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A Global Citizen in Public Affairs : USC Professor Travels World but True Love Is Teaching

November 24, 1986|URSULA VILS | Times Staff Writer

In a lifetime that spans most of this century, Henry Reining's world has changed dramatically from an Ohio mill town to a global community.

He has progressed from a teen-age job in an Akron tire factory to international missions on three continents for the United States and the United Nations.

He earned a Ph.D. in politics at Princeton University and pioneered as professor and dean in an embryonic academic field, public administration. He has been a consultant to private industry and federal, state and local governments. He has organized town rule in places as disparate as Nevada and Venezuela and served on charter commissions for both Los Angeles County and City.

He has puzzled over how to teach public administration in a country that had no word in its language for such a thing as public service. He has bounced around South America in a small plane with Indian farm workers--indentured, even in the 20th Century--and their families, including goats and chickens.

But Henry Reining's true love has always been the job he has had in one form or another for 54 years: teaching.

He recalled his half-century-plus career in his compact office in the Von KleinSmid Center at USC, where he joined the faculty in 1932 as an assistant professor in its new, and at the time unique, School of Public Administration.

It was an exciting and creative time, said Reining, who eventually became dean of the school that came into being only 50 years after Woodrow Wilson wrote an article on public administration, "the first evidence . . . that it would become an academic discipline."

Reining reviewed the origins of public administration instruction at the university level.

"The New York Bureau of Public Research found no municipal experts to run a training program it had begun and transferred it to Syracuse University in 1924," Reining said. That the program was run by a professor of German indicated the dearth of expertise in public administration: "It remained a program and wisely stayed small.

"In 1926 a group of Southern California men, all city managers except a Chamber of Commerce man, went to Dr. (Rufus B.) von KleinSmid (USC president). They said, 'You don't have a school for us.' "

Von KleinSmid saw their point and called in Emory Olson of the business school, called at that time the College of Commerce. Olson tried a few nonformal classes.

"The school moved ahead quite rapidly," Reining said. "It is an eclectic field--political science, economics, business. On the undergraduate level, political science is really liberal arts--sociology, anthropology, chemistry, psychology.

"We became the largest public administration school in the country, by any measure: number of faculty, number of students and number of courses offered. It has shrunk some now, partly deliberately (on USC's part), partly because Mr. Reagan has been no help at all, given no support for government people to get additional training."

Reining, who compares public service to a call to the ministry, left USC to teach at Princeton in 1934, then jumped at the chance to go to Washington the next year to help set up a public service training program backed by a Rockefeller Foundation grant. He spent the next 10 years as educational director of the National Institute of Public Affairs.

Setting Up Institute

His interest in training management-level people led to his involvement in setting up the federal executive institute at Charlottesville, Va., described by Reining as "a place bureau chiefs and higher officers of the military go for three months of training.

"Most of them are rewarded by promotion for their technical ability," Reining said. "They don't know management and they haven't the language of management. They need two things: 1--a frame of reference and 2--a vocabulary. If you can't talk about something you can't describe it, can't improve it."

Reining's overseas missions began in 1943 with a trip to Brazil through an international affairs program under Nelson Rockefeller that eventually became the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID).

The trip, a three-day journey by DC-3 from Miami to Rio de Janeiro, was Reining's debut on the international scene.

Got Him Started

"It got me started on the international world," he said. "All of a sudden I became a global citizen, and I have not stopped."

The trip home showed him another aspect of the world, he said.

That was the trip on which he encountered the Indians bound for Bolivia: "They were indentured for 30 years, but they had their whole families with them. There was a goat, and one woman had a pair of chickens on board."

His second trip to Brazil was a United Nations mission to set up a school in public administration in Rio for all of Latin America. The U.N. paid for representatives of each Latin American nation to attend, plus three American faculty members.

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