The heart of NYU Wagner's programs is our faculty. An amalgam of full-time, clinical/research/visiting, and adjunct professors, they are outstanding teachers, expert researchers and committed practitioners.
In a Convocation speech to Wagner's Class of 2009, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan said he attended the 1977 World Series game when sports commentator Howard Cosell, observing a column of rising smoke in the vicinity of Yankee Stadium, told a national television audience, "Ladies and gentleman, the Bronx is burning." The wave of arson, crime, and abandonment afflicting much of New York City less than two years after the city government had narrowly avoided municipal bankruptcy captured Donovan's attention even then, as an 11 year old baseball enthusiast. And it's probably no accident that as someone who came of age in the 1970s and '80s in New York, he went on to devote his education and distinguished public career to understanding and innovating policy steps that helped rescue and transform New York and many other American cities in the wake of that "urban catastrophe."
Donovan quoted former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton in addressing the proud and excited graduates and their families gathered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on May 15: "Public service is not just a way of life, it is a way to live life fully."
According to Donovan, the rise of New York and the restoration of its once-strained civic bonds show that public-sector work - his own path-has enormous potential value, even though the challenges were amply demonstrated by the government's response to Hurricane Katrina. Citing President Obama's call to service, as well as his recently signed national service bill, Donovan said the mission of public employees and others embarked on public service work of all kinds is to give us "a reason to believe in public service again" in our neighborhoods and across the nation and world.
"Wagner Class of 2009," Donovan said, "we need you to make it possible to believe again!...Together, we can put our shoulder up against the wheel and change the course of history."
Dean Ellen Schall enumerated the impressive accomplishments of the graduating students and faculty members, including Professors of the Year Shanna Rose and Anthony Kovner. She contended that the work of public service requires more than technical and analytical capabilities, as critical as those are, but also "artistry," saying, "Public service is as much about art as about science." Artistry is what is required to find bold new answers to problems that resist technical solutions, whether those are ending poverty, overcoming racism, ensuring equal health outcomes for all, creating public school systems that work, or building cities that are sustainable.
The dean told the graduates that she wrote an essay for the Convocation as if she were applying for admission to the school. She based her thoughts on a photograph she selected from a catalogue of visual images, just as many Wagner applicants are asked to do. The image she selected was that of a person bringing a pot to life on a pottery wheel, as it reminded her of an introduction to pottery class she took last fall.
"I showed up every Monday night from 6-9, much the way you showed up for a class," she told the graduates. "And it was very hard. It was the worst in the class, a fact clear to me and to everyone else. Yet I stayed and kept on trying. I knew there was learning in the trying, in sticking with what didn't come easily. I never actually cracked the code or became a potter. Yet at the end, I have these small little pieces of ‘pottery' in my house and the odd thing is, I display them...and they make me smile when I walk in. They remind me to take myself seriously, but not too seriously, to stretch even in the face of initial resistance, mine or others, to find pleasure in small wins."
She referred to the image on a large screen on the BAM stage.
"This captures a simple visual image that I wish for each of you as you go forth. That you embrace the boldness of seeing yourself as artists, as creators and change makers, as people who bring passion and the fullness of yourselves to the critically important challenges of public service. And that you have the discipline and energy and commitment to keep on going, even if you don't get it right the first time around, that you learn from what works as well as what doesn't, and that you find joy in small things as well as big moves."
Michael C. Alfano, executive vice president of New York University, offered spirited welcoming remarks, while class speaker Tracey Gardner, who earned an MPA in Public and Nonprofit Management and Policy, introduced Donovan, noting, "He's not beaten down, not jaded, and ever on the lookout for policy changes to improve how things are done and make our lives better."
NYU Wagner Dean Ellen Schall served as moderator as British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and former Chair of the Federal Reserve Paul Volcker gathered at New York University on Wednesday, March 25, 2009 for a fascinating discussion with students and faculty on "A New Multilateralism in the 21st Century." The event included such pressing and complex issues as global economic structures and policies, the challenges of climate change, and the need for cooperative approaches to security.
NYU Wagner Professor Rae Zimmerman is part of Polytechnic Institute of New York University's planning for the launch of a pathbreaking graduate education program to educate scientists and engineers to address the increasingly complex issues surrounding information security and privacy. A $1.079 million award from the National Science Foundation's flagship interdisciplinary training initiative, Integrated Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) funds the program for the initial two years.
Reaching beyond a solely technical approach, the program has enlisted faculty from NYU's Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, Leonard N. Stern School of Business, and Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, as well as faculty from CUNYs John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Called INSPIRE (Information Security and Privacy: An Interdisciplinary Research and Education Program) the program will address the shortage of scientists and engineers versed in the interplay between information security and economics, psychology, public policy and law. INSPIRE graduates -with students receiving degrees from NYU-Poly or NYU - will be able to apply their understanding of these fields to develop technology solutions attuned to an increasing dependency on trustworthy information sources.
"In the context of INSPIRE, faculty and doctoral students will address the balance between what is technologically feasible and what is acceptable within legal, political, economic and society constraints," noted Kurt Becker, NYU-Poly associate provost for research and technology initiatives.
Professor Zimmerman is director of the Institute for Civil Infrastructure Systems (ICIS) at NYU Wagner.
The just-released U.S. News & World Report rankings of 266 public affairs master's programs across the country show NYU Wagner tied for 6th overall this year.
The results are thrilling confirmation of Wagner's upward trajectory. In the previous survey four years ago, Wagner finished in the top 10 for the first time, having risen from 26th in 2001. Additionally, Wagner is top-ranked in six of the specialty categories: #2 in City Management and Urban Policy; #8 in Health Policy and Management; #5 in Nonprofit Management; #8 in Public Finance and Budgeting; #9 in Public Management Administration; and #8 in Social Policy.
Wagner is grateful to the deans, directors and department chairs of master's programs around the country whose votes acknowledge our path of distinction and success.
In 2010, nonprofits in the U.S. numbered 1.5 million, with $1.51 trillion in revenues, and to find particulars or overall trends about this vast and growing sector of the economy, many people use the Form 990. This is the financial and organizational report that every tax-exempt organization submits annually to the Internal Revenue Service.
Yet, like many public documents, the forms are not so easy for researchers, practitioners, and others to access and analyze.
Writing in a recent paper, Beth Noveck, a visiting professor at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, along with co-author Daniel L. Goroff, a program director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, asked whether government transparency could be enhanced with technology to better support innovation, engagement, and outcomes in the nonprofit sector.
Noveck, who formerly led President Barack Obama’s Open Government Initiative, is immersed in studying the broad, important issue of how governments can better use tech-enabled platforms to engage the citizenry. In her Aspen Institute paper with Goroff, entitled “Information for Impact: Liberating Nonprofit Sector Data,” she finds that, like other data collected by the U.S. government, the information in the Form 990s could be far more beneficial “if it were not only ‘public’ but ‘open’ data.” That is: “Available to all, free of charge, in a standard format, published without proprietary conditions, and available online as a bulk download rather than through single-entry lookup.
“Making the 990 data truly open… would not only make it easier to use for the organizations that already process it,” the authors write, “but would also make it useful to researchers, advocates, entrepreneurs, technologists, and nonprofits that do not have the resources to use the data in its current form.”
The move would also encourage greater transparency by nonprofits, spur innovation in the sector, and “above all, help us to understand the potential value of the 990 data,” note the authors.
At present, the IRS creates Form 990 image files and sells DVD compilations to subscribers.
“Just as most people have gotten accustomed to sharing large files via a service like Dropbox, it would be simple for the IRS to publish the returns online for anyone to download in bulk for free,” Noveck wrote in a recent blog post about the paper.
But if converting the Form 990 into an open-data government document sounds straightforward, the co-authors find that it isn’t a simple delivery. Liberating government data of all kinds, they write, typically requires overcoming technological, political, and cultural barriers to change.
[Originally appeared in NYU Research Digest, Spring 2013].