Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Cassell explores government, organizational mission

Mark Cassell


In addition to Mission Expansion in the Federal Home Loan Bank System, political science professor Mark Cassell has published How Governments Privatize: The Politics of Divestment in the United States and Germany (Georgetown University Press, 2003). The book compares the U.S. Resolution Trust Corporation with Germany's Treuhandanstalt, the agency charged with taking over, managing and privatizing the industrial assets of the former East Germany.  The book received the 2003 Charles H. Levine Award for the best book in public policy and administration.   

Cassell's research has appeared in Public Administration Review, International Public Management Journal, Social Science Quarterly, and Governance: An International Journal of Policy, Administration and Institutions. He won an award for best paper at the 2010 Journal of Information Technology and Politics annual conference, a Fulbright fellowship to Germany in 2009 and an IBM Business of Government Grant in 2009.

Government plays a crucial role in a well-functioning capitalist society. That tenet, shaped at the La Follette School, informs alum Mark Cassell's researching and teaching at Kent State University.

"The courses I took at La Follette were connected by the belief that a strong economy and healthy democracy require a well-functioning government," says Cassell, who earned a master's degree in public policy and administration from the La Follette Institute of Public Affairs in 1992.

The importance of government to a healthy society is evident in Cassell's new book, Mission Expansion in the Federal Home Loan Bank System, written with Susan M. Hoffmann, a professor at Western Michigan University. The book explores how mission develops and evolves in the country's most important public institution dedicated to homeownership and housing generally.

"An organization's mission is an essential ingredient for understanding how an organization operates and why," Cassell says. "Mission is important in the public sector because, in the absence of a singular goal such as profit, managers and staff can understand their organization's purpose in range of ways."

The book, published by SUNY Press in 2010, analyzes the system of 12 regional banks that loan money to local lending institutions so they can finance housing, economic development and infrastructure.  The authors explain how Federal Home Loan Bank System's mission has expanded since its origin in 1932 and note it faces sweeping changes in the wake of the home mortgage foreclosure crisis of the last several years.

Cassell is an associate professor of political science at Kent State University. His scholarship is mainly concerned with understanding public sector transformations. After completing his public affairs degree, he went on to earn a doctorate in political science from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He is married to Amy Hanauer, a 1997 alum and founding executive director of Policy Matters Ohio.

The core skills and broader philosophies Cassell learned at La Follette resonate in his research and teaching, which includes courses in public policy and administration, comparative public policy and urban politics. "The faculty at La Follette taught me a set of skills related to policy analysis and public administration," he says. "Cost-benefit analysis, writing, organizational analysis and statistics, for example, enable me to research a range of policy-related topics from assessing the efficacy of privatization and state tax abatements to explaining how mission developed within the Federal Home Loan Bank System."

Cassell applied these skills during a research assistantship with professor Dennis Dresang for a project that compared male and female wages in the public sector. "The project supplemented what I was learning in the classroom," he says. "Specifically, I learned the power of data and the headaches that data often bring."

That experience helped to change Cassell's career path. "Prior to applying to La Follette, I worked as a journalist for a small newspaper in northern California, covering city government," Cassell says. "My plan when I started La Follette was to get my master's degree in public affairs and seek employment at larger newspaper.  It was only after I started at La Follette did I think of academia as a possible career goal."

During his two years at La Follette, Cassell came to appreciate the necessity of good government. "What La Follette really taught me was how important government is to the health of society," he says. "I think back to John Witte's course on ethics and values, Bob Haveman's cost-benefit analysis, or Peter Eisinger's course on urban politics. While they differed in substance, these classes, along with all of the other La Follette courses I took, emphasized the importance of government to the health of a democratic, capitalist society. That value is at the core of my La Follette experience."