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For the public good

Posted by Mark Campbell on July 8, 2021 in Alumni & Friends

Pictured: MPA students at the SPA Policy Case Competition

If Dr. Paul Pross had followed his original career plans, he would have become a professor of political science teaching students the nuances of Canadian government. But an invitation from Dalhousie University in 1967 gave him a unique opportunity to help further establish public administration as a discipline in its own right.

The opportunity presented to Dr. Pross, just 28 at the time, was to launch a Master of Public Administration (MPA) program. It was a relatively new concept in Canada, which meant he had few templates to follow. “It was going to be the second program of its kind in Canada,” Dr. Pross recalls. “It was intended mainly for full-time students. The suite of qualifications included a Diploma in Public Administration, which was basically the first year of the MPA, and the Certificate in Public Administration, which was intended for part-time students who did not have an undergraduate degree.”

Working with Jim Aitchison, the head of Political Science, W. Andrew McKay, vice-president academic and later Dalhousie’s eighth president, and colleagues from the Department of Commerce, Dr. Pross helped launch the program in 1968. It quickly became a template for other Canadian universities to launch their own programs. More important, the program developed a reputation for excellence that engaged senior public officials at the federal and regional level. Some, such as Michael Kirby, who served as Secretary to the Canadian Cabinet for Federal-Provincial Relations and Deputy Clerk of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada in the 1980s, delivered seminars to students. Others served on the program’s advisory board.

“That representation was invaluable to us because our faculty and students gained vital insights into what was going on in government,” Dr. Pross says. “It also gave us the opportunity to suggest that these officials create internships for our students. Our students gained access to summer positions with the Privy Council Office and with other departments and agencies at the federal, provincial, and municipal level that served as an entrée for long and rewarding public service careers.”

Dr. Pross subsequently helped establish the School of Public Administration in 1975 and served as its director from 1985 until 1990. His research, publications and dedication to academic excellence advanced the study and practice of public administration and earned him the Vanier Medal of the Institute of Public Administration of Canada in 1995. It is that legacy that his colleague Dr. Fazley Siddiq, who developed the School’s economics curriculum with Barbara Jamieson, decided to honour by establishing the Paul Pross Scholarship to support future generations of MPA students.

Although Dr. Pross appreciated and valued the honour, he thought about the many colleagues who helped shape the program over the years: David Cameron, who became the School’s first director; Jim McNiven, who later served as dean of the Faculty of Management; Paul Brown, who worked with Dr. Pross in developing the School’s policy courses in addition to establishing the internship programs; and Peter Aucoin, who also served as Director. He also thought about the contributions of many other faculty members like Kell Antoft, who later became director of the Institute of Public Affairs; Murray Davidson, who helped to establish the accounting program; and Marguerite Cassin, whose emphasis on feminism made the School more relevant to women considering careers in public service.

“It was exciting for me to bring my own public service experience, my scholarly and personal interest in merit and gender equality and to making social change to the MPA curriculum,” recalls Cassin. “It was good to see that their studies in topics such as difference, equality, gender, race and inclusion relations, merit and how we form knowledge facilitate their transition into jobs across the public service and advance their careers. As a faculty we were proud of our School and the contribution we were making.”

It was contributions like that of Cassin that gave Dr. Pross an idea. “I didn’t see why I should be the person who is remembered,” he says. “I suggested it would be advantageous to adopt a more generic name, and I was glad that the current faculty at the School chose to call it the Founders Scholarship.

The Founders Scholarship will be awarded to students enrolled in their first year of the MPA program. Recipients will be chosen based on academic excellence and a demonstrated commitment to public service and leadership qualities. For Dr. Pross, the scholarship is a welcome development that ensures Dalhousie continues to attract the best and brightest.

“I remember sitting in with the scholarship committee and looking at wonderful CVs from promising students, knowing we could not offer them competitive scholarships,” Dr. Pross says. “We would send out letters of acceptance only to hear from students that another school offered them more financial support. That was another reason I thought we should rename it the Founders Scholarship: by being generic, we could generate enough support to create a scholarship that has real substance.”

"We are excited about growing the MPA program and making our community more inclusive,” says Lori Turnbull, Director of the School of Public Administration. “The Founders Scholarship will help to ease some of the financial pressures of graduate education."

Having helped to make academic history with the establishment of the MPA, Dr. Pross is excited about the program’s future, particularly as the Founders Scholarship nears its fundraising goal. “I really hope that alumni, faculty and public servants alike will continue to get behind it,” he says. “I think it is vital for all of us to step up and create the best possible fund we can for the benefit of students and the program. Through our support, we can ensure that Dalhousie remains competitive in attracting top-flight talent.”

If you would like to make a difference by supporting the Founders Scholarship, please visit