Scant course offerings disappoint political science concentrators

By Dan Kimerling

Many undergraduates concentrating in political science, upon seeing the course offering for the current quarter, were extremely disappointed in what they found when registering. This quarter there are only eight courses being offered.

“Intro to IR simply does not provide much to third- and fourth-years,” said Ben Walsh, a third-year political science concentrator. “Many of [the courses offered] are repeats of classes that were offered in the past.” Charles Lipson, professor in the department of political science and director of the undergraduate program in political science, said he was aware that the department is understaffed. He said it is working to ameliorate the problem.

Last year, the department had been authorized to hire an additional faculty member, but due to University-wide financial problems, according to Lipson, it was forced to withdraw the offer. Instead, it has only hired faculty part time. The department—which is the third largest concentration behind economics and iological sciences division—is now getting support to recruit new faculty members from the Dean’s office.

Lipson said that the department has other human resources problems, including faculty on leave. “The practice of allowing faculty to take leave is a double-edged sword,” Lipson said. He added that in order to meet the University’s reputation for cutting edge research, academics must have the time to do work outside the University. But this decreases the amount in the teaching pool. The department is also weakened by the retirement of Susanne and Lloyd Rudolph. Before their retirement, Lloyd Rudolph served as chairman of the Committee on International Relations and of the Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences.

Lloyd Rudolph was also chairman of the College’s International Studies and South Asian Studies concentrations, while Susanne Rudolph was director of the Center for International Studies and Master of the Social Sciences Collegiate Division. Lipson also acknowledged that political science faculty members teach many of the international studies courses, and that many non-political science concentrators take courses in the department. Similarly, the department also serves students earning graduate-level degrees at the Council on International Relations and the Irving B. Harris School of Public Policy.

John W. Boyer, the Martin A. Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor in History, and dean of the College, said, “My own position is that political science is a large and very important department, and that we should do all that we reasonably can to support its teaching and research efforts.” He added that it is a distinguished department with a long and impressive history and a lot of student interest, both on the undergraduate and graduate levels. But he also noted, “The divisional deans are the deans who most closely work with the departments in the allocation of faculty lines and the authorization for new faculty searches.”

When asked about the students concerns, Dali L. Yang, a professor and chairman of the department of political science, said that historically, the department has tended to have fewer purely departmental courses offered in the fall. “This year we are not out of the norm,” Yang said. “We also have a number of other cross-listed courses. And our faculty also contributes to teaching in the Core.”

In order to graduate with a degree in political science, undergraduates must take classes in three of the four major sub-fields inside of political science: American politics and public policy, comparative politics, international relations, and empirical and normative political theory. Of the seven courses offered this fall, three are in international relations, two in American government and public policy, two in comparative government and none in empirical and normative political theory. There are also four sections of the bachelors colloquium, which is a fourth year class restricted to concentrators who desire to write a B.A. paper.

A major gripe is that most of the seven courses offered are introductory courses. This is most notable for Introduction to International Relations, taught by Lipson. This course is traditionally considered the foundation to international relations at the U of C, and—at a current enrollment of 164 students—it is one of the largest classes on campus. Lipson said there has been “a vast increase” in the class size, and noted that this may be due to September 11 as well as the growth in the size of the University.

An additional complaint concerns the times that classes are offered. Three of the seven topic courses are being offered Mondays and Wednesday from 1:30-2:50 P.M., two offered Tuesdays and Thursdays 10:30-11:50 A.M., and the final two are each offered as weekly lectures. Lipson said that the department tries to predict which classes will have overlapping interests, and tries to not schedule those classes against each other.

Ultimately, he said, it depends on the registrar’s office. The registrar’s office, when contacted, declined to comment. “There are a lot of factors involved, including faculty preferences, the availability of rooms, and so on,” Yang said. “In fact, my own class [Politics and Public Policy in China] is taught in a time slot that’s different from what I originally proposed.”