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BYU MPA Celebrates 50 Years

50: BYU MPA Celebrates Fifty Years

The Sound of Music swept the box office, Martin Luther King Jr. led thousands to Alabama’s capital, and the first commercial satellite launched into orbit. The year was 1965, and the BYU MPA students of the inaugural class were collecting their diplomas and preparing to embody the credo “Enter to learn; go forth to serve.”

Mitt Romney speaking at a podium

To mark the golden anniversary, the George W. Romney Institute of Public Management welcomed members of the Romney family to campus to meet with MPA students and alumni. Former governor and presidential nominee Mitt Romney also addressed BYU students, faculty, and staff in a forum address in the Marriott Center.

It was a fitting commemoration for a program that has set the public service standard, preparing nearly 3,500 graduates to work in nonprofit and government organizations around the world.

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A Storied History

This is a great year for the BYU MPA program. It brings to mind a quote attributed to Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” At the half-century mark of the MPA program, that is just what has happened. From humble beginnings, this program has become a great force for good in the world.

In 1963 a group of political science professors were concerned that BYU offered little curriculum in public administration. Where could students learn the skills of governing? Professor Stewart Grow envisioned a degree that focused less on theory and more on launching public service careers. His mantra, “Enter to learn; go forth to serve,” became a rallying cry not only for the MPA program but also for the university, which adopted the motto.

Three of Grow’s protégés—professors Karl Snow, Dale Wright, and Doyle Buckwalter—helped lay the groundwork for the new program. Thanks to their efforts, the political science department began awarding master of science degrees in public administration in 1965. In 1971 the degree became the independent MPA.

The department soon began to experiment with a satellite program for public servants at Dugway Proving Ground in western Utah. This was the birth of the Executive MPA program, which offers a midcareer master’s program to nearly fifty working professionals each year.

In 1975, under the leadership of Dean Merrill J. Bateman, four graduate programs—the MPA, MBA, MAcc, and Mob—joined together as the founding members of the Graduate School of Management.

Being part of the School of Management launched the MPA program to national prominence. In 1982 it was one of the first five MPA programs in the country accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration.

A more dramatic change was in store in the 1990s. Years before, the MPA program had begun honoring an Administrator of the Year—an exceptional public leader who embodied its values. In 1996 the program chose to posthumously honor George W. Romney, an honoree of unprecedented experience.

George had been a business leader, a public servant, an advocate of civil rights, a presidential candidate, a cabinet member, and a champion of volunteerism. Shortly before his passing, he and his wife, Lenore, visited with Marriott School dean Fred Skousen to propose a unique program to prepare students for nonprofit careers.

After presenting the award in 1996, professor Larry Walters began discussions with the Romney family about the possibility of making George’s dream a reality. He proposed renaming the department the George W. Romney Institute of Public Management and extending its mission to prepare students for careers in the nonprofit sector.

Thanks to the tremendous generosity of former governor Mitt Romney and other family members, as well as friends of George and Lenore, the Romney Institute was founded in 1998.

The Romney endowment has been a game changer. It has attracted wonderful students. It has provided a quantum increase in the scholarships we offer. It provides the George W. Romney Endowed Professorship. It helps the program offer career trips and study abroad experiences. But, perhaps most importantly, the endowment gives us an identity—a sterling role model for our students to emulate. George W. Romney is truly the face of our program and the exemplar for our graduates.

—Jeff Thompson, Romney Institute Director

This text is adapted from Professor Thompson’s remarks at a banquet commemorating the program’s fiftieth anniversary on 19 November 2014.

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