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Letter from the Director
Author: Phil Keisling
Posted: February 17, 2011
Photo of Phil Keisling, Director, Center for Public Service

In December 1862, President Abraham Lincoln could hardly know the American Civil War would last for another two and half brutalizing years. But he keenly understood that the world he and his fellow citizens had so recently known would never again be the same.

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present,” Lincoln observed in his annual address to Congress. “The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves — and then we shall save our country.”

Lincoln’s quote is a timely reminder that however daunting our current difficulties – double digit unemployment, looming budget deficits, our increasingly dysfunctional politics – these are hardly the “worst of times” our citizens have lived through. And these times will eventually pass.

The real issue is whether we will merely endure our current challenges – or prevail against and truly transcend them. Will we be able to think anew, much less act anew? Will we prove able to “disenthrall ourselves” of old and stale thinking – and bring new energy, thinking, and talent to bear on the many “wicked problems” we now face?

Here at the Center for Public Service, at PSU’s Mark O. Hatfield School of Government, it’s our mission to help public and non-profit leaders find good answers and practical solutions to such questions. And as we describe in more detail in this newsletter, CPS offers a wide range of programs towards this end.

For example, our increasingly popular Executive Master in Public Administration (EMPA) degree program allows full-time, working professionals to earn their graduate degree in less than two years. Various other certificate and custom-tailored leadership development programs provide upcoming government and non-profit professionals the additional tools and knowledge they need be more effective leaders.

Other programs focus on more specific topics. Our Executive Seminar Program focuses on collaborative governance efforts in real-world settings; this year more than two dozen natural resource agency managers will go out in the field to study such challenges as water allocation in the Klamath Basin and killer whale management in Puget Sound. Another specialized class focuses on the “Smart Grid” and other policy and technology innovations for a “New Energy Economy” that is emerging here in the Pacific Northwest.

Amidst CPS’s diverse and ever-evolving offerings are three core themes.

One involves the importance of  “performance management and leadership” – and the imperative to not just measure and manage important programs for results, but to build the leadership capacity and skills needed to implement them. Indeed, in October 2011 Portland State University is proud to host an International Conference to explore this very topic, with co-sponsors that include China’s Lanzhou University, Japan’s Waseda University, and Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics and Public Administration.

Another is the imperative of “sustainable development,” and its three key dimensions of economic, environmental, and social health. As politically tempting as politicians often find it is to avoid large problems and focus on short-term “fixes,” the very notion of “public service” requires all of us to think in terms of sustainable solutions that serve the next generation of citizens as well as (if not better than) our own.

The third theme is simply “Talent” – helping find it, build it, and grow it. In the next decade, an unprecedented wave of retirements in the public and non-profit sectors will create new challenges and opportunities. The Center aims to play a key role in inspiring, educating and connecting the next generation of managers and leaders with the organizations that need their skills, courage and innovation.

We invite you to learn more about the Center and our various programs. Most of all, we welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions that will help us make our efforts even more meaningful and relevant as we navigate through our tumultuous present into a brighter future.