When it is Better to be Seen But Not Heard: The Ecology of Public Administration

Abstract

This teaching case presents a problem of how complex public organizations respond to changes in the organizational environment. One of the complex features of a public university is that there are many "voices" with power to speak on emerging public issues that affect the university in different ways. The case presents decisions about when the university president should speak to an issue with complex implications for the institution. There is a movement in the college town to force the city council to adopt a living wage standard for public projects. There are students and faculty at the university that support the movement. The university president confronts the subject at a meeting of top administrators and learns that the university does not pay a living wage to all of its employees, according to the advocacy group's definition. The president must decide whether or not to speak publicly on the social justice issue, and seeks multiple perspectives to help his decision. Who has authority to speak and who will hold the president accountable for his statements and those of other university voices?

The case has been taught successfully in undergraduate and graduate level introduction to public administration courses and graduate courses for higher education leadership and management. The case involves role playing by students who assume the different voices advising the president. The teaching note suggests supplemental related readings and ways to organize students into role playing groups.

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