Political science offers students a vibrant and challenging approach to the study of politics that focuses on analyzing current issues and debating the most profound and enduring problems of public life. The major combines a study of ancient and modern political philosophy with analyses of American politics, comparative politics and international relations. The department pursues three basic objectives in its curriculum: to explore the nature of politics — its purposes, limitations and significance in human life; to promote an understanding of various forms of political systems and of relations among them; and to develop a capacity for intelligent analysis and evaluation of public policies and a sensitive awareness of opposing points of view in the political debates of our time.
Throughout the program, the emphasis is on the fundamental ideas concerning human nature, justice and the purposes of government. Course readings present students with differing points of view. Students are encouraged to participate in discussion and debate of controversial questions.
The Department of Political Science offers several introductory courses for diversification. We especially recommend PSCI 101Y-102Y. It is the only political science course designed expressly for first-year students. Although PSCI 101Y-102Y is not required for a major in political science, we strongly recommend it as an introduction to the department's program. This course is broad in scope and is designed to provide an effective introduction to college work in the humanities and social sciences generally. If you wish to take a political science course for diversification as a sophomore or above, we call your attention to the introductory courses offered in each of our subfields: PSCI 200, PSCI 220, PSCI 221, PSCI 240 and PSCI 260. In the spring semester, first-year students who are taking Quest for Justice may register for one of the department's required 200-level foundation courses in American politics, comparative politics and international relations.
This year-long course is taught as a first-year seminar, with class size kept, as much as possible, to a maximum of 18 students. We offer seven sections of the course, all with common readings. Sessions are conducted through discussion, thereby helping students overcome any reservations they may have about their capacity to make the transition from high school to college work.
The course, which emphasizes the development of reading, writing and speaking skills, is an introduction to the serious discussion of the most important questions concerning political relations and human well-being. These are controversial issues that in the contemporary world take the form of debates about multiculturalism, diversity, separatism, gender equality and the like; but, as students will discover here, these are issues rooted in perennial questions about justice. In the informal atmosphere of the seminar, students get to know one another well, and debate often continues outside of class.
So that students may prepare adequately for each class, assignments from the common syllabus tend to be short. The course is designed to develop analytical skills through careful reading and effective discussion. Six to eight brief analytical papers are assigned and carefully graded (for grammar and style as well as intellectual content). Instructors discuss the papers individually with students. Thus, this is also a "writing course" as well as one devoted to thinking and discussion.
The papers typically account for 60 percent of the course grade, with the remainder dependent on class participation and the final examination. On the first day of class of each term, every student receives a syllabus listing the assignments by date, due dates of the short papers, examination dates, and all other information that will enable the student to know what is expected in the course and when.
The following courses are particularly recommended to sophomores, juniors and seniors new to the political science curriculum.
I. American Politics
PSCI 200 Liberal Democracy in America
This introductory American politics course begins with a study of the American founding, including readings from the Federalist Papers. We then study each of the major institutions of our political system: the presidency, bureaucracy, Congress, Supreme Court, political parties and elections, and other topics. The course concludes with a broad overview of the character of liberal democracy, through a reading of de Tocqueville's Democracy in America.
II. Political Philosophy
PSCI 220 History of Political Philosophy: The Classical Quest for Justice
PSCI 221 History of Political Philosophy: The Modern Quest for Justice
These courses form our introductory sequence for the field of political philosophy. The sequence is taught every year, with two sections offered each semester; each section averages 25 to 30 students. The classes are taught with lectures and discussions. The first semester concentrates on Plato and Aristotle. We read Platonic dialogues such as the Apology, Crito, and the Republic, and Aristotle's Politics and Ethics.
The second semester examines and evaluates the revolutionary challenge to classical and medieval political philosophy posed by such writers as Machiavelli in The Prince and Discourses, Hobbes in The Leviathan, Locke in the Second Treatise, and Rousseau in the Social Contract and Discourses. In order to compare and evaluate critically the philosophic views that have shaped our own political and psychological opinions, these classes emphasize careful reading of the texts.
III. Comparative Politics
PSCI 240 Modern Democracies
This course explores the practice of democracy in contemporary Western liberal democracies, the breakdown of democracy, and the challenges of implanting democracy in non-Western settings.
IV. International Relations
PSCI 260 International Relations
This course provides an introduction to the study of international relations. It focuses on three central themes: (1) contending theories of international relations, (2) the rise of the modern international system, and (3) recent developments in the international arena.
Students majoring in political science must complete 5 units in the subject, including PSCI 220 and 221; 240; 260; and 1 unit of work in American politics. The American politics unit consists of PSCI 200 and any semester course numbered from 300 through 315. Every major must also take .5 unit of work in either comparative politics or international relations beyond the introductory courses in those subfields, and at least one political science seminar, each of which is limited to 15 students. The introductory course in political science, PSCI 101Y-102Y, is designed for first-year students and is recommended for all students considering a major in political science. Though not required, this course does count toward the major.
There are a number of upperclass electives open to students without any prerequisites, but we encourage students seeking an exposure to political science to begin with the core courses of our curriculum: PSCI 101Y-102Y; 200; 220 and 221; 240; and 260.
The Senior Exercise in political science is a five-hour comprehensive examination usually scheduled for the Saturday one week before spring break. The exam is divided into two parts, in each of which students answer one two-and-one-half-hour question that cuts across subfields and requires integration and application of knowledge learned in various courses. In one part, the questions will focus more on political theory and, to a lesser extent, American politics. In the other, the questions will focus more on comparative, American and international politics.
The Honors Program in political science is designed to recognize and encourage exceptional scholarship in the discipline and to allow able students to do more independent work in the subject than is otherwise permitted. Honors candidates are required to have a minimum grade point average of 3.5 or above and are admitted into the program based on an oral examination conducted by faculty members. Political science majors who are considering honors are encouraged (but not required) to enroll in PSCI 397 during their junior year.