Brian N. Williams, an associate professor in the School of Public and International Affairs, challenges students to think critically so that they can diagnose—and propose solutions to—underlying problems rather than surface symptoms.
Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I earned my bachelor’s, master’s in public administration and doctoral degrees from UGA. I am currently an associate professor in the department of public administration and policy in the School of Public and International Affairs. My research centers on issues related to demographic diversity, local law enforcement and public governance, with special attention devoted to the co-production of public safety and public order. I teach graduate students who are interested in public management and public policy.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I came to UGA in the 2004-2005 academic year after faculty positions in the Askew School of Public Administration and Policy at Florida State University and in the Peabody College of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University and serving as an assistant dean at Vanderbilt for two years. Part of UGA’s appeal was my department’s strength and reputation in our focal areas. Plus, it provided a great opportunity for me to work with some outstanding senior scholars, very focused departmental colleagues and outstanding graduate students.
What are your favorite courses and why?
My favorite course is “Ethics in Public Administration.” It forces my students to think about the challenges associated with public service and brings into perspective the role that those who are not in “traditional leadership” positions can play as “courageous followers” in building public trust and public confidence in government.
What interests you about your field?
The inevitable tension and value conflicts that often exist between public agencies managed by unelected public servants and the political environment in which they operate. This reality brings into focus the need for internal and external accountability.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
One of the greatest highlights for me is getting a knock on the door, an email message or a letter from one of my former students informing me that they have secured the job of their dreams or have been admitted into the Ph.D. program of their choice. Another highlight is reading journal articles from our former Ph.D. students in leading journals in our field.
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
As someone who is engaged in applied research, I am fortunate to bring back into the classroom what I have learned from the community and the various public and nonprofit organizations that serve the community. Likewise, as I engage with the community and its various institutions, I am able to share with them the perspectives of my students.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
To become critical or high-order thinkers who can effectively utilize the skills that they learn in our program to diagnose underlying problems instead of the surface symptoms. With this understanding, they can then propose a range of policy prescriptions that can address or mitigate those problems.
Describe your ideal student.
My ideal student is one who embraces critical thinking and is an active and engaged participant in the classroom and in the community. I believe that learning takes place beyond the confines of our classrooms and campus. My ideal student is one who will take advantage of the opportunities that he or she is presented to serve as teacher and learner on campus and in the community.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…
Between the hedges on a nice Saturday afternoon, inside Stegeman watching the Dogs or Lady Dogs play, at Foley Field eating peanuts and drinking a Coke, walking on North Campus reflecting upon my research or gathering my thoughts, chatting with my colleagues in Baldwin Hall, at one of the venues on campus hearing an interesting guest lecture. I have so many favorite places to be or things to do on campus so, it is difficult to list just one.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
Attend the various services and assist in the various outreach efforts at Ebenezer Baptist Church West. I also like going fishing or taking a nice, long walk.
Community/civic involvement includes….
I am a member of Athens Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Incorporated and Delta Psi Boulé of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, Incorporated. I also helped coordinate the Blue & You Police-Community Forum, and I serve on a couple of local boards, including the Athens-Clarke County Crime Stoppers board.
Favorite book/movie (and why)?
One of my favorite books is Benjamin Watson’s book, “Under Our Skin: Getting Real About Race — and Getting Free from the Fears and Frustrations that Divide Us.” Ben is a husband, father, son, professional football player and an alumnus of UGA. The topic for his book is a salient one and, when considering what has transpired over the past couple of years, it is extremely timely. It has the potential to have bridging as well as a triaging effect that can positively impact our nation’s quest to build a more perfect union.
Proudest moment at UGA?
My proudest moment at UGA was when Dr. Susette Talarico hooded me. Susette was more than just the person who chaired my dissertation. She was a mentor, a role model, a taskmaster (when needed) and a friend who cared about my personal and professional development. Susette passed in 2007, but her legacy of love and concern for me and other former students and colleagues is one that still lives on.
What I am most thankful for relative to UGA?
I am most thankful to Jerry Legge for recruiting me and other students into the master’s of public administration program at UGA. Jerry’s efforts provided the opportunity for me to sit next to Carla Green in Delmer Dunn’s local government class during spring quarter of 1991. In August of 1992, Carla became my better half, and we are now the parents of three children: Carmen, a junior at UGA who is double majoring in finance and political science; Camryn, a senior at North Oconee High School; and Joshua, a seventh-grader at Malcom Bridge Middle School.
(Originally published Oct. 2, 2016)