By: Janet Weiss
Janet Weiss ('17): Mary C. Bromage Collegiate Professor Emerita of Business; Professor Emerita of Public Policy, Ford School, University of Michigan
My inspirations to work in public service came in many waves. My grandmother, who had limited formal education, often wondered aloud the value of so much education. She was not looking for an answer like getting a good job or making a secure income; she wanted to know how education would lead to good in the world for people who need help. Her question has stayed with me. As a psychology major in college, I was thrilled to learn about the role of Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s psychological research in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision by the Supreme Court. I loved research, and I was very excited that scholars could use research to influence public policy, especially on a critically important issue like school desegregation. When I started my career as an academic, I had collaborators, colleagues, and above all MPP students who were dedicated to using the tools of analysis and understanding to improve policy outcomes in education, social welfare, community development, health care, and many other domains. They showed me how important it was to bring evidence and analysis to bear on policy problems. In the course of my research over the years, I interviewed many public servants, working at federal, state, regional, and local levels. I was repeatedly inspired by their deep knowledge and dedication to the public good in their communities.
My favorite college class was a course on women in U.S. history. In the early 1970s, such a class was very unusual and brand new to the curriculum. I found it incredibly eye-opening. One of my favorite classes to teach is the one I’m teaching right now – advising multidisciplinary teams of graduate students who work on substantive projects full-time for sponsoring organizations. The students take a deep dive into the organization’s challenges; they learn a lot and so do I.
While I spend a lot of time worried about the world, in my own life I’m excited about many things. On the home front, I’m having a great time as the mother of three fabulous adult children, and a grandmother of the most adorable children on earth. On the professional front, I’m helping to grow the University of Michigan program that places graduate students on nonprofit boards of directors. I launched this program over twenty years ago; now we are adapting it to the needs of nonprofit organizations today. And I’m serving myself on three nonprofit boards, including the Board of NAPA. Board service is a very rewarding way to contribute to the communities that I care about.
When I first found myself managing the work of other people, my father gave me an excellent piece of advice: “whenever you can say yes to an employee’s suggestion or request, say yes. That builds a reserve of good will for the times when you have to say no.”