Rutgers University is offering a new mini-MPA certificate that introduces different aspects of the full master of public administration program. The full MPA focuses on the public sector, where managers must understand the relationship between administration, the political process, and the Constitution.

The mini-MPA, which provides three graduate credits and a certificate, is a pragmatic introduction to the full degree taught over five Fridays, beginning April 15, at 303 George Street in New Brunswick. The program targets three groups: recent graduates, laid-off professionals, and public-sector workers. Cost: $2,500. E-mail or call 732-932-6998, ext. 604.

Alan Zalkind, director of the Center for Government Services at Rutgers, will teach about ethical dilemmas. Shrugging off incidents of theft and corruption in government as marginal problems, Zalkind is more concerned with the ethical dilemmas behind every policy decision made by public officials. The choices they face are not between a right and a wrong, but rather between two rights, for example, between education for preschool children and meals for senior citizens.

These ethical quandaries develop for a simple reason. “Decisions are related to resources that are not limitless,” says Zalkind. “You’re making a decision between one needy person and another; it’s a question of who’s going to win and who’s going to lose.”

For Zalkind, the basis of ethical decisions is twofold: first, how an official understands an issue’s context — “factual information that itself is not always pure” — coupled with personal values. Zalkind helps future public officials to understand their own values, their importance in making decisions, how different they may be from someone else’s, and the consequences of those values.

When Zalkind was director of the Essex County Department of Citizen Services, the eighth-largest agency of its kind in the country, his decisions and those of his department affected three different groups: 100,000 women and children on welfare, aging senior citizens, and teens having difficulty with the law who needed another youth house.

“I had three different units, with different kinds of clientele, each with competing, conflicting needs,” says Zalkind. “I had maybe $100 million — so how do I decide which services to provide and which I can’t, because there were not sufficient resources.”

So how did he make those decisions? “In part they were based on federal and state mandates, and other times they were basically decisions from the gut,” he says. “We tried to make sure there was some parity in how we allocated services. We did the best we could knowing full well that the full panorama of needs was never fully satisfied.”

Zalkin completed his entire education at New York University, where he earned a bachelor’s in English and political science, a master’s in political science, an MPA, and a master’s in management. His father worked as a deli man and his mother worked as a cashier at Pathmark “after she got tired of being a housewife,” he says.

After his job with the Department of Citizen Services Zalkind served as deputy and then acting administrator for Essex County. He then moved on to Correctional Health Services, where he was regional manager and vice president.

Zalkind has also taught graduate-level management and training courses for over 20 years at the New School for Social Research, Rutgers University, Montclair State University, and Seton Hall University as well as undergraduate courses in criminal justice administration for Rutgers.

Zalkind asserts that public officials are always struggling with ethical dilemmas. Because the public good is based on values, the right thing to do is never obvious. Looking at today’s political scene, he notes that at the time of Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” initiative, people felt a need to create Medicare and Head Start, whereas today some people have a different perception of what is ethically correct.

“Unlike science, where there are precise answers, public policy is based on values,” he says. “Under every public policy, there is a belief in a public good and what the fight has been about historically is what that public good is all about; and ultimately the consequence of that debate is that someone is going to win and someone is going to lose.”

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