says he was present at the creation of public affairs as an academic discipline, though from all accounts, the event was more an intellectual big bang under the auspices of the Ford Foundation than anything resembling a sacred rite.
In any case, deLeon’s contributions to the field have been nothing short of almighty.
There is the book he coauthored with Garry Brewer in 1983. For years The Foundations of Policy Analysis was required reading in public affairs courses, with 10 printings and stellar reviews. In 1989, his book Advise and Consent: The Development of the Policy Sciences analyzed the trends that contributed to the convergence of the fields of law, political science, economics, sociology and psychology into the field of the public sciences. In 1997, his Democracy and the Policy Sciences established deLeon as a strong proponent of the role of democracy in policy deliberations.
The books were “the foundation of my professional persona,” deLeon says. “Advise and Consent set me on my professional trajectory, while Democracy and the Policy Sciences established my theoretic chops.”
His career clearly was launched, but it never hewed to a narrow path.
The Researcher and Professor
Over the years, he has taught at Columbia University, UCLA and the University of Colorado Denver School of Public Affairs
. He was a researcher at Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and was a senior analyst at the Solar Energy Research Institute (now called the National Renewable Energy Laboratory). He was a consultant to governments in Sweden, France, South Korea and Italy, and, for a dozen years, did energy research and strategic analysis for the RAND Corp.
When the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl blew, deLeon was tapped by the media as an expert on the Soviet nuclear reactor system. “That had to be a giggle,” he says dismissively.
“It is hard to find a subfield of public policy in which Peter has not had an impact,” says Dean Paul Teske
. “His research has ranged from science and technology policy and explaining the different stages of public policy development to exploring how policies sometimes get terminated, political corruption, and the role of democratic input in policymaking. In each of these areas, he has not dabbled, but he has developed insightful research paradigms with which every new public policy scholar must contend. His work is simply an essential part of the canon of public policy research over the past 30 years.”
The Teacher and Mentor
Linda deLeon, Peter’s wife and the former associate dean at SPA, says that it was “awful” working side by side with him. “He always does his work on time; he does a really good job of researching; he writes really well; he edits really well. It’s amazing to me the discipline he has.”
Peter deLeon directed the PhD program at SPA
for two separate four-year periods and says “by and large” he enjoyed that. The hard part was when he had to tell students that they’d failed an exam.
In the 26 years he’s been at SPA, he’s been named the school’s Outstanding Research Scholar seven times and has received both the school’s Outstanding Teacher and Outstanding Service Awards. In 2000, the Policy Studies Organization gave him the Harold D. Lasswell Award, citing him for being “an outstanding scholar in contributing to our understanding of the substance and process of public policy.” This award was especially important to deLeon because Lasswell had been one of deLeon’s initial mentors.
In 2011, the University of Colorado Board of Regents gave him the prestigious Distinguished Professor Award, and the CU Foundation is honoring Peter and Linda at the Chancellor’s Recognition Dinner in 2012 for their generous bequest to SPA.
“He truly merits the title University of Colorado Distinguished Professor in every dimension: 25 years here of pathbreaking research, illuminating teaching and superb mentoring of several generations of PhD students,” says Teske.
As he contemplates retirement in May, deLeon admits with some delight that he won’t miss the faculty meetings one bit. He will miss his colleagues and students, however, “though I’m sure some students will be glad to be rid of me.”
Looking back, deLeon is a brutal critic of his career. “I never was motivated to attempt to be as good as I might have been,” he says. “I’m not going to rue what I haven’t done. The cost of getting there was more than I wanted to pay. But given the constraints, my career hasn’t been shabby.”
Teske puts that career in a different perspective.
“The School of Public Affairs really began its ascent in the national rankings when Peter arrived,” he says. “On the public policy side of public affairs, he has been our biggest name and the person most associated with SPA’s success.”