GSPIA’s Dunn was a multidisciplinary renaissance thinker

Professor Emeritus William N. Dunn, a 50-year teacher and researcher at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, died May 16, 2022 at 83.

His student and colleague for 44 of those years, GSPIA Professor Emeritus Kevin Kearns, recalled Dunn as one of the first people he met at Pitt, a mentor who influenced him to stay on to pursue his Ph.D. here, an ever-supportive colleague “and a dear friend.”

“He opened the door to a career that was more rewarding than I could have imagined,” Kearns said. “We talked frequently, we shared ideas and we were actively engaged together in faculty governance.”

Dunn’s work “has been phenomenal,” Kearns said. It has more than 20,000 citations on Google Scholar, and his book, Public Policy Analysis: An Integrated Approach” is the most widely cited book of its kind. It is now in its 7th edition and has been translated into five languages. “He really left a huge mark on the field itself.

“We use the term multidisciplinary a lot, but Bill really exemplified that,” he added. “He was a real renaissance thinker in his ability to draw upon different fields, and people in the different fields recognized his work as well.”

As a teacher, in Kearns’ early years, Dunn “was outstandingly well prepared for every class,” with syllabi that might run to 30 pages. “He was especially gifted in working with doctoral students and mentoring them in their research and early in their careers.” A number of younger faculty have remarked to him, Kearns said, how important Dunn was to their early scholarly development, “and what a welcoming voice he was as they joined the University.”

As friends, Kearns recalled, “we were with each other through good times and bad and he was always one of my greatest cheerleaders and supporters. As a colleague, he was just so helpful and inspirational.”

Born in Monterey Park, Calif., Dunn enlisted in the U.S. Army after high school and earned a diploma in Russian language from the Defense Language Institute in Monterey. He then joined the Peace Corps, receiving a certificate in African Studies and French from the Peace Corps Training Program at the University of Massachusetts.

Dunn earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of California–Santa Barbara, and his master’s and doctoral degrees from Claremont Graduate University, then joined the Pitt faculty in GSPIA. His scholarly worked ranged across public policy analysis, research methods and public administration.

“He was an interdisciplinary and globally respected scholar,” noted a memorial notice from his school, “broadly interested in the application of logic and reason to policy analysis, decision making and public discourse. He collaborated with and was admired by accomplished scholars in fields such as political science, philosophy of science, economics, sociology, public health, systems theory and business.”

At GSPIA, he served twice as associate dean and was also director of the doctoral studies program. He published 100 works, from books, edited volumes and book chapters to articles and government reports. He was called upon for consultation by the offices of the presidents of the U.S and of Macedonia (where he was the founding director of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Public Policy and Management in Southeast Europe), the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Pennsylvania General Assembly, the National Science Foundation and General Motors.

He also held affiliate faculty appointments at the University of the West Indies, the University of Bologna, the American University College of Skopje, and the University of Southern California.

He received the Provost’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring; the Donald T. Campbell Award for methodological innovation in policy studies; the Aaron Wildavsky Best Book Award; and the Alisa Brunovska Award for Teaching Excellence in Public Administration. He was also a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration.

Dunn retired in 2020.

B. Guy Peters, Maurice Falk Professor of Government in the Department of Political Science, has known Dunn since 1984, collaborating on several research papers in recent years.

“He was a super colleague, just one of the best I’ve worked with,” Peters said. “He was smart and very cooperative. Even if he didn’t like your ideas he would tell you in a constructive manner.”

Dunn and Peters were recently planning a book together on so-called wicked problems — those for which there are no clear solutions and multiple causes. They were going to examine how best to use the wicked problems concept, since “we both felt it may be overused,” Peters explained. He is still deciding whether to go through with it: “It doesn’t seem as much fun to go forward without Bill. He has been so central to GSPIA for several decades. It will leave a hole in the school. It’s a real loss for the University.”

Dunn is survived by his wife, Marianne; his children, Mark (Debbie) Dunn, Jennifer (Jeffrey) Bond, Ian (Marisol) Bush, Alexander (Alison) Dunn, Elizabeth (Thomas) Dunn-Taylor and Melissa (Robert) Mulholland; his brother-in-law James French; and his grandchildren Jakob Dunn, Makayla Mulholland, Maryn Hilliard, Anastasia Andrejchak, Julian Dunn, Hillary Bush, Ian Bush, Adam Dunn, Natalie Dunn, Ainsley Bond, Aiden Bond, Olivia Kailey, Bennett Kailey, Leonie Taylor, Lilly Taylor, Liam Taylor, Nicole Cummings and Courtney Quealy.

Memorial gifts are suggested to Pittsburgh Soccer in the Community, which gives children in at-risk communities access to tuition-free soccer programs, at\donate.

— Marty Levine