University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service

aka: Clinton School

The University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service (UACS, or Clinton School), which is the only school in the United States offering a master’s degree in public service (MPS), has the mission of preparing graduates for careers in nonprofit, governmental, volunteer, or private-sector service work. The school is situated in the historic Choctaw Station of the Rock Island Railroad, which is part of the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park in Little Rock (Pulaski County). Additional offices and classrooms are in the CALS Roberts Library of Arkansas History & Art, located in the River Market District of Little Rock.

The Clinton School was established by the board of trustees of the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) on January 29, 2004, as part of the University of Arkansas System. The founding dean was former U.S. senator David Pryor. Until UACS matures as an institution, degrees will be accredited through a consortium of the three largest graduate campuses within the UA system: UA in Fayetteville, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR), and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS).

Planning for the Clinton School began early in President Bill Clinton’s second term in 1997. The team of planners comprised, in addition to President Clinton, Dr. B. Alan Sugg, president of the UA system; the late Diane D. Blair, professor of political science at UA; Pat Torvestad, then director of communications for the UA system and current director of communications for UAMS; and James L. “Skip” Rutherford, then chairman of the board of the William J. Clinton Foundation and executive vice president with the Little Rock communication firm CJRW; Rutherford became dean of UACS following Pryor’s retirement in 2006. Members of the team visited and studied schools named for other former presidents: the Harry S Truman School of Public Affairs at the University of Missouri; the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University; the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas; and the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. The team decided not to model the UACS curriculum on those programs, which concentrate on preparing graduates for careers in government service.

Rather than situating the Clinton School on the campus of a major university, as the other presidential schools had done, the team decided to link the school directly to the Clinton Presidential Library. As Rutherford noted, “We made it truly an urban university, with access to the River Market in Little Rock (our ‘student union’); the [Main Library of the] Central Arkansas Library [System] (our ‘official library’); the Statehouse Convention Center; and Heifer Project International headquarters, in addition to the Clinton Library. We don’t need a major infrastructure commitment because we have the whole area.”

UACS offers a two-year Master of Public Service (MPS) program, requiring forty semester credit hours, twenty-nine of which are from core and elective courses. The remaining eleven credit hours are spent in “hands-on” public service field projects throughout Arkansas, the country, and the world. The thirteen students in the first UACS class helped the people of Phillips County develop its first five-year strategic plan. The students wrote grants, developed a tourism website, helped build a boys’ and girls’ club, and helped organize a farmers’ cooperative. During the summer, students involve themselves in individual, international projects of their own choosing, usually in conjunction with not-for-profit, nongovernmental organizations.  The UACS faculty, as of 2021, is composed of seven full-time professors and several visiting or adjunct faculty members. Enrollment for the fall of 2014 was 103.

The UACS curriculum is enhanced by a Speakers’ Series featuring internationally known and respected guest lecturers from fields including politics, government, business, academics, and philanthropy. Notable speakers have included former secretary of state Henry Kissinger; Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer; Sylvia Matthews, executive director of the Gates Foundation; President José María Aznar of Spain; President Paul Kagame of Rwanda; and Congressman John Lewis. Lectures are open, on a limited basis, to the public as well as to UACS students and faculty.

At the commencement ceremony for the school’s first graduating class, on December 13, 2006, President Clinton said, “I wanted to establish this school to inspire more young people to pursue careers in public service and to give them the tools to do it better, because I believe it is a noble calling…[and that] doing it well makes a world of difference, and…dedication to the common good is critical to meeting the challenges of the interdependent world in which the graduates will live and raise their children.”

UACS later expanded its degree program after the approval of a joint MPS/Juris Doctor degree in conjunction with University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law, and a joint MPS/Master of Public Health with UAMS. This list expanded even further with other joint degree programs, such as an MPS/Master of Social Work with the UA Little Rock School of Social Work and an MPS/Master of Business Administration with the Sam M. Walton College of Business at UA. UACS also now offers a two-year program entirely online.

Rutherford retired as dean in June 2021. He was replaced later that year with Dr. Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, previously the assistant dean at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.

For additional information:
Clinton School of Public Service. (accessed June 15, 2023).

Jack Heinritz
Arkansas Radio Network


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