Laura Jensen originally studied music composition, but now assesses optimal methods for composing societies. She researches state development and social welfare policy, specializing in how the American nation historically has crafted systems of care for citizens. Her publications illustrate how a state’s structure influences its public policies and vice versa. State structure and public policies certainly are co-produced. Yet political scientists sometimes focus on questions of power and state design to the exclusion of practice, while public management scholars concentrate on immediate, practical applications to the exclusion of theory.
Recently, Dr. Jensen encouraged public management scholars to embrace state theory on a panel entitled “Is Public Management Research Neglecting the State?” at the Public Management Research Conference (PMRC) in June 2016 at Aarhus University in Denmark. Other scholars from the CPAP community also spoke at PMRC, including Assistant Professor Robin Lemaire and Ph.D. alumna Donna Sedgwick, now Instructor of Sociology at VT.
Jensen maintained that “we cannot afford to ignore, dismiss, or neglect the state if we are to answer big questions of contemporary public management.” Questions of state sovereignty, legitimacy, and capacity are core concerns for today’s public.
- How can a state retain sovereignty when non-state actors (e.g., terrorists) are a constant threat?
- How can a government convince citizens of the legitimacy of its actions, so that they will participate in the public sphere and support government by voting and remitting taxes?
- How does a nation ensure the capacity required to achieve desired ends (resources, money, people, technology, etc.)?
Dr. Jensen says, “My work has always been concerned with the implementation of public policy and the question of how we can ensure that government is accountable to citizens.” She knows what public management requires, having spent ten years in elected office on the Planning & Zoning Commission and the Board of Selectmen in Clinton, Connecticut. As Associate Professor and Chair of SPIA’s Center for Public Administration and Policy (CPAP), Laura is one instrument in a grand faculty symphony.
The CPAP faculty orchestra includes many talented individuals who couple scholarly expertise with experience gained in successful careers in government, military, and the nonprofit sector. This is particularly valuable to students of public administration and policy, which not only necessitate the application of public management precepts, but also require knowledge of economics, ethics, organizational sociology, political science, leadership, and finance.
Dr. Jensen’s students carefully consider how governments – from localities to nation-states – can best achieve their numerous tasks while confronting time pressures, budget constraints, ideological conflicts, and crises of all stripes. Sometimes governments fall short, and their failures are examined in classes like her “Poverty, Inequality and Social Policy” seminar, now underway. Yet Jensen continually endeavors to instill a sense of optimism in her students, because she believes that “what government in this country manages to do and what we take for granted every day is amazing. Yes, our infrastructure needs repair, but many things work: the food we buy in grocery stores is safe to eat, and the lights turn on.”