Programs looks to educate next generation of city leaders

Richard Butts recognized a gap in his skills.

Butts, who had no academic background in public administration prior to coming to Western, was driven to the university’s Master of Public Administration (MPA) program as his career responsibilities became more strategic in nature.

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BUTTS

“Issues such as a broader understanding of municipal governance, policy framework and development, and public sector leadership, are foundation pieces which have enhanced my career and, I believe, improved my performance,” he said.

Butts began the program as deputy chief administration officer (CAO) for the City of Toronto; he is currently the CAO of Halifax Regional Municipality.

“The MPA program at Western has provided me with a more multi-faceted lens with which to view the significant challenges and opportunities that face municipalities, and public servants, in Canada.”

With a primary focus on local government management, unique in English-speaking Canada, Western has seen the likes of police, fire, library and municipal employees take advantage of the university’s inter-disciplinary faculty, including both academic researchers specializing in local government and public policy as well as practitioners with extensive local government experience.

“There was a gap at the MPA level in training local-level officials in a more intensive way,” said Josh Morgan, recruitment and development officer (Local Government Program) in the Department of Political Science.

“It’s 13 courses and has all the intensity of a graduate program. It is designed with the thought in mind that full-time employees would want to take this. So, our courses are designed where they are either week-long, summer-intensive courses or weekend courses in fall and winter.”

Demonstrating and exploring the connections between management and the political process is the central concern of the curriculum as a whole, added Morgan, hence why responsibility for its development rests with the Political Science department.

The MPA and Diploma in Public Administration (DPA) are the main components of the department’s Local Government Program. The DPA is four less-intensive one-week courses, which began in1974. The department grew to add the MPA program in 1990, currently accepting about 30 full-time and part-time students annually.

Gary Conn, deputy chief of the Chatham-Kent Police Service, will soon earn his MPA. He already earned his DPA from Western, and said he has always been an advocate for improvement through life-long learning.

“I believe that ongoing development is vital to both an individuals personal and professional growth,” said Conn, who also earned his undergraduate degree in Sociology at Western.

Having said that, he stressed the need to take into consideration the personal and professional balance required while attempting to achieve a post-secondary education. The DPA and MPA provided this balance, he said.

While Morgan said there are other MPA programs offered in Canada, Western’s roots local government “throughout the program as a whole” with courses such as strategic planning, financial management and organizational behaviour.

“It’s a graduate program and has all the rigors, but it is also practical in nature. It’s rooted in getting people jobs or enhancing the jobs they currently have,” he said.

“You may have someone who knows their department really well, but wants to move into that general manger position and they need some sort of overall understanding of the structure and policy environment that these organizations operate in,” he added. “That’s what we try and train them for.”

The DPA has even hit the road, setting up an on-site program in Toronto, as well as one north of the city (York and Durham regions, Richmond Hill and Newmarket), being one of the few universities that will come on site and train at the diploma level.

“It’s been a great success and a program that continues to grow,” Morgan said. “What we’re doing is something that has the attention of organizations in the industry.”