The Impact of the Fels Institute of Government in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania 1937-2012

December 21, 2011

By Tess Mullen, Associate Consultant & MPA'13

Penn’s Fels Institute of Government celebrates its 75th year in 2012, proud of a legacy in serving the Commonwealth that no other university-based professional program can match.

The Fels Institute was founded in 1937 by Samuel S. Fels, a prominent Philadelphia entrepreneur and philanthropist, in the midst of a wave of mismanagement and corruption in Pennsylvania state government.  In response, the Fels Institute was created to educate successive generations of public leaders on the practical principles of sound management and leadership.

In its first 35 years almost every Fels student—some  500—served as interns in either the City of Philadelphia, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, or local and county governments in the area.  In addition, the Fels Government Research Service (now Fels Research and Consulting) provided management assistance and counsel to the Commonwealth and local governments, generating over 1,400 reports and briefings.  The Fels Institute also served as a vital crossroads for state and local government meetings, training sessions and workshops.  For instance, in the year 1960 alone Fels hosted over 300 such meetings, nearly two per day for the nine months of the academic year.

In its modern era from 1985 to the present, as a small, highly selective proving ground for public leaders, Fels has continued to play a significant role in developing leadership for the Commonwealth.  An impressive 169 Fels students or graduates--including a governor, three Mayors, nine state cabinet members, and six state representatives or senators--have served in state government or local government in Pennsylvania.  At one point in a recent Governor’s administration 17 Fels graduates were serving in senior leadership roles.  Another 97 have served the City of Philadelphia, as budget directors, finance directors, a Managing Director, Executive Director of the Redevelopment Authority, and President of the Philadelphia Industrial Development Authority. One Fels graduate has served as a member of Congress, and two Fels graduates have served US Senators, and one a member of Congress from Pennsylvania, as their Chiefs of Staff.

As a distinctive program that emphasizes the practical application of both the art and science of public leadership, Fels has always embraced the role of active public leaders in its curriculum. It’s a safe bet that since its inception every Mayor of Philadelphia, and likely every Governor of the Commonwealth, has lectured, taught or spoken at Fels.  Untold scores of City and State cabinet members, legislators, council members, and local and county managers have played a role in shaping the distinctive learning experience that takes place in Fels’ classrooms.

Fels stands ready to continue its legacy of educating public leaders prepared to lead the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Tess Mullen is a first year full-time MPA student and an Associate Consultant for the Fels Research and Consulting Practice.  Prior to attending Fels, Tess worked in Congress for nearly six years, most recently serving as a communications director for U.S. Congressman Jason Altmire (PA-04).