William J. Siffin


John W. Ryan Award for Distinguished Contributions to International Programs and Studies (1991)
Indiana University Bloomington
College of Arts and Sciences
Department of Political Science


Bill Siffin's academic career began over fifty years ago as an Indiana University undergraduate, where he earned a B.S. in business administration in 1943; it included an M.A. in Public Administration from the University of Minnesota and a Ph.D from Harvard. By the mid-fifties Indiana had reclaimed Bill, who returned to Bloomington where he lived with his wife, Catherine Fox Siffin, and his three children, Mark, Louise, and Kelly, while serving Indiana University as an active faculty member for thirty-six years, and a still active emeritus for five more years.

Few faculty members were more cosmopolitan, more acquainted with and concerned about the realities of life in the international arena than Bill. His long-standing dedication to an understanding of international affairs and the development of institutional structures in developing countries grew from a solid base of knowledge drawn from the American administrative experience. His graduate work concentrated more on American than foreign phenomena, resulting in a dissertation (later published by the I.U. Press), on legislative councils in American states. Building on this foundation of close acquaintance with American public affairs, Bill became one of the central figures in an influential intellectual movement addressing issues of comparative administration, particularly the international and intercultural dimensions of public administration.

This movement, in which he was certainly one of the best known participants, transferred American administrative experience and lore to scores of developing countries around the world, affecting the thinking and practice of the scholars and officials in these countries who were and are trying to cope with almost insoluble problems. Perhaps just as important, it significantly affected the ideas of American scholars of public affairs, raising new questions about the models and postulates of American doctrine.

Bill Siffin's contributions to this debate began as early as the 1950's, when he edited and contributed to a volume entitled Toward the Comparative Study of Public Administration. With his colleague and long-time friend, Fred Riggs, Bill participated actively in the Indiana University Comparative Administration Group. One of the most intellectually exciting activities of its time, this group explored the transferability of administrative institutions from one nation and culture to another. Using the insights developed in his studies, Bill served as a chief participant in the Inter-University Research Program in Institution Building, involving scholars in a number of universities, and was active in the International Institute of Administrative Sciences, U.N. seminars on management, and the Eastern Regional (largely Asiatic) Organization for Public Administration.

He was never an ivory tower academic; he had more than an intellectual interest in public administration. During the 1950's he spent two years in Bangkok as one of the central participants in Indiana University's efforts to help the Thais deal with problems of public administration. In the sixties he lived in Honolulu for a year as a senior scholar at the East- West Center. In the seventies, he was on leave from I.U. for two years to serve as Director of the Office of Development Administration of the U.S. Agency for International Development, improving the quality of administration in many countries receiving--or hoping to receive--U.S. aid.

During the seventies and eighties, his work as Director of Indiana University's International Development Institute and of the Program of Advanced Studies in institution-building and Technical Assistance Methodology placed him in the forefront of the continuing debate over issues of development administration and international technical assistance. He has been an advisor and consultant on management and administration for United Nations agencies, the Ford Foundation, the World Bank, and various individual foreign countries. In Thailand, where his close ties go back nearly forty years, he was awarded the rank of Commander in the Royal Order of the White Elephant by King Bhumipol.
In 1986, he received the first Fred Riggs Award from the Society of International Comparative Administration in honor of his contributions to the field, and a year later, won election to the National Academy of Public Administration. In 1991 he was the recipient of Indiana University's John W. Ryan Award for Distinguished Contribution to International Programs and Studies.

Throughout his career, Bill was an active and effective citizen of the academic communities of which he was a part. He was on the faculty of both the Department of Political Science and the School of Public and Environmental Affairs; he was director of graduate studies for the Department and a member of its executive committee, a member of the policy Committee of the College of Arts and Sciences, and acting Dean of International Programs. For a number of years he represented Indiana University on the Board of the Midwest Universities Consortium for International Activities. He was active in the American Society for Public Administration and the American Political Science Association--he was a member and chairman of the editorial board of PS, one of the journals of the political science association.

For a dozen years before his death, Bill had health problems of increasing severity. He fully understood the seriousness of these problems, but would not admit or give in to them if he could avoid it, nor let them deter him from the things that he wanted to do. He continued to travel extensively, to consult, to write, to teach, with the same cheer and enthusiasm he had always had. It was completely characteristic of him that he was at his office , at his desk, doing some of the things that he wanted to do, on the last day of his life, in spite of his full acquaintance with his rapidly increasing physical frailty.

Eloquent, literate, amused, and brilliant, William J. Siffin brought energy, inspiration, charm, and perspective to a generation of colleagues, students, and friends. No one exposed to the Siffin wit and wisdom ever fully recovers, and each of us touched by his generous enthusiasm for knowledge and growth or zinged by his ferociously creative vocabulary cherishes the experience.