The University of Georgia
Hal Rainey

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Hal Rainey

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Hal Rainey, Alumni Foundation Distinguished Professor in the School of Public and International Affairs, helps prepare his students to play important roles in discharging crucial government functions.

Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?

I earned my bachelor’s degree in English and psychology from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. I earned my master’s degree and Ph.D. from The Ohio State University in psychology and public administration, respectively.

I am currently the Alumni Foundation Distinguished Professor and the doctoral program director in department of public administration and policy in the School of Public and International Affairs.

When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?

I came as a visiting professor in 1988 and stayed when they offered me a permanent faculty position. UGA has had an excellent program in public administration for many years, and the opportunity to join a distinguished faculty was very attractive.

What are your favorite courses and why?

I teach a course we call public management, a course on organizational behavior in the public and nonprofit sectors, and a course in leadership for the public and nonprofit sectors. They are all my favorites. I enjoy working with the students we get in each of these courses.

What interests you about your field?

Public administration and public policy concern making government work.  In the United States, there are negative stereotypes of government, and sharp criticism of government is an important part of the way our system works. Government performs crucial functions, however, that influence the lives of every citizen—indeed, sometimes preserving their lives. Our students will play important roles in discharging those crucial functions, and we want our research to support their efforts and those of all public servants. We believe in good government and want to contribute to it.        

How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?

Again and again in class, I refer to my own research on government agencies, people and programs, and to the research of others. I have grown more and more confident over the years that the topics we cover in class are closely related to challenges that public servants face and that we learn about in our research. When we cover organizational change, for example, I begin the classroom discussion by saying, “I’m going to show you the major organizational reform and redesign they undertook at the Internal Revenue Service and what worked and what did not work, and how this relates to the theory we will apply to this example. Right now, there is a major initiative to reorganize the Census Bureau. We will look at what they are planning and based on the readings, you will tell me what they need to do to make it work.”

What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?

Confidence that they have a very sound knowledge of the topics, but with motivation to continue learning about them. I also hope they gain more confidence in themselves and in their ability to make a valuable contribution, and a sense of how important each one of their contributions will be. Finally, I’d like them to be exposed to some particular topics, questions and interests that they want to pursue for the rest of their lives.

Describe your ideal student.

The typical student in our program is my ideal student.

Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…

In my office, finally getting to get back to my research, or talking to a student about the student’s interests and aspirations. We have a beautiful campus, and when I can get a chance I like to take a walk around North Campus. They do a very nice job with the landscaping and other grounds keeping here.

Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…

Read, walk, ski, travel, go boating and putter around with some remedial gardening.          

Community/civic involvement includes….

In the past, I have coached Little League and other youth sports, served as an elementary school volunteer reading helper and supported some church youth group activities when my kids were young. In addition, I have been involved in various volunteer activities when called upon.

Favorite book/movie?

I can’t name a single favorite. In fiction, among many, my favorites include Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” and James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” Why? We get to see great writers at work and, to some extent, at play, in portraying the human experience. My favorite nonfiction books include Walter Isaacson’s biographies of Einstein and of Ben Franklin. Isaacson is a fine biographer who teaches us about two important and fascinating human beings. Also, Taylor Branch’s “Parting the Waters”is very important to me. Branch provides a very complete account of Dr. King and his colleagues risking their lives to campaign for justice from which others would benefit more than they ever would—one of the genuinely great stories of moral courage. 

One of my favorite movies is “A Man for All Seasons” with Paul Scofield. Why? Because it takes guts to stick to your values and convictions when they are going to chop your head off for it.

Proudest moment at UGA?

In two different years, two of the doctoral students for whom I served as major professor won the top three awards that are available in our field for the best dissertation. They are the only two doctoral students ever to have won all three awards. I was excited for them—and for me and the other faculty members here. The two students now are very successful in their careers.

In addition, there are two major awards for career achievements in public administration, called the Waldo Award and the Gaus Award. When I received these awards, in addition to being astonished that I had been selected, I was very proud to bring those awards to our program here at UGA. My colleague, Larry O’Toole, also won these awards, and this makes us the only program in the nation with two active faculty members who have won both of these awards.
 
As I mentioned, UGA has had an excellent program in my field for a long time. In the last decade or so, we started to show up as very highly rated and among the very top programs in the nation in various rating and ranking systems. I grew up in Atlanta and as a native Georgian I felt good about contributing to an excellent program at the state university. The rating systems have imperfections, but I know my colleagues deserve such high ratings and that the high ratings are valid for our program. It makes me proud to be here.

(Originally published Feb. 2, 2014)