My classes seemed boring and irrelevant to what was happening at
home and abroad. What did administrative case law or cost/benefit analysis have to
do with the events that seemed to be tearing apart our country?
I considered dropping out. Then, Dwight Waldo appeared as a guest
lecturer in Roscoe Martin's course, "Democracy
and the Public Service." In his quiet,
thoughtful manner, he spoke of the value of public
service and its importance for our democracy. His point: public
administration is an exciting, worthy calling.
It was an "Ah Ha!" moment. All
that boring stuff made sense. It could even give purpose and meaning to one's
future! Dwight had that effect on many of usstudents, colleagues, and
contemporaries. Yet, he was hardly a flamboyant academic self-promoter. Indeed, he
was shy, self-deprecating, and hard
to get to know. But once he opened up,
Dwight was a uniquely warm, wonderful, wise human being, gifted with a wicked
wit, often directed at himself and frequently quite self-revealing.
Typical of his humor was the
story he told about how he "failed his way upward in life." Dwight was born in
1913 in DeWitt, Nebraska (pop. 500), into a family of five brothers and sisters.
His parents ran a small general store and farmed but had not graduated from
high school. DeWitt was a Grant Wood community with hard work, few luxuries,
and regular church going the norm. Dwight cited two achievements as a youth: winning second place in a baby contest
at two and a hog-calling contest as a teenager. He went to college at
Nebraska Wesleyan and transferred to less expensive State Teachers College in Peru.
He wanted to teach high school, but in the midst of the Depression there were
no teaching jobs available.
Thus, his first failure upward: he
left Nebraska to study political science at Yale University. Why Yale? Dwight
had received a scholarship and had never been East. At Yale Professor
Francis Coker suggested Dwight look into the burgeoning literature of public
administration from the angle of his interest in
American political theory. Dwight first viewed the materials with
distaste, even as nonsense, hardly equal to Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes,
and other greats. But the more he investigated, the more he found a
political theory of seminal significance to American government.
His Yale dissertation became one of the most important books in our field,
The Administrative State, and marked him as
a young radical in the field.
When he graduated as a newly minted Ph.D., there were no
university teaching jobs offeredhis second
failure upward. World War II was about to begin and Dwight found work in
wartime Washington at the Office of Price Administration, and later at the
Bureau of the Budget. (In the former position, Dwight joked he was "America's
Funeral Czar," setting national funeral
prices.) There he learned the value of effective public administrationparticularly
how difficult it was to perform as an effective public administrator. Never in
his life, he once said, was he assigned a more challenging task than moving his
unit across the street: "If I had all those
difficulties with a simple move, what must it have been like planning and
executing the D-Day Invasion of Europe?"
When the war ended, he applied for teaching jobs and again failure
upward: as an assistant professor in 1946 at the University of California, Berkeley,
he taught everything in political science but political theory, the subject of his
graduate training. Dwight said those were probably the best years of his life as
a teacher. His classes were brimming with veterans eager to learn. They also
were intellectually productive years, when he wrote
The Administrative State, Ideas and Issues in Public Administration,
and The Study of Public Administration.
And who can forget the classic 1952 Waldo-Simon exchange in the
By the mid-1950s, Dwight Waldo was recognized as a leading scholars
in his fieldand no longer as a radical outsider. As he quipped, it was a very
short distance from being the young radical to fame as an old conservative. In
reality, he was never a conservative. Until the end of his life, many viewed him as
"the youngest, creative mind" in our field.
He always asked the toughest and best questions.
Dwight served in various professional assignments in the APSA and
as director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley.
Eventually, the Free Speech movement, student protests, and the election of Ronald
Reagan as governor in the mid-1960s brought a different climate to the University
of California, forcing Dwight to make the difficult decision to leave.
Thus, his fourth failure
upward: when he let the word out to friends that he was on the market, Dwight
received a dozen offers. He chose the Albert Schweitzer Chair in the Humanities
at the Maxell School. After Maxwell, the family moved to Falls Church,
Virginia, where Dwight remained active in the field for many years. In 1979
ASPA named its highest honor for lifetime academic contributions to public
administration the Dwight Waldo Award.
So, yes, Dwight, you surely
failed upward in lifeupward to some public administration heaven. Those
whom your spirit touched, nurtured and inspired so profoundly will sorely miss you.
This is an edited version of a
tribute Stillman wrote for NAPA.