Thoughts on Theories

As an MPA student at the Voinovich School, I have been afforded the opportunity to custom tailor my degree program and select courses that are of most interest to me. Since completing a course in higher education management with Dr. Barbara Reeves, I have found myself attracted to the study of higher education. This field of research offers a foundational look into the policies and practices that influence American higher education. However, if public administration is a swamp, then higher education is a minefield.

Rife with political influences and policy disputes, higher education as a discipline offers conflicting viewpoints that often hamper transformative change. Interestingly, public administration and higher education are more similar than they are different. Both disciplines offer contradictory theories, administrative norms, and a historical clash between theorists and practitioners. With regard to both disciplines, I consider myself to fall more into the practitioner camp. This is partly due to my current graduate assistant position as a resident director. However, as a budding thesis writer, I have grown more adept at understanding and analyzing theories.

Though many practitioners often question the practical applications of theories, German-American Psychologist Kurt Lewin argued, “There is nothing more practical than a good theory.” Indeed, theories have a place in our collective consciousness and serve the betterment of humanity.  Undoubtedly, some theories are just confusing. In fact, many theories in public administration contradict rather than advance our understandings. Though it may be difficult to tell which theories are correct, it is important to grasp their applications. By applying a specific theory, practical applications can emerge and validity can be tested. Theories are intended to develop our knowledge and understanding of the world. Therefore, no theory should hide within the literature and be reserved for an esoteric group of academics.

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