Yale Political Science breaking new ground

Yale’s Political Science Department is growing by all accounts — buildings, students and faculty.

Political science is now the second largest major in Yale College with 177 senior majors, Political Science chairman Ian Shapiro said. Having surpassed economics, it is now second only to history. In addition, Shapiro said the department could hire as many as six or seven professors this year.

“The administration is very, very committed to Political Science,” Shapiro said.

The dedication of Suttle Hall, at 8 Prospect Place, marks Yale’s continued investment in the Political Science Department. The building is part of a larger plan for physical improvement of the social sciences at Yale.

University of Pennsylvania professor Rogers Smith, who left the Yale Political Science Department in 2001, said he was happy at Yale and thinks the department will continue to succeed in the future.

“I think the Yale department has a great tradition in the poli sci profession,” Smith said. “It is one of the best, if not the best, department in the country.”

Political science major Steven Prohaska ’03 said he is generally happy with the department.

“I really like poli sci,” Prohaska said. “It’s a good bridge between quantitative subjects like econ and the humanities.”

A growing roster

David Cameron, director of undergraduate studies in political science, said the department is relatively small considering the large number of majors.

Shapiro said that because the department must compete for candidates with other top institutions, it has developed a strong faculty roster.

“We have a lot of faculty turnover,” Shapiro said. “We have a very competitive faculty. Everyone we hire has opportunity to go elsewhere.”

Smith said he left Yale because Penn offered positions to both him and his wife, Mary Summers, and because it was better for their family.

Shapiro said the searches are partly to fill spaces left from the resignations of political science professors Alastair Smith and Fiona McGillivray, who both left Yale this year for New York University.

He said the Department is also conducting a joint search with the African American Studies Department. In addition, Political Science is attempting to secure one of the two remaining interdisciplinary professorships within the Yale Center for International and Area Studies. The first YCIAS professorship was filled in February by anthropology professor Arjun Appadurai.

Frances Rosenbluth, director of graduate studies in political science, said the department needed to hire more professors.

“I think especially in [International Relations] we are certainly deficient,” Rosenbluth said. “I think critical mass is important to maintain.”

Cameron said there is currently a lot of demand for seminars and senior essay advisers.

Rising popularity

Cameron said the increased interest in political science is not a sudden development; instead, popularity has been growing for a number of years. He added that the current level of interest may be attributed to the economic climate.

“The economy has tanked,” Cameron said. “A lot of students are realizing that they need a poli sci degree for law school.”

Smith said there is a mixed growth pattern around the country.

“There are a number of departments around the country with declining numbers of students,” Smith said.

Shapiro said the increase in political science majors is partly because other majors, such as economics, have become “more and more technical.”

“My guess is part of it is just serendipitous that we just happen to have a lot of popular professors,” Shapiro said. “Since the collapse of communism, political science is more interesting to undergraduates. The world is so fluid.”


  • dingbat

    I was a Yale MechE (ABET) 2008 grad and am going to weigh in here. Its stupid to say that Engineers and Scientists aren’t respected at Yale – usually, respect isn’t accorded by your ‘major’ and it hardly ever came up in conversation when I was an undergrad. I had friends who were in the sciences, the liberal arts and lord knows what – and there were people I liked in all of those fields. In fact, if at all, my friends gave me props for taking one of the toughest roads (in terms of requirements) at Yale when academics came into question. But lets assume that you aren’t getting respected as an Engineer, just for kick’s sake – why AREN’T you ECSTATIC now, that the scientists and engineers are getting this sort of attention? If this program is anything close to Bulldog Days, this will be phenomenal. And one final word – my peers in science and engineering were brilliant and it makes me proud to see them going to the best graduate schools out there.