As the new Dean of the College of Public Affairs at University of Baltimore, I am excited to have been asked to kick-off an ongoing column devoted to higher education and the LGBTQ experience. This has been a remarkable year for the community with the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. More remarkable is the incredible change in society and law that happened in only the last few years. In this improved environment, there is a struggle by public servants and the LGBTQ community: How will courts interpret new and revised laws? How will the change be managed by government agencies? In the years ahead, what will equality come to mean in our institutions– political, legal, economic?
I wanted to tell you today a little bit about our college and why public service matters more than ever. This is also a call for you to join in public service at this most critical time.
The College of Public Affairs at the University of Baltimore was founded five years ago. Its emphasis is on advancing public service by educating new leaders and contributing scholarship to improve the public and nonprofit sectors. Our college includes three schools with graduate and undergraduate degree programs in Public and International Affairs, Criminal Justice, and Health and Human Services. We’re also the home of the Schaefer Center for Public Policy, which produces research and training programs that have an impact on the public and nonprofit sectors. We work to achieve our goal of improving public service in a college devoted to inclusion, diversity, and community-engaged learning that exposes our students to problems impacting our city. UB students help solve these problems and improve our city and region while they learn. Baltimore is our “training ground” for public service.
Baltimore is undergoing massive social change that is positive and is bringing about equality. But we are also facing difficult problems that have lingered for decades in poverty, housing, criminal justice, food deserts, racial, ethnic, and sexual and gender discrimination. Achieving social justice and equality is an ongoing problem in our city, with deep roots that are structural. In some places, block by block, you see wealth alongside extreme poverty and urban decay.
The uprising of community action following the unrest in April gives my colleagues and me great energy and hope. Advances in LGBTQ rights is one positive change that has propelled our city forward and helped us become more inclusive, where being gay or straight doesn’t matter nearly as much as being good neighbors and community members. Our university community sees itself as part of a larger community, and we are more energized than ever to solve public problems. But, honestly, there is so much to do and still many barriers.
At this time of great change and need for smart, responsive public service, there is also a crisis that requires all of us to act and consider government and nonprofits as a career field or an activity outside of our work. Our governments and nonprofits face a huge succession problem – the current public service workforce is rapidly retiring. Cuts in governments and social service programs have also made these fields more challenging to work in, and at times less desirable as career options for some. There is a loss of faith in our public sector at a time when it is needed more than ever. And, here in the city of Baltimore, some have argued that our most talented and dedicated public servants may be leaving for higher paying federal jobs and other opportunities in Washington, D.C. We are losing some of our best and brightest at this crucial time.
There is great need and great opportunity in the field of government and nonprofit management. Who will fill the void left by retiring baby boomers? Where will we gain the experience to fill vacated management jobs? These are questions that those of us in higher education are asking now. And we’re not just talking about it – we’re doing something about it: Colleges who train public servants are challenging our students to think differently and to be prepared to work in a transformed workplace. Public, nonprofit, and private agencies need to train ethically minded leaders who can communicate and work effectively in a diverse and changing society. Public and nonprofit leaders should reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. They also need to be prepared to lead and govern inclusively and build policy with the diversity of the community at the governing table. It takes a different public servant to lead and manage an evolving organization in an inclusive way.
Discriminatory barriers faced by the LGBTQ community are breaking down almost daily. While there is much to do, like the passage of strong anti-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation, basic attitudes are leaning toward a more open, civil, and inclusive society. The public service workforce of today and tomorrow will reflect this progress.
Baltimore needs energetic, dedicated and mindful public servants. Imagine a public sector workforce that can empower and bring diverse communities together to solve problems. Envision a responsive, knowledgeable workforce that helps the city take on and beat its many challenges. As I see it, the city’s LGBTQ community is an important part of this rededication to the task of creating a better Baltimore. We need you – your talent, your passion, your voice, your leadership. I urge you to be the best public servants– right here in Baltimore.
The author is the University of Baltimore’s dean at the College of Public Affairs.
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