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For a Public Service Academy

Vires. Artes. Mores. Strength. Skill. Character.

Students at Florida State University adopted that motto in 1901 to emphasize their deep commitment to a higher purpose. They wanted our mission to be more than just words engraved on a stone. They wanted it to have meaning.

FSU students are drawn to public service. Whether it is starting a nonprofit to bring a free clinic to people in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans or organizing a dance marathon to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for a children's hospital, our 41,000 students at Florida State match their words with actions.

No matter how great the efforts of FSU students and students across the country, the burden of providing our citizens essential services should not be on their shoulders. Too often, nonprofits, universities and student groups are asked to carry the water for a flawed public sector. Government cannot do everything, but it must do something. We rely on our public institutions to educate our children, solve the mysteries of science and the unknown, protect us from danger, respond in emergencies, and provide other essential services.

We need to pair the strength and skill of our country's students with the needs of our government. That is the only way to reverse the trends that have led to the kind of massive failures that we saw in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. There are many talented and committed public servants in government, but we face a looming crisis as 44 percent of federal workers are eligible to retire in the next five years. If we do not develop a new generation of young, effective leaders and draw them to the public sector, we are not going to improve and sustain our country's public infrastructure.

In our respective roles as Florida State University president and former student body president, we have decided to take further action in pushing the service movement forward.

What our country needs now is a civilian West Point for our best and brightest public service-minded women and men. We need an institution that uses our successful military academies as models for how to develop effective leadership. We need a U.S. Public Service Academy.

There is currently legislation in the U.S. House and the Senate to create this institution. The Public Service Academy will serve as the civilian counterpart to the five military academies. Students will get a federally subsidized, four-year college education in exchange for five years of mandatory service after graduation. Our top high school students will compete for spots at this academy, and these talented individuals will be responsible for working five years in a public institution at the local, state or federal level.

America's students are ready to be engaged. America's students are eager to lead. We cannot afford to miss out on class after class of talented students who want to do good for their city, their state, or their country because our government is too timid to take an obvious next step. Our current service academies have had tremendous success preparing young people to lead the strongest military in the world. The U.S. Public Service Academy can do the same for America's public sector.

We have reached a crossroads. We can stay the course and refuse to show this generation that we care about their concerns. We can refuse to make an investment in our public sector and the future of our country. Or we can choose to pursue an innovative agenda for change and take a large step forward in the public service movement.

The time has come for the U.S. Public Service Academy. The academy is a bipartisan idea that all Americans can unite behind and that can unite our country in the process. University presidents and students, members of Congress and constituents — we all have a stake in this decision. It is the right choice. It will take strength. It will take skill. It will take character. But together we can make the Public Service Academy a reality.

T.K. Wetherell is president of Florida State University; Joe O'Shea is a former FSU student body president and is a 2008 Rhodes scholar.

For a Public Service Academy 07/08/08 [Last modified: Friday, July 11, 2008 5:19pm]
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