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SPA Hosts Symposium on the Legacy of Public Administration Scholar John Rohr

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Assistant Professor Stephanie Newbold

SPA’s Department of Public Administration and Policy attracted faculty from across the country and Australia as well as AU doctoral students to explore the life, legacy, and contributions of public administration scholar John Rohr (1934-2011) in a weekend-long symposium last month.

The SPA gathering focused on three areas of Rohr’s scholarship: comparative constitutional analysis, regime values, and public service ethics. The symposium also highlighted the continuing value of Rohr’s perspective for public administrative thought and aimed to spur inquiry into these areas by students of administrative theory.

Rohr, a founding member of the Center for Public Administration and Policy at Virginia Tech, was the author of seven books of original investigation, a Fulbright Scholar, a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., and the recipient of the American Society for Public Administration and the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration’s annual Distinguished Research Award in 1998. In 2002, he was the recipient of the prestigious Dwight Waldo Award for contributions to the literature and leadership of public administration. His work contributed to the concept of public service ethics, the significance of regime values in public administrative management, and comparative constitutional analysis. Rohr’s work also highlighted how the American Framers believed that good administration was critical to good government.  

The SPA conference was organized by Distinguished Professor David H. Rosenbloom and Assistant Professor Stephanie Newbold. Both Rosenbloom and Newbold have personally benefited from Rohr’s contributions to public administration scholarship.

“John’s work and my work were intertwined in its analysis of the impact of the U.S. Constitution and constitutional and administrative law on various aspects of public administration, including human resources management, ethics, public employees’ rights, the incorporation of democratic-constitutional values into administrative practice, the legitimacy of the administrative state, and the constitutional roles of civil servants in the political system,” according to Rosenbloom, a doctoral classmate with Rohr at the University of Chicago. “We both agreed one could pretty much reduce our entire careers to two words: ‘constitutions matter.’”

As a scholar of public administrative theory and democratic constitutionalism, Newbold has been greatly influenced by Rohr’s work as he was her major professor and dissertation chair in graduate school: “John did as well as anyone to demonstrate the validity of historical research.”

The Rohr symposium is part of an SPA tradition of exploration of the intellectual giants in the field of public administration. In 2003, SPA hosted a conference on Dwight Waldo, scholar and author of the classic work, The Administrative State. Papers presented at this symposium were subsequently published in Revisiting Waldo's Administrative State (Georgetown University Press, 2006), edited by SPA professors Howard McCurdy and David Rosenbloom.