Skip to main content

Welcome to Political Science and Legal Studies

On September 17, 1787 as members of the Constitutional Convention left Independence Hall in Philadelphia for the day, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin what sort of government was being designed. His reply, “A republic, ma’am, if you can keep it,” went beyond the immediate question to call attention to the enduring truth that democratic republics fail without the active and informed involvement of the people in maintaining them. The purposes of non-authoritarian governance remain what they were in 1787: maintaining, and revising as needed, the normative guides and procedural rules for process of political decision-making that determine who gets what, when, where, and why in ways that provide space for popular participation and enable the people to their rulers accountable to the whole community. The challenge of establishing and maintaining non-authoritarian governance arises in any human community no matter its size – from the few dozen people living in a small village to the more than 1.5 billion people who live within the territorial boundaries of India or China. Keeping a republic requires understanding both the institutions (rules, ongoing practices, organizational structures) and the human interactions that establish and maintain a human community’s systems of governance.

Our department houses undergraduate majors in both Political Science and Legal Studies as well as vibrant graduate programs where you can study both the institutions and the interactions. We are one of the largest departments on campus, consisting of more than 1,000 undergraduate majors, nearly 70 graduate students, and over 30 faculty. Political science is the systematic study of governments, politics, policy, institutions and political behavior. Legal studies is the interdisciplinary study of the complex relationship between law and society. Our majors examine challenges from local to global levels. Our undergraduate community includes the highest percentage of "first generation" students in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and we are able to provide the largest number of undergraduate scholarships in the College. Our clubs and organizations—Mock Trial, Debate Team, International Relations/Model UN, to name a few—sustain a strong sense of community among students. Undergraduate research opportunities provide hands-on experience.

The graduate program in Political Science is strong in all the major subfields.  What sets us apart from many others is a cross-subdisciplinary approach to substantive questions about politics and a willingness to apply diverse methodological approaches to answering those questions.

Our faculty are nationally and internationally recognized. Several graduate students have won national fellowships and awards for research and teaching. Many faculty engage directly in public affairs through consulting or expert testimony to Congress and the courts or with frequent contributions in major media outlets. The department maintains active connections on campus and beyond to centers focused on public policy, critical theory, African Studies, Latin American and Caribbean affairs, Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies, law and society, computational social science, public health and much more.