As a respected and distinguished advisory board sat before him for the first time Feb. 28, 2012, at the Davis College of Business, new Jacksonville University Public Policy Institute Director Rick Mullaney wasted no time issuing a strong challenge:
“Through this Institute, you have the opportunity to make as significant a contribution to this city as anything you’ve ever done,” he said. “We are limited only by the thinking of the people in this room.”
JU President Kerry D. Romesburg agreed as he welcomed the advisory board to its first meeting to help lay the framework and set the course for the new Institute.
“We need your help with making this a vital part of the community and region, so the Iinstitute can among other things provide the research and expertise needed on problems that focus on this area.”
The study of public policy is on a significant upswing nationwide, said Mullaney, a former General Counsel for the City of Jacksonville and recent mayoral candidate. Public policy is the most popular undergraduate liberal arts major at Duke University, for example, with more than 200 entering freshman majoring in Public Policy this year. It’s the fastest-growing program at George Mason University, and more than 1,200 students applied to Georgetown University’s MPP program last year.
“Public policy programs are growing dramatically around the country,” he told the board.
In addition to educating, training and preparing students to be future leaders, the benefits to the community of the Institute will be many, Mullaney said. Not only will institutional knowledge, scholarship and expertise be brought to local issues, but talent will be brought to local organizations.
“Picture JU graduate students, seeking their MPP degrees, working on a policy issues with the Jacksonville Community Council Inc., the Jacksonville Civic Council, JEA, the Chamber of Commerce, the Jacksonville Public Education Fund,” he said. “My hope is that the Institute will we become the institution of choice for groups in Jacksonville on public policy issues.”
Mullaney gave an example of the local importance of getting out ahead on public policy:
“If this Institute were in place 10 years ago, and had a policy conference on health care and economic development, maybe Jacksonville would have been at the table when Florida was deciding where to place four new medical schools. It’s an economic tragedy to have not been on that list. And who knows what issue will be out there in the future?”
Advisory board members agreed the Institute can play a crucial role for Jacksonville.
“There’s a lot of banter about whittling down government involvement,” said former Mayor John Peyton. “But it’s very hard to move the needle on major progress without good public policy.”
Jacksonville badly needs a repository of institutional knowledge of government, history, public policy and structure, Peyton said. He ticked off important local developments of the past in which good public policy played a huge role: consolidating government, improving infrastructure and getting an NFL team.
Ben Warner, President and CEO of JCCI, hailed the Institute for helping confront the challenge of bringing many constituencies together to upgrade public policy locally.
“Jacksonville has been missing the academic research around local public policy,” he said. “We have a few passionate individuals, like Rick, but we need the shared emphasis and research of an academic institution and local professionals to add to the body of knowledge we have.”
Local business leader Robert T. Shircliff, former chair of the Jacksonville University Board of Trustees, said the timing was right for the Institute.
“Good public policy: we aren’t seeing it enough today. There is too much self-interest and not enough public interest,” he said. “But when you look at the condition of the country, state and city, it’s created an interest in public policy for many young people. They want to be a part of it.”
Yank D. Coble, Distinguished Professor and Director of the Center for Global Health and Medical Diplomacy at the University of North Florida, said the Institute can help lead the way on specific issues that affect the tax-paying public.
“For example, we’ve seen how public policy is fundamental to our medical system and to education,” he said. “Hopefully with good policy we make decisions not out of competing interests and emotions, but by being objective and analytical. We see how the right investment and research decisions can affect outcomes and create better-quality jobs.”
The non-partisan Board, made up of Republicans and Democrats with diverse expertise and public policy interests, is made up of respected community leaders. It includes Fernando Acosta-Rua, Ronald R. Austin, Dr. Yank D. Coble, Gary R. Chartrand, Robert M. Clements, Joseph N. Debs, G. Ray Driver, Brenda B. Ezell, Steve T. Halverson, Preston H. Haskell, Cyrus M. Jollivette, Kelly Madden, Douglas M. Miller, Honorable John S. Peyton, C. Daniel Rice, Ambassador John D. Rood (Ret.), Robert T. Shircliff, Richard L. Sisisky, Jay Stein, William H. Walton, Ben Warner and Nina Waters.