Not just for bureaucrats anymore

In 1953, when Carleton’s School of Public Policy and Administration (SPPA) first started offering courses, public policy was very much a nebulous subject, relegated to the back corridors of government. Today it is as integrated into everyday life as politics and the weather.

So, as the SPPA celebrates its 50th anniversary, and a benchmark as the first school of its kind in Canada, the academic path has, by necessity, expanded. Policy studies are no longer confined to the public sector, but also include private and voluntary interests. And its scope extends from local to national and international issues and the fine web of interconnectedness in which all three find themselves.

The School started celebrations with June seminars by renowned policy theorists and analysts Vincent and Elinor Ostrom. Events continue September 30 to October 4 with keynote speeches by Janice Stein, Director of the University of Toronto’s Munk Centre, and by Hugh Segal, President of the Institute for Research on Public Policy, followed the next day by panel discussions on their presentations. A photo exhibit at MacOdrum Library will open October 1.

SPPA started small, with faculty “borrowed” from Carleton’s Departments of Political Science and Economics. By 1955, it graduated its first M.A. and began to earn a reputation not just for an interdisciplinary vision but also for a pioneering role in integrating women into the faculty. Doctoral studies were added in the early 1990s and remain today the only Ph.D. courses in public policy offered in Canada.

It has also been on the forefront of information dissemination through 25 years of presenting major conferences, starting in 1977 by examining regulatory processes in Canada (with McGill University) and continuing through Crown Corporations (1981), NGOs (1992), globalization (1994), science-based policy (1998) and the increasingly relevant energy policy in sustainable development (2002).

“The challenge we face is that there is so much opportunity out there,” says SPPA Director Leslie Pal “Today, people in policy industries need to be well-trained, and that’s why we’ve continually been adding courses.”

The School is now part of the Faculty of Public Affairs and Management, has 1,000 graduates and 26 full-time faculty, many of whom have sat on Royal Commissions and have been consulted on policy issues in Russia, Sweden and Hungary. This is a big part of the reason why SPPA is considered less a vocational school than research-and-critical-oriented.

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