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In Remembrance

Charles H. Levine Distinguished Professor of Government and Public Administration

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Charles Levine

Charlie Levine appeared to know everyone, understand everything, and be everywhere.

The first Distinguished Professor of Government and Public Administration, who died unexpectedly at the age of 49 in 1988, made an indelible mark on all those in his sphere—students, colleagues, and friends—through his passion and energy.

Every minute counted for Levine as his plate was brimming with ideas, commitments and new initiatives. He launched his day “so early that he and the janitor opened up the school,” according to his widow.

Levine was a founding director of the National Commission on the Public Service, known as the first Volcker Commission. He and super-diplomats Robert Schaetzel and Bruce Laingen were the “engines” of the initiative that championed civil service as this sector was assailed by some politicians and political appointees. Levine worked with the renowned high-profile commission while he taught at SPA. “He wore two hats,” Elaine states simply.

Levine also made his mark in the leading journals of public administration and policy. He was the founding editor of the journal of Administration & Society as well as the author or co-author of nine books, including such classics as Managing Fiscal Stress and The Politics of Retrenchment and was known for his seminal works on cutback management in fiscally challenging times.

Levine was as devoted to his students as he was to his field. His famous love of mentoring spread among academic networks and prompted a young, unknown assistant professor to send a book proposal to the great scholar who he had never even met for his review. That assistant professor assumed he would never hear back from Levine.

Robert Durant, now chair of SPA’s Department of Public Administration and Policy, recalls that Levine returned his proposal with three single-spaced pages of comments, an act of professionalism and generosity that Durant recalls whenever he is contacted for similar advice by others. He also measures his own responsiveness against Levine’s generosity when similar requests come to him today from junior scholars. “My behavior today,” says Durant, “is a legacy of Charlie Levine.”

Former SPA dean Robert Cleary remembers Levine as both a scholar and a friend. “Charlie was a hail fellow, well met. He was a scholar and he also understood the practicalities of government” especially in his field, the federal personnel system.

“Charlie Levine was selected as our first Distinguished Professor of Public Administration because he was a giant in the field,” says AU President Neil Kerwin, an SPA faculty colleague at the time. “His contributions to public management and our programs were many, highly significant and continue to influence us today. I considered him a good friend and a great colleague. In that, I am one of hundreds.”

“This lecture series,” referring to SPA’s Charles H. Levine Memorial Lecture in Public Administration and Policy, “is a fitting memorial to a scholar-teacher who set a sterling example we would all do well to emulate.”

“We all miss Charlie. His legacy in scholarship will last forever,” declares James Thurber, Distinguished Professor of Government and Director of SPA’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies who was Levine’s grad school classmate and ultimately his eulogist. He notes Levine’s great gift aside from his research: “his wonderful self-deprecating sense of humor.”

Levine’s classroom was a stage for that humor and the passionate exchange of ideas. He held “high expectations for his students and they loved him for that,” his widow remembers. He also shared his wide-ranging approach in the classroom.  

“He was always curious, into everything, exploring. His friends were philosophers. Everyone would pick everyone else’s brains,” recalls Elaine Levine. SPA’s intellectual vibrancy shone with other leading lights of the world of public administration including the late executive in residence Anita Alpern and professor emeritus Bernie Rosen, among others.

A native of Hartford, Levine graduated from the University of Connecticut, received master's degrees in both public administration and business administration from Indiana University, where he also earned a doctoral degree in political science.

In the early 1970s, Levine taught on the faculties of the University of Maryland, Syracuse University, and Cornell University. In 1977, he rejoined the faculty at the University of Maryland, leaving in 1981 to take an endowed chair (the first Edward O. Stene Distinguished Professorship) at the University of Kansas. In 1983, Levine returned to the Washington area where he joined the senior staff of the Brookings Institution. In 1984, he became a Senior Specialist in American National Government and Public Administration with the Congressional Research Service at the Library of Congress.

Levine’s scholarly work has been widely recognized. He received ASPA’s William E. Mosher Award for Scholarship and research awards have been instituted in his name as testimony to the impact he made on scholarship, practice, and his colleagues and students.

Perhaps the most moving testimony of Levine’s affect on others was the dedication of a festschrift, a memorial collection of works by colleagues in the field dedicated to a scholar. Levine’s reach was so far and deep that contributors had to be turned away for the two-volume publication “Agenda for Excellence.”

Elaine Levine believes this lasting tribute is most apt: “Charlie loved the person who was curious.”