The mission of the Department of Political Science is three-fold. First, we seek to make the study of politics an integral part of the liberal education of Kenyon students. Second, and also of great importance, we seek to give students a coherent and comprehensive introduction to the discipline of political science. Third, we aim to prepare our students for their future lives. We seek therefore to promote, on the one hand, the development of responsible, informed citizens and, on the other, to prepare students for graduate education in both the academic disciplines and the professions.
(1) Students will be able to formulate a clear argument and follow it through to the end of an essay, research paper, or oral presentation.
(2) Students will show an ability to present multiple viewpoints or perspectives about a political argument.
(3) Students will acquire a broad understanding of American political institutions and the political institutions of at least two other countries.
(4) Students will show a capacity to analyze political phenomena following the main approaches in American and comparative politics – institutionalism, cultural approaches, and political economy.
(5) Students will learn the history of political philosophy through the study of selected classic texts and will learn how the ideas and arguments in those texts inform all, including current, political debates.
(6) Students will demonstrate familiarity with major theoretical viewpoints in international relations and knowledge of the causes and consequences of major international conflicts.
(7) Students will demonstrate the capacity to integrate conceptual material from more than one subdiscipline of political science.
(8) Students will acquire the requisite understanding and appreciation of political systems to become more informed and responsible citizens, both of the United States and the wider world.
We believe the senior exercise remains the best indicator of the success or failure of our curriculum, at least as we can measure that success while the students are still with us. With the senior exercise we are able to assess the capacity of our students to produce political arguments and to evaluate alternative political perspectives. The senior exercise allows us to assess concretely what our students have learned. For example, do they really know how the political institutions of their own country and other major powers function? Do they understand the political arguments of Locke or Rousseau? The senior exercise is comprehensive in character, so while students may be able to avoid writing about one of the subfields of political science, it is impossible for them to write only about their favorite subfield. Finally, the senior exercise allows us to determine whether our students have learned to integrate what they have learned in the different subfields (and courses) of political science–this latter, of course, is a liberal education objective and we regard it as among the most important of our goals. (NB: senior exercises are read by at least four different faculty members.)
In our senior exit survey, we ask students about the extent to which they were required to write an extended research paper and to give an extended oral presentation in their political science courses. We also ask them to assess their experience with those assignments – did they find the assignment to be a learning experience? Did they find it otherwise rewarding? We also ask them about the process of studying for the comprehensive senior exercise as a means for integrating their course work in political science. And we ask them to tell us what they found most important – and most problematic – about their education in the Political Science Department. We take those questions very seriously, and attempt to revise our curriculum and our practice in a manner that accords both with our students’ input and our own pedagogical goals.
In our Quest for Justice (PSCI 101-2) departmental evaluation, we seek to learn whether students have developed an appreciation for the importance of developing clear political arguments and of understanding the bases of counterarguments. We currently are revising some of our evaluation questions in order to gain more concrete feedback regarding the course.
And for our very strongest students, honors projects provide additional means of judging their deeper understanding of a particular subfield and of the theories and methods of political science more generally. Consequently, our outside examiners for honors projects are asked to assess the extent to which students demonstrate a capacity to formulate, clearly articulate, and defend an extended argument in the subfield of political science in which the thesis is written.
We meet annually after the completion of the senior exercise to evaluate student performance and our means of measuring it. Over the years we have sought to identify problems in both the exam instrument and the curriculum. We regularly revise our exam questions to reflect the changing characteristics of our field and to address shortcomings in the instrument that we have identified. We are currently developing a rubric to evaluate student performance on the senior exercise.
At the end of each academic year, we hold a departmental meeting to review and discuss our findings from the Senior Exercises and other assessment instruments. Based on that discussion, we refine the instruments, our teaching practices, and the broader curriculum.