David Crombie, former Toronto Mayor, Conservative Cabinet Minister, and Chancellor Emeritus of Ryerson University and Jack Layton, current federal NDP leader, sit at separate ends of the political spectrum. Yet they recently sat, and spoke, together about something important to both of them: recognition and respect for what the public service has accomplished in Canada.
The occasion was the celebration of Ryerson’s school of public administration, now 45 years old.
Crombie and Layton each took a turn at the lectern, discussing the art and science of teaching and practicing public administration, and the school’s contribution of practitioners in the field, as well as their fondest memories.
“It was and still is a terrific course and program,” said Crombie, who taught in the first year of the program’s existence. “Even back in the beginning while we thought we were teaching them, the students were really teaching us. We were allowing ourselves to understand public administration and trying to teach what it was in Canada, but we were learning as much if not more from our students and what they were saying to us.”
For Layton, also a former Ryerson professor, being back was equally gratifying. “I experienced such joy in my time here and it is still one of the happiest, most exciting times of my life. And to see where this program has taken people is really quite incredible.”
Both men noted the strong combination of theory and practice that the program offered, crediting this as the driving factor in the program’s success in churning out so many graduates to the public service workforce.
“The world of public administration is about ideas, activism and spirituality, and Ryerson teaches these things,” Crombie reflected.
Crombie also noted some obstacles currently facing the field.
· The sudden shift in attitude towards abrasiveness that has overtaken the mindset of many politicians, stopping them from relying on public servants for counsel, is disheartening. The lack of respect for public servants by politicians weakens the relationship.
· People in government have become more risk adverse. “Basically, they’re afraid they’re going to get hurt by backing nutty ideas, but what they don’t realize is that very often the nutty idea turns out to be the right one. It’s the nutty ideas you have to give counsel to, ordinary ideas you can get any day of the week.”
“There was a time when public servants had power and strength because politicians respected them. In the last little while, not all the time and not everywhere and not at every level, but generally speaking there’s been a movement that says elected politicians somehow have expertise in most matters when they don’t. They should allow public servants to give advice in these instances, and at the same time be more open to taking it, and they should also cut down on the procedure and allow for collective thinking and collective doing.”
Neil Thomlinson, chair of the department of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson, realizes the program is a means for people to get into public service. But its main purpose is to help those already in public service who are either engaged in lifelong education or trying get the qualifications needed for a promotion.
The program, the first that allowed people to work towards an undergraduate degree on a part-time basis, has grown by leaps and bounds. Along with the part-time program that is still thriving, there is now a full-time program in politics and government and a masters program in public policy and administration. The program has developed into a major feeder for the public servant industry, catering to the needs of public sector managers, administrative officers, frontline service providers, policy analysts and those preparing for employment and advancement in government.
“The whole point of the program in the beginning was that very few people in public service had university degrees. So it was about enabling them with an opportunity to get a degree while still working full time, and the program continues to offer this opportunity,” said Thomlinson. He adds that the program targets all three levels of government.
“We also deliver the certificate level through distance education, which allows people to come from across the province for their classes. And our unique partnerships with colleges like First Nations Technical Institute have made it possible for many to complete their degree while remaining in their jobs.”
A major new award was announced. The Honourable David Crombie Public Administration Award is a scholarship that will be given annually to a student in the program who demonstrates academic excellence and who is in need of financial help.
“It’s a fitting and lasting tribute which Ryerson wanted to make to David,” said Carla Cassidy, Dean of the Faculty of Arts at Ryerson. For more, see www.ryerson.ca/politics/padp.