Political Science Website


Chair, Associate Professor CHERYL L. SHANKS

Professors: CRANE, C. JOHNSON, MACDONALD, MAHON, MARCUS, REINHARDT, A. WILLINGHAM. Associate Professors: M. DEVEAUX, M. LYNCH, MCALLISTER, SHANKS. Assistant Professors: MELLOW, PAUL*. Visiting Assistant Professors: GROFF, A. HIRSCH, J. LEE, T. LEHMANN. Adjunct Professor: K. LEE.

Politics is most fundamentally about forging and maintaining community, about how we manage to craft a common destiny guided by shared values. Communities need a way to reconcile conflicts of interest among their members and to determine their group interest; they need to allocate power and to determine its just uses. Power may be used wisely or foolishly, rightly or cruelly, but it is always there; it cannot be wished away. Political science attends to the ways that social power is grasped, maintained, challenged, or justified. The contests over power and the values that it should be used to further give politics its drama and pathos. For this reason, the effort to understand politics aims not only to describe and explain, but also to improve political life.

The Political Science major is structured to allow students either to participate in the established ways of studying politics or to develop their own foci. To this end, the department offers two routes to completing the major, each requiring nine courses. We invite students either to organize their major through the subfields that structure the discipline of political science (American politics, international relations, political theory, and comparative politics), or to develop individual concentrations reflecting their particular interests, regardless of subfields.


SUBFIELD CONCENTRATION ROUTE: Upon declaring a major, students choose a subfield from American politics, international relations, political theory, and comparative politics. The subfield concentration draws at least four (4) of the nine courses from one subfield, and includes the appropriate core course from 201-204, two electives at the 200 or 300 level of the student's choice and the senior seminar (or an individual project) in the student's subfield. (A degree with honors in Political Science requires two (2) additional courses which DO NOT count toward the nine (9) major requirements.) With permission of the department chair, students may take a senior seminar in a different subfield, providing the student takes a third elective in the subfield of concentration. In addition, students must take courses in two subfields outside the subfield of concentration to satisfy the breadth requirement (all courses at the 100 level and all methods courses also count toward the breadth requirement).

INDIVIDUAL CONCENTRATION ROUTE: Alternatively, students may devise a concentration of their own. In this event, the student prepares a curricular plan in consultation with a faculty advisor, explaining the nature of the concentration and the courses the student will take. The individual concentration also requires nine (9) courses, with at least five (5) thematically linked courses constituting the concentration. Of these five courses, four are electives at the 200 or 300 level, including one from 201-204, and one is a senior seminar or individual project. In addition, students pursuing an individual concentration must take at least two other courses that illustrate breadth in political science. To complete the requirement, the student has his or her choice of any two other courses within the Political Science Department. The faculty advisor and the department chair must approve the student plan.


When a student chooses to major in Political Science (usually at the end of the sophomore year), he or she may register with any Political Science faculty member at the designated time and places. The registering faculty member will ask for preferences for a permanent faculty advisor and will assist undecided students in finding an advisor whose interests match theirs. In all cases students will be paired by the end of their sophomore year with an advisor who will continue with them through graduation.


The course numbering used by the Political Science Department reflects the format and specialization of a course more than its level of difficulty. The 100-level courses are designed to address questions of broad political interest. The courses are pitched both to those considering and not considering political science as a major. The 200-level courses are divided between our core courses and our electives. The core courses, numbered between 201-204, serve as introductions both to the substance of the politics and the subfields organizing the study of politics. The core courses, which were previously numbered at the 100 level, are open to all students, including first-year students and non-majors. The 200-level elective courses provide general overviews of political processes, problems and philosophies in a way generally accessible without prerequisites. 300-level courses are more specialized and usually require prerequisites. 400-level courses are senior seminars offered for students in the major; senior seminars also are open to juniors and to non-majors if space permits.


The department welcomes relevant WSP 99 proposals that can make important contributions to the student's understanding of public affairs and politics. Majors, seniors, and students without previous WSP 99 experience have preference.


A major in Political Science can be readily and usefully combined with study in a foreign country. Normally, no more than one course taken per semester abroad in a program approved by the College may be counted toward the requirements for a degree in Political Science.


The Political Science Department grants honors to candidates who, (1) complete the Senior Seminar, (2) receive at least a grade of 3.50 on a Senior Thesis (493-W031-494), and (3) have a minimum GPA of 3.5 in Political Science.

To become a candidate for honors the student must, (1) apply in the second semester of the junior year, (2) submit a research proposal acceptable to the department's honors committee and for which an appropriate advisor is available, and (3) have a minimum GPA of 3.5 in Political Science for the first six semesters. (Political Science 493-W031-494 DO NOT count toward the total of nine required of all majors.)


The Department of Political Science provides the opportunity for an unusually gifted student to engage in an entire year's advanced research in American politics under singularly favorable conditions. Supported by income derived from an endowment fund, the student, designated the Sentinels of the Republic Scholar (after the name of the fund), receives a substantial research stipend to cover costs associated with the proposed project.

This unique research course (Political Science 481-W033-482) is designed to encourage the pursuit of excellence among the most talented Williams students of Political Science. Admission to it is awarded to the most distinguished candidate on the basis of demonstrated capacity for outstanding work and of the project's promise for creative contributions to the understanding of American politics, political institutions and thought.