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Agencies Class, Fall 1999
200 Word Summaries of Lectures and Class Discussions

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: September 3, 1999
E-Mail Curran or Takata.

August 31, 1999: Theory to Policy to Practice and Public Discourse

Fit of agencies class into sociology curriculum: was once part of a paralegal program, so class had a legal emphasis. I decided to retain that interest because, as we approach the millennium, the system of law is the one on which Habermas counts to provide us with public discourse on the crisis issues we face of wealth distribution, resource use and preservation, and a balance of values. It is to the system of law that Habermas looks to protect and foster "legitimacy," the just participation of every citizen in governance.

This approach seems particularly appropriate since it is the law which governs the power by which agencies operate. When the legislature empowers some office to provide a service, such as Aid for Dependent Children, or Support for a Small Business, or Rescue of a Major Corporation in financial difficulties, they simply say that the service shall be provided, identify the agency, and provide the budget. From that point on they empower agency personnel to act as their agents to see that the service is worked out in all the necessary details from administering and evaluating the program to distribution of the resources. Agency power derives from the enabling legislation.

There has always been a concern over accountability, how well are our dollars used in this duly legislated goal? And there has always been concern over who is best qualified to take over these tasks: a professional agency staff person familiar with agency operations, or a politically appointed person familiar with the policy and the legislation but largely uninitiated into agency operations? There is also concern about the extent to which special interest groups gain influence over each agency and its operations. We will examine agencies from the perspective of all these power struggles.

Since most of you are primarily concerned with actual agency work, we will spend at least half the course with guest professionals from a variety of agencies. Based on our theoretical and policy discussions in class and in our text, we will prepare a set of questions for our guests that will most effectively provide a sense of actual operations.

We also discussed the framework we will use for discussions: theory -> policy -> practice, and practice -> policy -> theory. Because these are some of the major issues which face our society today, it is important that you learn to recognize the policy considerations behind agency actions and the theory that generates that policy. One example might be a discussion of the policy of privacy with respect to AIDS infection. Different theoretical perspectives dictate different policy. Another example was given: that of Jensen's publication in the Harvard Educational Review of an article that began with the sentence "compensatory education has been tried and has failed . . . ." I would like you to see that the argument to Jensen's conclusion on Black intelligence depends as much on the policy and theoretical issues of how one defines and measures intelligence, and how respectable academic journals maintain standards on responsible reporting of what could have inflammatory effects in a population that is not aware of the theoretical and policy issues. In other words, Jensen, who had just published with White and Katz Social Class, Race, and Psychological Development took a position directly opposite in the HER article to the one taken by the book. And the article was used in racist arguments. What responsibility did the journal have to balance those effects? What responsibility would an agency have with any research or clinical evidence (like AIDS tests) that might require such balancing?