Embedding cultural competence and racial justice in public administration programs

Public administrators are stewards of democracy and therefore, must develop competence in order to address the needs of a diverse constituency. Programs of public affairs, administration, and policy are foundational in helping students learn about and manifest a public service perspective. As graduates of these programs, students take their education and begin to apply the values learned across any number of public institutions at the local, state, or national level. Many times, public affairs, administration, and policy programs are the only orientation many public servants get that empower them to understand their role as not only public servants, but actors that can either promote or dispose of justice for individuals and communities. When administrators are interacting with individuals and groups at the margins of society, it becomes even more clear why education and training should encourage an awareness of difference and the development of appropriate skills, knowledge, and behaviors. Cram and Alkadry argue that there are more than 20 million public servants across the United States, however, membership in the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) is less than 10,000. This means that a negligible faction of the public service workforce is aware of the ASPA Code of Ethics or has been oriented to the public service values that drive the discipline. This is problematic because public service is not like business where the sole focus is the bottom-line. Citizens are not clients, but rather have rights and privileges that should be respected and acknowledged by public servants. There are distinct differences between the public and private sector, and public administration programs should be clear in their intention to help students (who will go on to be administrators) be keenly aware of their responsibilities to pursue the justice, fairness, and equity for all members of society.