America Does NOT Need a Public Service Academy
A classmate of mine at Wash. U., Melissa Goldberg, published an editorial in the Post-Dispatch last week titled “America needs a public service academy.” With just a quick, superficial glance at the proposal, one might think that this is a great idea. Its proponents want to create a school, similar to the military service academies, designed to promote public service skills and train a dedicated bureaucracy. The article called for Missouri to host this school, citing politicians that have already given their blessing.
There are many things to take issue with, here — firstly, the comparison to military schools. Specialized training for the Air Force, Army, Navy and Coast Guard makes sense because they perform life-or-death tasks that require a specific level of discipline and set of skills. Many technical skills that need to be learned are not necessarily intuitive. Even then, training at these academies is not a prerequisite to being an officer; plenty of people who come from ROTC, or just normal universities and training programs, perform the same duties as the academy alumni.
If people really think a public service academy is necessary (and I don’t), a better plan might be to have a sort of public service ROTC. Goldberg argues that “mounting college debt and an uncertain economy” limit the number of candidates qualified to enter public service jobs. If that is true, perhaps a leadership program at a “regular” university, or experience in various types of campus leadership positions, would provide sufficient training. Another option for current schools to attract students to public service programs might be to offer debt forgiveness after a former graduate has spent a certain amount of time working in a public service profession. Many schools already offer this option for particular professions; most law schools will forgive debts if a lawyer works as a public defender for a certain amount of time (usually 10 years).
A centralized public service academy would be susceptible to the whims of politics and potential indoctrination. The possibility of an ideologically charged program churning groups of bureaucrats with specific politic belief systems (or even, one that accepted only those students who already adhere to such beliefs) should bring any American pause. Even if one argues that the university system already does this, the fact that a wide variety of schools exist to compete with each other tends to limit the scope of any overarching ideological bias. Why must a single public service school be given the official taxpayer stamp of approval?
The best leadership training entails actual experience with leading others, so school with a student body entirely composed of self-described leaders does not readily lend itself to this sort of practical opportunity in the way a “traditional” school might. In order to gain experience as a leader, one needs followers. Even Wash. U., which is the same size as the proposed academy — 5,000 students — has a plethora of leadership opportunities, from clubs to sports to student government. Establishing a dedicated school for public service would be redundant at best; leadership should be in the practicum, not the curriculum. At any rate, creating a permanent and entrenched bureaucracy from an early age is not something Americans should support, let alone fund.
Why waste at least $205 million of public money to create an unnecessary public service academy that would not provide a better experience than a normal university? A public service academy, while potentially well-intentioned, would be a bad idea for America.