Remembering William Mosher: A Pioneer of Public Administration

Published date01 January 2015
AuthorJeremy F. Plant
Date01 January 2015
Jeremy F. Plant is professor of public
policy and administration in the School of
Public Affairs, Penn State Harrisburg, where
he has been a member of the faculty since
1988. He is past chair of the Section on
Ethics and the Section on Transportation
Policy and Administration of the American
Society for Public Administration. His
research focuses on administrative ethics,
transportation policy, and the history of
public administration.
Remembering William Mosher: A Pioneer of Public Administration 13
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 75, Iss. 1, pp. 13–14. © 2014 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12270.
Jeremy F. Plant
Penn State Harrisburg
When today’s student of public
administration thinks of the founding
f‌i gures of the f‌i eld, the list is rather small:
Woodrow Wilson, Charles Goodnow, Luther Gulick,
Leonard White, Mary Parker Follett, Louis Brownlow,
and Charles Beard. Less likely to be mentioned along
with these well-known authors is an individual who
bridged the academic and professional sides of public
administration, William E. Mosher.  e f‌i rst dean of
the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Af‌f airs
at Syracuse University, William Mosher was in his day
a well-regarded scholar in the area of personnel man-
agement, but today he is better known for two lasting
contributions that continue to resonate: the develop-
ment of the master of public administration (MPA)
curriculum and the creation of the American Society
for Public Administration (ASPA).
William Mosher came late to the f‌i eld of public
administration. His initial f‌i eld of study was German
culture, which he studied at Oberlin College and
in graduate studies in Germany and then taught for
more than a decade at Oberlin. His transition to
public administration came about in the turbulence
of World War I, when, on the advice of Charles
Beard, head of the Bureau of Municipal Research
in New York City, he moved from the quiet life of
a college professor to become actively involved in
personnel training for supervisors in war indus-
tries. Personnel administration became his primary
research interest, culminating in the f‌i rst major text-
book on the subject, Public Personnel Administration,
coauthored with J. Donald Kingsley. But Mosher’s
interest in the training of personnel led him to the
position with which he is most closely associated, as
dean of the Maxwell School at Syracuse University.
Mosher became its f‌i rst director, later dean, in 1924,
and through his leadership created the foundation
for the modern MPA degree, stressing a general-
ist professional orientation. (For a more detailed
account of Mosher’s career, see the excellent article by
Charles S. Ascher in the Spring 1946 issue of Public
Administration Review.)
Public administration in the 1920s was still largely
concerned with local government administration,
ref‌l ecting the absence of a true national administra-
tive state as well as the f‌i eld’s roots in the munici-
pal research bureaus. Mosher initially directed the
Maxwell program toward local government manage-
ment—realistic given its location away from major
centers of state and national government activity. But
as the New Deal unfolded, Mosher found himself and
others in the f‌i eld moving away from the local orienta-
tion to see problems in a national context. Mosher
was part of a group charged by President Franklin
D. Roosevelt and Basil Manly, vice chairman of the
Federal Power Commission, to study electric rates
nationally, a project that moved him to the forefront
of policy research during the New Deal.
As the 1930s drew to a close, Mosher moved forward
with plans for a national professional association that
would link the various strands of the f‌i eld of public
administration together—local, state, and national
public administrators, researchers and consultants
from the research bureaus, and students and faculty
at the emerging academic programs across the nation.
As recounted by Charles Ascher, the key to Mosher’s
leadership on the issue was his chairmanship of the
executive committee of the Governmental Research
Association (GRA) in 1939–40 (Ascher 1946, 103–4).
In Ascher’s words, the bureau orientation of the GRA
was no longer able to satisfy the needs of university
faculty and professional administrators involved in
the explosion of governmental activity at all levels
of government in the 1930s:
Indeed, the founder-members [of the GRA]
had over a decade viewed with some doubts
the inf‌i ltration into GRA of university profes-
sors and public administrators.  ese sought
in its annual meetings a forum for the discus-
sion of issues of public policy and the place of
administration in a changing society …  e
sentiment crystallized that this country was
ready for a society of public administration for
Remembering William Mosher: A Pioneer of Public

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