Public Affairs: The Area of Study

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Public Affairs

Public affairs is a broad label that has been used for more than 40 years in higher education and the professions to describe an “eclectic” and “interdisciplinary” approach to the study of organizations and individuals that operate in what is considered the public interest and the social issues and problems with which they are faced. Students who are currently employed in public service or those who aspire to careers in public service might be served by an area of study in Public Affairs. The area of study is designed for those who are interested in serving and bettering society through public service, civic engagement, political and government careers, public communications or non-profit service.

Studies and faculty in Public Affairs often rely upon “input from economics, psychology, sociology, planning, business administration, statistics, law, engineering, and environmental science, in addition to the traditional fields of public administration and political science (1).”

Students interested in concentrations in such subjects or related subjects might consider Public Affairs as an area of study. Depending upon a student’s interest and focus, it might also be desirable or appropriate to consider a degree in Community and Human Services; Social Theory, Social Structure and Change; Business, Management and Economics; or Interdisciplinary Studies. An arts management concentration might also be a degree in The Arts; technology policy might come under a degree in either Science, Mathematics and Technology or Business, Management and Economics.

Students with a degree in Public Affairs should demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the following areas, as appropriate to the concentration. Students may address these competencies in various ways. They could be included in one or more studies or advanced standing components and might not necessarily appear as these explicit titles.

Students need not demonstrate that they have a separate study or course in each area.
Theoretical and Philosophical Concepts

The theoretical and philosophical underpinnings of subjects related to the student’s concentration should be explored. Knowledge of the philosophy of American government is essential for most students in Public Affairs.

Most introductory courses in political science, public administration, public policy, criminal justice, public communications and the like examine relevant theory. At the upper level, most disciplines include studies of theory (e.g., political theory, communications theory). Studies in international politics and international relations usually include an examination of relevant political theory. Organizational Behavior examines theories of how individuals behave in the workplace and other organizations. For criminal justice students, criminology is the study of theories of criminal behavior, and studies in penology or theories of justice (including restorative justice) examine the theory of corrections and punishment. Studies in ecology and global climate change are among the subjects that might meet this expectation for students in environmental policy. In addition, some studies include theoretical concepts that might be appropriate for any student in Public Affairs. For example, the study of economics can provide an understanding of how markets work, when they don’t work well and how public sector interventions might improve upon market outcomes.

Historical and Comparative Perspectives

Knowledge of the historical origins of American government and the public institutions that are central to the student’s concentration should be demonstrated. The student should also have an understanding of how these institutions compare to those of other countries, of other times or of jurisdictions within the United States.

Again, most introductory courses cover the history of the institutions being studied. Studies that provide an understanding of federalism and the...
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