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Saturday, March 12, 2005

Busy, busy, busy....

It's been awhile since I've compose the blog entry, and I have a bit of catching up to do. The pinched nerve problem came back with a vengeance this past weekend, and I am once again having problems sitting in front of the computer for extended periods (which may be the cause of the problem to begin with). I've also been overwhelmed with tasks from my many projects -- not only do I take on too many, but then I tend to put off many of the smaller obligations while dealing with major ones. In combination, my back problems and procrastination has pushed blogging down my list of priorities.

Among the tasks I am desperately completing at the moment is an evaluation of American applicants for a prestigious UK postgraduate fellowship (which I suspect I should not name). There are 40 in my stack, and I've been told that this started out with well over 800 competitive applicants. I have to have this done by Monday morning when I fly off to an evaluation committee meeting where we compare our notes and pass on our collective assessment to the final selection committee. All this is very interesting, especially since it really gives you insight into just how brilliant some undergraduate students really are. I have to admit that after 35 years of teaching I've become a bit frustrated with the quality of the typical undergraduate. Not that I was myself a stellar student; far from it -- and looking at these applicants, I can only wonder how an average bloke like me has been able to compete in world populated by the likes of them. It is also true that I've taught at a number of institutions that were unlikely to attract the caliber of student I'm dealing with in this competition. Nevertheless, I've taught my share of what I regard as exceptional students, and I've known still others indirectly through my wife's work overseeing a college honors program as well as working at an Ivy League institution. Even with all that, I'm in awe when reading these applications. Certainly the students and their reference letters are accentuating their respective strengths and positive attributes. But even taking into account some degree of exaggeration, it's impossible not to be impressed. The real problem is that only few of these 40 will receive awards under this program.

I've also been involved this week in helping to put together a couple of international conferences that will take place later this year. In early June, about a hundred academics from the US and Europe (with a couple from Australia and Mexico) will get together in Leuven Belgium for conference on administrative ethics. I serve on the program committee for that meeting, and this past two weeks we've had to sort out the various paper proposals. It should be an interesting meeting. In addition, I'm in the midst of finalizing the organization of a conference on accountability that we are hosting here in Belfast next October. The work on both conferences has been interesting, I've been most surprised at how little overlap has developed in the programming of these meetings. I've been involved in the study of accountability for many years, and that work has helped define my approach to the study of administrative ethics. And yet the call for papers for the Leuven conference only generated one accountability-relevant paper proposal -- and that was the one I put forward with my colleague, Jonathan Justice. At the same time, in working with the program committee for the Belfast conference, none of the major topics under discussion really focused on questions of ethics. It seems as if my own association between accountability and ethics may be idiosyncratic or just naïve....

Speaking of which, this has also been the week when friend Ciaran and I have been working to complete a paper on ethics and accountability for the upcoming ASPA meeting in Milwaukee. This is turning out to be a very interesting paper -- perhaps more interesting than we originally intended. Among other things, we will challenge the primary focus of much of the study of administrative ethics in public administration. While interesting and occasionally brilliant, most of the work in this area over the past 30 years can be regarded as "metaphysical speculation" -- or, in my terms, the search for the holy Grail of a moral theory for public administration to adopt and follow. As it is presently developing (at this very moment), our paper posits solutions to moral and ethical dilemmas as the central concern of administrative ethics, those posing an interesting challenge to the current mainstream literature in the field. It will be interesting to see whether anybody pays attention....

Finally, I've been helping to prepare for a meeting this morning (Saturday) of a Queens University research team that will study (under a 3-year ESRC grant) changes in the regulatory regimes of several nations linked to the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley regulatory reforms in the US in 2002....

Now I've written all this out, and surprise that at any time to post this blog and all....

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