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Maxwell History

The Founding and Growth of the Maxwell School

George MaxwellGeorge Holmes Maxwell was a Syracuse University graduate (Class of 1888) and, by the 1920s, a successful Boston businessman. He was also a steadfast defender of democracy and the American Way as it was then defined. He hit upon the idea of establishing a "school of American citizenship" at Syracuse and committed $500,000 to it. "The primary object of this school,” he said, “is to teach good citizenship — to cull from every source those principles, facts, and elements which, combined, make up our rights and duties and our value and distinctiveness as United States citizens.”

Others at the University convinced Maxwell that his new school should also train practitioners in public affairs —people who would immediately enter government careers and effect change. Thus, when the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs opened on October 3, 1924, it included a citizenship curriculum for all undergraduates in the liberal arts and it enrolled six graduate students in the nascent field of public administration.

The School quickly outgrew its space and work began on Maxwell Hall, which opened in October 1937. Built in the colonial style, it featured a 40–by–70–feet central antechamber, which housed a replica of Houdon's life-size figure of George Washington. The sculpture was flanked by an engraved excerpt of the Oath of the Athenian City-State and by the doors to Maxwell Auditorium — a terraced, semi-circular forum for teaching and debate through which virtually every Maxwell student has passed. (Much later, in 1968, the School gained a second distinctive piece of sculpture when a bronze cast of James Earle Fraser’s study of a contemplative Abraham Lincoln was installed on the Maxwell Hall lawn.)

Lincoln Statue InstallationWhile officially becoming a graduate school by 1938, Maxwell remained the home for Syracuse University’s undergraduate teaching in the social sciences. The Maxwell School of today is still defined by this unique combination of programs — professional and scholarly, graduate and undergraduate, with an overriding attention to citizenship.

Over time, the School’s research specialties grew increasingly distinct and notable as well. The 1960s saw a boom in regional studies, particularly in East Africa. By the 1970s, the Metropolitan Studies Program was one of the nation’s chief sources of insight on budget policy and other city-management matters. And these are but two examples.

In recent decades, Maxwell has created an array of interdisciplinary research centers to house and nurture such efforts. The Center for Policy Research (which absorbed Metropolitan Studies) focuses on tax policy, state and local finance, education funding, gerontology, and the like. The Program on the Analysis and Resolution of Conflicts, now called the Program for the Advancement of Research on Conflict and Collaboration, was born in 1986, building on strong programs in peace studies and similar issues; it was recently augmented to serve emphases in collaborative governance. In 2005, with a $10-million grant from the federal government, Maxwell created the Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs, named for former Maxwell faculty member (and long-time U.S. senator) Daniel Patrick Moynihan. There are now ten such centers at Maxwell.

In 1990, the School undertook a $50-million fund-raising campaign to support an array of programs, professorships, and scholarships; it would also fund a new building. Melvin A. Eggers Hall, named for the former SU Chancellor and chairman of Maxwell’s economics department, was completed in 1993, adjacent to Maxwell Hall.

Early in 2011, the Maxwell School hired its ninth dean, James B. Steinberg, a former dean of the University of Texas’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and, at the time of his hiring, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State.

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