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New Political Science Courses

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New for Spring 2021

POLS 035. Democracy and Dictatorship

This course examines the nature of democratic and authoritarian governments and explanations for regime change (either from dictatorship to democracy or the reverse). Topics include the relationship between democracy and development, the power (and limitations) of the United States to spur democratization in other countries, the institutional foundations of strong dictatorships, the notion that established democracies might be currently eroding, and the role potentially played by Russia and China in buttressing autocracy in other countries.

Professor Sam Handlin

POLS 020C. Special Topic: Police, Prosecution, and Racial (In) Justice in America

The killing of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis, MN police officer has forced a  national reckoning with structural racism, particularly with regard to the nature of policing, mass incarceration, and discriminatory law enforcement. This seminar explores these contested -- and controversial -- social and policy issues.  In addition, we will examine a number of questions: What are the origins of American policing? What should be the role of policing in a democratic society, especially given the unique and independent culture of some 18,000 police departments across the United States?  In what way(s) does racial bias affect policing? Or does it? What does is mean that the work of police is to preserve 'law & order?' And did the policy of "stop-and-frisk" actually work?  Why are Blacks 3-to-4-times more likely to be victims of police violence than whites? How are communities of color policed?  How does the criminal legal process actually work? And what are the implications of  all of these questions for the crisis in racial justice?  Finally, throughout the semester, we will be joined by myriad stakeholders across the spectra of policing, the criminal legal process, corrections, as well as community members impacted by police violence.

Professor Keith Reeves

Prerequisite:  POLS 2 or POLS 28.  Or by permission of the Instructor

New for Fall 2021

POLS 020D: Unbridled Power? The American Presidency

Even though the executive branch is relegated to the loosely defined second article of the U.S. Constitution, presidential power has greatly expanded over time, in the process reshaping American politics to revolve around presidential initiative. In the contemporary era, coequal branches of the government defer to the president, while voters look to the president to solve a snowballing set of public problems. However, the rise in executive power has not satisfied expectations, leading to the confounding dual problem of presidents purportedly having too much power in some domains, while still struggling to adequately fix society’s most pressing problems. This course examines how and why presidential power has grown throughout American history, with special attention to the following questions: To what extent is a presidency-centered system both a consequence of and incompatible with a separated powers system? What is the relationship between changes in the sources of presidential authority and the exercise of power in the executive branch? Are there any limits to presidential power, and if so, what are they? Normatively, should the president have less or more power? Finally, is successful mastery of the presidency our best hope for functional governance, or is the modern presidency a problem in and of itself? To answer these questions, we will focus on the historical development of the executive branch, spotlighting the important contributions—and idiosyncrasies—of all 46 U.S. presidents.

Professor Sean Diament

POLS 064: African American Political Thought

This seminar is an engagement with African American political thought from approximately 1830 to the present. We will focus on issues such as slavery, systemic racism, and segregation, as criticized by prominent African American philosophers, public intellectuals, and activists. However, we will also use their texts to explore broader themes in political theory about the meaning of "freedom" and the burdens of democratic citizenship. These include debates among African American intellectuals about coalition building, civil disobedience, violence, organized religion, gender, social class, education,  economic organization, and American foreign policy. We will think critically about how African American political thinking both intersects with and challenges Eurocentric philosophical traditions, and how it intersects with intellectual and political movements in the broader African diaspora community.

The syllabus may include thinkers such as David Walker, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Martin Delany, Harriet Jacobs, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Martin Luther King Jr., Stokely Carmichael, Harold Cruse, Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Toni Morrison, Cornel West, Clarence Thomas, and Barack Obama.  

Visiting Assistant Professor Gordon Arlen

New for Spring 2022

POLS 051: Global Justice

The idea of "global justice" has become increasingly influential in contemporary political philosophy. Its advocates argue that the complex challenges of a globalized world require theoretical principles which transcend specific nation-state contexts. In this political theory seminar, we shall explore the conceptual, normative, and institutional insights of the global justice literature. Topics may include: global resource inequalities and the prospect of international distributive justice; the ethics of immigration, migration, and border control; new perspectives on sovereignty, citizenship, and international law; cosmopolitan ethics and human rights; climate change and natural resource politics; just war theory and the legitimacy of humanitarian intervention; the ethics of global philanthropy and developmental aid. Throughout, we shall assess the performance of existing global governance institutions, while considering new frameworks for promoting transnational public spheres and holding powerful global actors accountable.

Visiting Assistant Professor Gordon Arlen

POLS 071: Negotiating the US Policyscape

Americans are reputed to show particular disfavor toward government compared to our counterparts in other developed democracies. And yet, there are over 93 thousand governmental entities with jurisdiction over 330 million Americans. The federal government alone spends between 4 and 6 trillion dollars every year to execute over 30 thousand statutes (in addition to hundreds of thousands of administrative regulations and court orders). This enormous scale of government not only belies the myth of a libertine America, but it suggests Americans actually cannot get enough government. What gives? To understand this conundrum—and more broadly the contours of American politics—one must understand the role of public policy. How are policies made? What are the effects of policy? What factors contribute to policy success or failure? How do policy design and issues with implementation contribute to public sentiment? We often think about the need for new policies to solve our problems, but give less attention to the role existing policies continue to play in our lives. In the course, we will analyze public policy through a political science lens, utilizing the concepts of path dependency, layering, drift, conversion, policy feedback, and unforeseen externalities to better understand the American policyscape. We will conclude by assessing whether America is governable in the year 2022.

Professor Sean Diament

New for Spring 2023

POLS 055: Ethics and International Relations

Ethical questions are central to the study of international relations. Does justice extend beyond the borders of states? Do we have moral obligations to distant strangers? Do we have an obligation to obey international law? When is war, if ever, just? Who should punish war crimes? In this course we explore the links between international normative theory (what would a just world order look like? how should it be constructed?) and the role norms and ethics actually play in contemporary international relations according to different theoretical perspectives (e.g. realist, constructivist, etc.). Topics include: the nature of ethical reasoning; state sovereignty, national self-determination, and secession; just war, human rights, and intervention; pluralism and cosmopolitanism; Black Lives Matter and international racial justice; transnational environmental responsibility and the ethics of climate change. 

Professor Emily Paddon Rhoads