Albert H. Rosenthal - A Life Lived Large
Filling a Need
When Ferrell Heady, UNM president 1968-1975, came to the University from a public administration background, he recognized the need for a school in that field at UNM. He called on a friend and fellow member of the American Society for Public Administration, Al Rosenthal. His mandate to Rosenthal was not only to set up the school's curriculum, but also to find the funding and to recruit the students.
NASA invited Rosenthal for a summer sabbatical to evaluate its operations. Berniklau explains, "Al said, "Your technical people are just superb. But if you're looking for leaders for the future, you've got to have something with a little more breadth than just a technology background. They need to understand the big picture of how budgeting in the government works; how to manage people; how to do strategic planning, etc.'" Rosenthal's resulting proposal brought in three years of NASA grant money with a two-year extension to begin the Program for Advanced Study in Public Service Policy and Administration at UNM. This program matured into the Division, and later, the School of Public Administration.
Berniklau, an engineer who then worked for the Atomic Energy Commission, was in the first class, 1969-70. "The program's objective was to take middle management personnel primarily from the federal government and expose them to a public administration environment," he explains, "to generate for them an understanding of the public sector outside of their own specialty."
The intensive nine-month program was accelerated with condensed courses, required a thesis with oral defense, and culminated in a master's degree in public administration for its students. Rosenthal arranged for additional seminars by speakers such as a representative from the National Science Foundation and the science adviser of the British Government. "We got a really good exposure to the business side of the government as well as other aspects of public administration," says Berniklau.
Rosenthal called various federal and local government agencies for which he had consulted, suggesting that they send key individuals to the program. "He kept and used his contacts. He was great with knowing people and helping them out and expecting favors in return," says Berniklau. About 16 middle managers from entities such as NASA-Houston, NASA-Cape Canaveral, Department of Energy, Bureau of Mines, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, the Department of Justice, Fish and Wildlife and the City of Albuquerque participated. Those agencies continued to send managers for each year of the program's five-year existence. "Dr. Rosenthal worked our tails off, but we all knew we were going to get away from our jobs for basically nine months, full time, supported by our agencies with our pay, with the expectation to return with a master's degree," says Berniklau.
Sensitive to political correctness, Rosenthal wanted the class to think more broadly than their conservative, Anglo-Saxon, management background. So he recruited two young graduate students to the first class, a woman and a black man. "Back in those days, they weren't in middle management," recalls Berniklau. "It was great because we'd get in some conservative discussion and those two would say, 'You're so cloyed into your own little kingdom, you don't understand what's happening in the real world.' Rosenthal did a lot of things to create this exposure that we would never get otherwise."
Beginning with a retreat at Bishop's Lodge in Santa Fe to re-orient the managers to university life, Rosenthal emphasized group study and teamwork. "We'd be constantly quizzing and grilling each other on the information, so there was a bonding," Berniklau says. "You either hang together or hang separately. So we did; we studied, worked and recreated together."
Rosenthal was all business all the time. Berniklau remembers the day UNM was closed due to student Viet Nam demonstrations. Rosenthal still held class on the deck of his apartment complex's swimming pool. "He said, 'We're not giving up class just because people are rioting.'"
Another incident: An Air Force captain in the class wanted to give his view on a major policy issue. "Al says, I don't want your opinion, because you're a student. Now in 10 years when you understand real life, I want you to come back and I will accept your views, but not now.' And this wasn't a pup lieutenant!" Berniklau comments, "He pushed people through a knothole. A lot of people didn't like that. But we made it through the program-it was a little bit like boot camp." Rosenthal, incidentally, had served in the U.S. Navy.
"Dr. Rosenthal was one that was either loved or not loved, and not a whole lot of people in between," says Berniklau. "He got a lot of things done but he stepped on a lot of toes, as well. People either think a lot of him or they think not much."
The UNM Regents were in the former group. In 1994, they recognized Rosenthal with a Meritorious Service Medal for building public administration at UNM. They also cited his lobbying effort for a federal executive board in Albuquerque, usually formed in larger cities to foster coordination among the various federal agencies, and praised his creation of the New Mexico Distinguished Public Service Awards Program in 1970. The accomplishments of his 89 years are far too many for this space.
Before his death in 2004, Rosenthal set up a charitable remainder trust for his two sisters. When they passed, the assets would benefit the public administration department at UNM. One sister died recently, and UNM has received half of the trust, to be split between merit-based scholarships and professorships in Rosenthal's name.
"I think he had a lot of pride in creating this public administration program at UNM," says Berniklau. "It was sort of his child. He wanted to see it continue."