Syracuse University Magazine


David Van Slyke

Business-Government Relations

David Van Slyke never finds his work boring. A professor of public administration and international affairs at the Maxwell School, he says the deeper he delves into his research and teaching on government contracting, public-private partnerships, and strategic management in public and nonprofit organizations, the more interesting it is. “I look at how government works with nonprofits, for-profit businesses, and even with other governments,” says Van Slyke, who has been a member of the Maxwell faculty since 2004. “The exciting part for me is being able to bridge theory and practice with research focused on how policy gets implemented and can be improved.”

Initially, Van Slyke did not have his sights set on an academic career. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in economics, he worked as a project manager in the infrastructure field. Later, while working in higher education administration, he earned a Ph.D. degree in public administration and policy from SUNY Albany. “I’m interested in the intersection of economics, management, and politics—and how the policy environment is shaped by goal complexity, and diverse intergovernmental, stakeholder, and resource pressures,” he says. By way of example, he cites the federal health care exchange—an issue that brought the national media to his door. “Part of why I’ve received inquiries is because the approach was a combination of governmental agencies and contractors engaged in a very complex undertaking,” he says. “The question is, ‘Why were there so many problems?’ Those are the types of partnership and implementation issues I focus on and want to help improve.”

Even in his international work with ministries and banks in India, China, Thailand, Singapore, and Russia, Van Slyke says the number-one challenge is how to get two sides working toward a set of common goals and achieving collective outcomes. In his latest book, Complex Contracting: Purchasing in the Wake of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Deepwater Program (Cambridge University Press, 2013), he writes about how difficult it was to get the government and private contractors to understand how to work with one another while engaged in the contract. “There’s often a problem of mutual understanding in how government and nongovernmental organizations work with one another,” says Van Slyke, who is also a non-resident faculty member at the Maastricht Graduate School of Governance at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands.

Last July, Maxwell Dean James Steinberg named Van Slyke the Louis A. Bantle Chair in Business and Government Policy in recognition of his leadership role at the school as well as for his innovative and widely recognized work in the field of government contracting and public-private partnerships. The chair was established by the late Louis F. Bantle ’51, H’94 in honor of his father to provide support for teaching and research in business and government relations. “I think Lou Bantle wanted to promote more active engagement to build bridges between government and its different partners whereby their collective strengths could be used to achieve productive outcomes in advancing important public policy goals,” Van Slyke says. ”Being named the Bantle Chair is a privilege, honor, and a great opportunity.”

Van Slyke enjoys being at Syracuse because he appreciates the quality and ambitions of his students as well as the alumni and their commitment to public service. “I’m in a super department with strong leadership and colleagues who are committed to creating value through high-quality and relevant teaching and research,” he says. “This is an institution of inclusiveness, respect, and ambition—important attributes for success—and a great place to contribute and make a difference for our future.”         —Christine Yackel

Photo by John Dowling