Meet Brandon Ford! He is a current on-campus student and President of the Villanova ICMA Chapter. His paper, “The Benevolent Administrator” was just selected to receive ASPA’s Outstanding Student Paper Award from a nationwide competition! On top of all of that, he also recently just started a new position for the Municipality of Norristown! We had a lot to catch up with him on – check out what he had to say!
1) First things first, what is ASPA and the Outstanding Student Paper Award?
ASPA, which is short for the American Society for Public Administration, is one of the largest and most prominent professional associations dedicated to advancing the art and practice of public administration around the globe. In addition to the Society’s general advancement of the profession, ASPA members can become even more engaged in specific topics by joining one or more of ASPA’s twenty-one (21) issue-oriented Sections. Example of some of the many ASPA Sections include: Emergency and Crisis Management, Budgeting and Finance, Transportation Administration, and LGBT advocacy.
Earlier this week I was honored to be notified that my paper, “The Benevolent Administrator”, was selected to receive the Outstanding Student Paper Award from ASPA’s Section on Ethics and Integrity in Governance (SEIGOV). I had submitted my paper late last semester to the ASPA SEIGOV Student Paper Competition, which called for student papers that focused on any ethical issue in public administration (i.e. corruption, ethical integrity and responsibility, etc.). After a peer-review and a strict judging process by a panel of scholars, my paper was chosen to receive the award. As the recipient of the award, SEIGOV is sponsoring my attendance to the upcoming 2016 ASPA conference in Seattle, WA.
2) Tell us about your paper, “The Benevolent Administrator”.
“The Benevolent Administrator” started out as one of my assignments for Dr. Perun in Leadership Ethics (MPA: 8300), a course I took this past summer and highly suggest to anyone looking for an amazing elective. The paper is essentially a synopsis of my perspective on the ASPA Code of Ethics, a collection of principles that serve as a guide for public administrators to use in order to ensure that their actions, decisions, and conduct are ethically justifiable. The first part offers an overview of the ASPA Code and examines two theoretical themes which I consider to be embodied in the principles of the Code. “The Benevolent Administrator” derives its name from one of those two themes, namely the endeavor to develop virtuous characteristics in public administrators (i.e. public administrators ought to be open and respect all persons).
The second, and even more fascinating, component of my paper focuses on a critique of the ASPA Code and highlights what I consider a major theoretical deficiency in it centered on Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development. Proponents of Kohlberg’s theory assert that moral reasoning, an individual’s ability to judge what is right or wrong, is developed over time through hierarchical and invariant cognitive stages, and that people operating at lower cognitive levels cannot comprehend or act in accordance to the reasoning of a higher level. In other words, someone who judges what is right or wrong primarily to avoid punishment (a lower level of moral reasoning) does not have the ability to judge their actions based on the idea of a social contract (a higher level of moral reasoning).
In “The Benevolent Administrator”, I argue that the writers of ASPA Code incorrectly assume that all professionals who use the Code are cognitively capable of comprehending the high level of ethical reasoning that are embodied in the principles put forth in the Code. One example is the universal principle of personal excellence. How can an administrator who makes decisions based on the consequences of the action (e.g. avoiding punishment) be motivated to strive for personal excellence if there are no consequences attached to that action? I know that I sound like a big nerd right now, but it is really exciting stuff! From my conversations with the members of SEIGOV, there is even talk of calling for a rewrite of the ASPA Code based on my paper.
3) You also recently just received a new job position – there’s a lot to congratulate you for! What will you be doing now in your work?
Thanks for the congratulations. I just started as the Special Assistant to the Municipal Administrator for the Municipality of Norristown. It is a really exciting opportunity for me to contribute my skills and apply the knowledge and lessons that I have picked up through the Villanova MPA program. In my position, I will be assisting Crandall O. Jones, Norristown’s Municipal Administrator, with numerous special projects and analytical reports. I will also be working with all of the other municipal departments in standardizing operational processes, developing new programs and policies, and introducing new performance measures.
4) As President of Villanova’s Student Chapter of ICMA, you have a lot on your plate! What does the Chapter do?
Yeah, life is pretty hectic right now, but I’m loving every minute of it! For those you do not know, ICMA stands for the International City/County Management Association (ICMA). As President of Unitas, the Villanova Student Chapter of ICMA, I collaborate with our faculty advisor, Dr. Wheeland, chapter mentor, Mr. Bruce Clark (Township Manager of Middletown Twp.), and our members in sponsoring an event each semester to promote the field of local government management.
This semester we will be hosting a roundtable discussion on April 20th from 4:00pm to 6:00pm in Barley Auditorium. The panel will feature several Villanova MPA alums and focus on the topics of public service as well as their post-graduation experiences. Any graduate and undergraduate student is encouraged to attend, there is a good chance that there will even be food!
5) Are there any particular learning experiences or courses in the MPA program that stand out to you?
I do not know where to even bring with this one. There are so many positive learning experiences that I have encountered as part of Villanova’s MPA program that it is really hard for me to choose. However, there are a four that stand out above the rest:
Internship at Whitemarsh Township – During the summer and fall of 2014, I had the pleasure of interning at Whitemarsh Township in Montgomery County. It was my first real venture into the world of public administration, and was an eye-opening experience. Being an intern, experiencing the “real world” local government and learning from both the Township Manager and Asst. Township Manager (both Villanova alums BTW), ignited my passion for the field and definitely counts as one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
Leadership Ethics (MPA 8300) – By far one of my two favorite classes in the program (no offense to the other great courses that I have had with some truly amazing professors). The class was a lot of hard work, and challenged me to critically examine my morals and justify myself using ethical principles.
Public Networks (MPA 8800) – The second of my two favorite MPA courses. From my time as an intern at Whitemarsh to my present position in Norristown, I have used the concepts and lessons from this class literally every day. A major component of Public Networks is Negotiating, a skill that I cannot stress the importance of when working with others.
Villanova MPA Community – This one is for all of those just starting or about to enter the program. Pursuing your MPA program at Villanova is truly like joining a family community. I have met so many people and have established many lasting friendships (especially with those whom I shared the joys of Stats I & II). Many of those same classmates are now my colleagues, most of whom are still in the area working in other municipalities.
P.S. – We asked Dr. Perun, Brandon’s Leadership Ethics professor, to comment on Brandon’s award and his development throughout the course. He said:
“This is a well deserved recognition of Brandon’s hard work in the MPA program. Over the last year Brandon has dramatically improved his writing, and in Leadership Ethics he demonstrated great conversancy in the theories and insightful application. We can all be very proud that he is representing the Villanova MPA community at the national level.”