GRAD SCHOOL: Old train station is home to UA School of Public Service.
The founding leaders of the Clinton School of Public Service have a vision so large that it comes as a bit of a shock to see just how small the school’s brick-and-mortar presence.
Two classrooms, a library and a computer room make up the core of educational space — half of the bottom floor of the renovated Choctaw railroad station, now renamed the Sturgis Building.
“It’s going to be very small at the beginning,” said former Sen. David Pryor, the school’s dean.
The first class — school officials are in the process of selecting them now — will have 20 students at most, Pryor said. That’s how other presidential schools started out, he said — like Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, which now has about 800 students.
“Our school will expand,” Pryor said.
The school’s definition of “public service” already is expansive. Those first students will have access to a faculty of about 60 drawn from universities and companies around Arkansas whose areas of expertise includes political science (Hendrix College’s Jay Barth), health policy (Tom Bruce, associate dean of the Clinton School and former dean of UAMS), the arts (Ann Chotard, artistic director of Wildwood Park for the Performing Arts), communications (Tom Peterson of Heifer International), business, law, rural studies and economics.
It’s the first time all three of the University of Arkansas System’s largest campuses — Fayetteville, UALR and UAMS — have worked together on something, Bruce said. Originally, the school was proposed for Fayetteville — there’s a tradition of keeping presidential schools separate from presidential libraries — but the Clintons wanted his school and library close together, Bruce said.
The school’s leaders have had to work to overcome certain assumptions about the school, he said.
“We don’t want this to be a school of politics,” Bruce said. It’s been “kind of awkward,” he acknowledged, because the school’s dean is a former senator and the first guest speaker was former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole. There’s also been the issue of the school’s namesake to deal with.
“Because of the Clinton name, the assumption is that we’re just a spawning ground for the Democratic Party,” Bruce said. “We had to say we’re making a determined effort to be either non-partisan or bipartisan.”
Whether it’s worked or not is hard to tell, since the first group of students hasn’t been chosen yet. But Bruce said the school is attracting an enormous amount of interest — more than 1,500 inquiries in one month earlier this fall.
The school will offer a master’s degree in public service as well as certificate programs that will take less time to complete. It will be the only school in the United States to offer a graduate program in public service, Bruce said. The master’s program will take about two years and cost about $15,000. Most students will spend some time in the classroom, but also go into the field — anywhere from the Arkansas Delta to Washington, D.C., to Africa — to get practical experience.
Prospective students must have completed two years of public service work before they come to the Clinton School, so Bruce expects a wide range of ages — everything from early-20-somethings to older professionals looking to change careers.
“There are people everywhere who are wanting to give back but don’t have the opportunity, and some don’t have the confidence to drop whatever they’re doing and go work for the International Rescue Committee, or hospice, or Habitat for Humanity,” Pryor said.
The goal is to work with students individually to develop the skills and confidence they need for an effective career in whatever sector of public service they choose, he said.
Bruce used his own experience at the Kellogg Foundation — which gives away about $400 million a year — to describe what the Clinton School’s goal is.
“It’s very easy to give away money,” he said. “It’s very difficult to give away money wisely. Money is so wonderful … but you also have great tendency to create dependency.
“That’s the concept we’re talking about building into our graduates — giving them knowledge and skill and know-how to build capacity in others.”
Originally, plans were for the first class to start this fall. But state legislators failed to appropriate any money for the school in the 2003 session — Bruce chalks it up to the Lake View court decision focusing all of lawmakers’ attention on K-12 education.
So admitting a class to start in the fall of 2005 is a bit of a gamble: lawmakers may or may not get around to approving money for the school this spring, and with already stiff competition for scarce higher-education dollars, there’s no guarantee the Clinton School will get what officials believe they need.
The school’s leaders have requested $2.8 million in start-up money — an amount the Department of Higher Education cut in half in its recommendation to the legislature. Bruce said he thinks the school needs a minimum of $2 million to get off the ground.
“We will get by with $1.4 million if that’s all they give us, “ he said, “but we felt somewhere in this process we got cut a little too rigorously.”