two broad arenas, the first of which is the recruitment and retention of a dedicated, public-regarding, skillful workforce; that is to say, public-sector workforce development is key to the success of public administration. The second arena and key to a successful public administration is enlightened executive leadership that respects and trusts the capabilities, intellect, and knowledge of the public-sector workforce. Neither workforce development nor an executive leader with a democratic impulse can be assumed. They must be designed appropriately and strengthened. A meritocratic public service led by an executive who embraces a democratic-republican form of government at all levels will continue to be the aspiration of the nation’s federal system.

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

Inclusivity is a modern-day term for what was considered the opposite of bias and discrimination by many of my generation. The history of public service in the US and education (at all levels, elementary, secondary, and post-secondary education) is fraught with bias and exclusivity that kept the ‘best and the brightest’ at the margins. Women, immigrants, people of color, and non-dominant religions, among others, were often discriminated against in the teaching profession and public service. The result was a less representative public service and a less-than-optimal group of the ‘best and brightest.’ Recognizing historical biases is a framework for designing and implementing inclusive recruitment and retention practices. Much progress has been made over the last few decades, and much more is needed. The frame of inclusivity has taken on a momentum that continues to move the needle toward a more perfect union. Its name, inclusivity, has transitioned from what once was referred to as discrimination and bias to DEI. Still, it reflects the nation’s experiment in the democratic spirit of individuals soaring to new heights, pursuing their dreams, and ensuring the collective thrives.

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About Michael A. Pagano

Michael A. Pagano retired in 2022 after 45 years in higher education and consulting. He was a professor of political science at Miami University for 20 years and a professor of public administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago for 21 years, fourteen of those years as dean of the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs. He has published a dozen books and over a hundred articles on infrastructure, city finances, federalism, and capital budgeting. Upon retirement, he and his wife relocated to Alexandria, Virginia.

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