Poli Sci department lacks in courses, students complain

By Dan Kimerling

Faculty members in the political science department have responded to the complaint that there are only seven undergraduate courses offered this fall by saying that undergraduate teaching is simply not a high departmental priority.

The comments have disappointed College students, who feel shortchanged by the world-renowned department.

Gary Herrigel, the former undergraduate program director and a professor in the political science department, said that the faculty feels “no obligation” to the undergraduates. “It is very good for the faculty and probably a pain for students,” Herrigel said.

Lloyd Rudolph, Professor Emeritus in the political science department, said he was not sure that offering seven classes to the third-largest undergraduate concentration was even a problem. “I find that seven undergraduate courses is rather slim pickings,” he said.

In his more than 30 years teaching at the University, the department rarely met to consider the needs of the undergraduate concentration program. “It may be that UG concentration programs are the country cousins of the University of Chicago family,” Rudolph said.

Rudolph said that faculty members are expected to teach four courses per year. If one course is taught in the Core, and two at the graduate level for M.A. and Ph.D. students, one is left for the undergraduate concentration program. “It seems to be College policy to recognize with Quantrell awards, named chairs, and to reward with higher than average pay increases those who have devoted themselves to Core teaching and administration,” Rudolph said. “It is my impression that teaching in an UG concentration doesn’t get much recognition from the College administration, i.e. no teaching awards, named chairs or special pay increases. Within the department the UG program also tends to get short shrift.”

Such comments from faculty members fuel the feeling among undergraduates that the political science department does not listen to student opinion.

Tim Fletcher, a third-year in the College who transferred from Georgetown University, said that both political science courses he registered for, “Electoral Politics in America” and “Introduction to International Relations,” have an average size of approximately 100 students.

“I transferred here, promised small classes that emphasized discussion. It’s sad that I have to look outside of my major to find them,” Fletcher said. He said he thought that the department should offer more seminars capped at 20 to 25 students instead of having so many “survey lectures.”

“I’ll take the lecture class to get the credit, but then run to a sociology class to get an interesting discussion,” he said.

Mandy Beenher, a third-year in the College who is double-concentrating in political science and human development, said, “This quarter was really difficult, and I ended up having to drastically overstock human development courses, and I am only enrolled in one political science course. It really becomes frustrating because even if several really sound great for you, it’s impossible to schedule them because every one seems to fall into the 10:30 or 1:30 time slots.”

Student complaints about scheduling nevertheless seem to be out of the hands of the registrar’s office, according to University Registrar Thomas Black. Black said in an interview that each department usually decides on the courses it offers each quarter—such as what courses to run, at what times and which days to schedule the classes, and who the instructors are. According to Black, the registrar is only involved once each department decides these critical details. Black also noted that the two-day per week course layout is far more popular than the three-day per week, which only leads to courses being scheduled against one another, another complaint by political science concentrators.

Another student concern, an inevitable consequence of each department scheduling itself, according to Black, is that class size has grown.

“It is my impression that the political science department is a relatively small department, given the claims on faculty time,” Rudolph said. “Such claims include teaching in the Core, teaching undergraduate concentration courses, supervising B.A. papers, teaching M.A. students in the MAPSS and CIR programs and supervising their M.A.s, teaching and supervising M.A. and particularly Ph.D. students in political science.”

Many faculty members also take on commitments outside of the University. Herrigel said that the faculty must be engaged academically with pursuits that affect public interests, or otherwise the University’s reputation in the political science field will falter.