Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Public Affairs and Administration

First Advisor

Dr. Ralph C. Chandler

Second Advisor

William F. Grimshaw

Third Advisor

Kathleen Reding

Fourth Advisor

Ralph Clark Chandler


This study focuses on the character attributes, philosophy, political skills, policy agenda, and administrative activities of William A. Ryan, Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives from 1969 through 1974 and a House member from 1958 through 1982. The case study is embedded in a history of Michigan’s political culture, which is characterized by moralistic and individualistic strands often in conflict with one another.

The research hypothesis was that administrative virtue in legislative leadership is best described in terms of utilitarian ethics, the ability to control and manage factionalism in the interest of incremental change. The rival hypothesis was that an adequate understanding of exemplary legislative leadership must account for the significance of character ethics, attributes that form an essential part of the leader’s moral authority.

This qualitative study used a combination of oral history, historical source materials, and content analysis of legislative documents to achieve "qualitative triangulation." Comparative analysis was achieved through study of the regimes of the two Michigan House Speakers preceding Mr. Ryan and the one following him. The method borrowed significantly from psychohistory. Particular attention was paid to the concept of the identity crisis in political entities and the role of government leaders in facilitating resolution of competing moral claims, leading to healthy maturation of the state.

The findings were that Mr. Ryan’s reputation as an exemplary legislative leader was based only partially on his repeated demonstration of superb political skills. Of at least equal significance were character attributes such as humility, modesty, and asceticism, as well as a strong identification with the state legislative institution. Exemplary legislative leadership may best be understood in terms of the leader’s ability to facilitate sustained democratic discourse characterized by: (a) meaningful representation of and input from all affected stakeholders, (b) civility and compromise among political leaders who may strongly disagree with one another, and (c) policy resolutions that, though imperfect, reflect lines of convergence on what public values are and ought to be.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access