In the fall semester of last year, Seton Hall launched a new course, Strategic Management for Collaborative Governance, offered to students seeking their Master’s degree in public administration. The course is taught by Dr. Matthew Hale, Associate Professor and MPA Program Chair for the Department of Political Science and Public Affairs, and Alex Torpey, president of South Orange Village and now also adjunct professor of government and technology at Seton Hall. Dr. Hale reached out to Torpey with the idea for the course after they met at an event on campus last year.
Methods of improving public operations are studied, with a focus on doing so as ethically and transparently as possible, often through the use of technology, according to Torpey. The MPA class encourages students to get involved in local government in order to obtain a more hands-on experience. Students are assigned to work towards passing ordinances in Essex County towns using a toolkit provided by The Citizens Campaign, an organization dedicated to giving people more of a say in local government. (Find out more at thecitizenscampaign.org.)
According to Dr. Hale, these kits provide tips on passing “green roof and parking ordinances,” and ways to get local governments to post “salaries of public officials,” for example.
Students go about passing these laws by “understanding the local needs, reading local media, attending local governing body meetings, speaking and meeting with local community members and town officials and doing enough research to make sure they’re working on something that makes sense for the town,” Torpey said.
One of the students currently enrolled in the course is Lee Nave, a dual degree graduate student in the MPA and Diplomacy program with a Nonprofit Management concentration, and co-founder and Director of Operations and Development of Student Voice, a nonprofit organization. Nave said he appreciates the practical lessons about governance he gains from guest speakers, including government officials, nonprofit managers and a former candidate for governor.
For his Citizens Campaign assignment, Nave is working on restructuring school policies in East Orange with the help of a friend who is a freeholder and alum of the SHU MPA program.
William Golba, assistant editor of Seton Hall Magazine, said he and his fellow students have applied what they learned from guest speakers to their own projects.
These presentations involved “applying those concepts that were discussed in the first part of the course and in the class readings to a specific function of government (land use, elections, provision of public services, etc.),” said Golba.
His Citizens Campaign project involved creating a Community Emergency Response Team in Montclair, N.J. Pau Marin, a graduate assistant with the Joseph A. Unanue Latino Institute, also finds the course to be a rewarding experience, especially since it is taught by two people with substantial experience in management.
For his ordinance project, Marin worked with the town of Orange, N.J. to successfully give citizens “online access to the city’s budget summary, all labor contracts, as well as the top 10% salaries or the top five salaries for each department,” he said.
Students of the graduate course are not the only ones benefiting from it. Torpey claims teaching the class is just as educational for him.
“Everything is a learning experience, and just because I’m a professor doesn’t mean I’m not a student,” Torpey said. “I’ve taken a lot away from conversations and ideas and discussions in class that inform some of the larger theories and practices that go into not just things in South Orange, but how I think about government in general. It’s definitely a two way street.”
In teaching the course, Torpey often draws on his experience in politics.
“I’ve studied political science and have done my MPA as well, but the prime reason I was brought on was to use my experience as a mayor to help provide a really indepth and broad range of perspectives for students going into this field,” he said.
While it is a public administration course, Torpey emphasized that the goal of the class is not to simply explore “a little bit of a background in theory,” but rather to engage in a “practical discussion of real-life scenarios that one would face as a local elected official or public manager.”
Noora Badwan can be reached at email@example.com.