The 2017 John Gaus Award Lecture: What If We Took Professionalism Seriously?
by James L. Perry, Indiana University, Bloomington
Although John Gaus, President of the American Political Science Association in 1945 and an esteemed professor of political science and public administration, wrote approvingly about increasing professionalism of public service occupations in the 1930s, public administration has had an uneasy relationship with professionalism for much of the last century. Dwight Waldo, another highly influential twentieth-century public administration scholar, proposed in 1968 that public administration adopt a professional perspective to address its post-war identity crisis. Scholars followed Waldo’s advice, yet by the end of the twentieth century had failed to establish the intellectual foundations for public administration grounded in a professional perspective.
My thesis in the essay: Public administration would be well served to pursue professionalism as a core theme because it is a central construct for understanding and acting in public administrative contexts. The essay presents the case for professionalism in three stages. First, I highlight literature that emphasizes professionalism as a means for establishing an identity for public administration, and I assess progress to date. Next, I offer some ideas for setting a course to make professionalism a robust feature of public administration. I conclude with a discussion of benefits that could accrue from pursuing these proposals.