Larry W. Thomas
School of Public and International Affairs
executive director, School of Public and International Affairs
Ph.D., University of Tennessee
M.P.A., West Virginia University
B.A., Fairmont State College
My interest in public affairs really grew out of my undergraduate studies, history and political science. I anticipated going to law school, and I did—for three days.
I was interested more in constitutional law and torts than in contract or tax law;I was 21 at the time and undecided about what I really wanted to do. I got a number of scholarships from different schools to study public administration, so instead of continuing with law school I enrolled in the Master of Public Administration program at West Virginia University and finished the degree in a year. I was named outstanding student, and the faculty encouraged me to get my Ph.D., which I did, in political science. I did a lot of applied research projects during my doctoral studies at the University of Tennessee: transportation studies, legislative oversight studies and organizational studies of the Tennessee Valley Authority.
When I first came to the University of Baltimore, I taught administrative law and regulatory policy, which was the topic of my doctoral dissertation. I did that for a number of years and produced writings in that area. Then I started teaching public management and was elected division chair of the School of Public Affairs in the mid-1980s. In 1987, I took over the directorship of the Schaefer Center for Public Policy and headed it for the next 17 years.
When I started at the center, we had four graduate students and a part-time secretary; over the years, with the help of a lot of other people, it has developed into what I think is the pre-eminent public policy institution in the state, doing about $4.5 million worth of contracts a year. Its studies, training programs and evaluations have greatly impacted the state government. Working at the Schaefer Center is a terrific opportunity for graduate students to work closely with faculty and gain experience doing program evaluations.
Over the past five or six years, I've been involved primarily in the M.P.A. program's capstone experience, in which everything that students have been exposed to during their studies at UB is integrated into a final project. It serves two functions: Students gain the knowledge and skills to be managers in public or nonprofit organizations, and it is also a way of evaluating how well we're doing as faculty. It allows us to improve the M.P.A. program constantly.
We all get great joy out of working very closely with students, particularly in the Schaefer Center. For me, it is very fulfilling.