Teaching

I teach the following courses at Colby College:

This course surveys the fundamentals of American government and politics. It emphasizes constitutional development and political science’s role in evaluating institutional processes in the United States’ constitutional order. This course introduces students to a variety of empirical approaches used in contemporary political science in order to facilitate students’ understanding of American politics. In short, this course asks two basic question, how does government work in the United States, and, can it be made to work better? In answering both questions, students will focus on the method of political science in order to expand their understanding of political phenomena and behavior. We will tie those empirical considerations of institutional and political behavior to a discussion of competing political values, principles, and traditions in America’s political development.

This is a course about change and continuity in American politics. As such, we will examine the deep historical roots of contemporary politics and policy problems in the United States. While it is impossible for just one seminar to consider all of American Political Development (APD), this course will emphasize how politics progresses through time, and how contemporary political processes and problems can be understood as a consequence of both deliberate and unintentional decisions made in the past. Those who wish to change our political system must account for this country’s traditional political commitments and its past and that set of possibilities is structured by decisions, attitudes, and theories made in the past. Those seeking to practice politics must always make sense of what has come before them both in order to diagnose the present malady, and re-imagine a different political future. Our ultimate goal, therefore, is to address these issues of change and continuity, and make sense of the limits and possibilities of political development in the United States.

The goal of this course is to provide students with a conceptual framework for understanding the policymaking process in the United States. In short, we want to know why government does what it does. Communities have long tried to govern through knowledge or reason instead of politics; this is a misnomer. Policy is political. As a political process, we will consider the institutions that are responsible for problematizing, designing, implementing, and evaluating policy at the federal, state, and local levels; these include the bureaucracy, Congress, think tanks, and private corporations. We will also interrogate some of the leading approaches to thinking about public policy, including cost-benefit evaluation, “nudging,” quasi-market competition, and privatization. At the heart of this course lies a dilemma: in a self-governing society, citizen participation is valued, if not expected; but planning is technical, bureaucracy is insular, and politics is increasingly professionalized. Is it even possible to create a policy structure that enhances democratic citizenship, values expertise, and builds trust in those who manage society?

This course introduces students to the foundational theories and methodological approaches that make political science, scientific. Students will learn how rational inquiry into political phenomena differs from the ways in which we often discuss politics, and students will engage in a reasoned critique of that rational process to better cope with the limits of social science research. The scientific process is a distinct way of thinking, defined by how one asks falsifiable questions, develops competing conjectures, and systematically rules out alternative explanations with empirical observation. The course will cover a number of techniques that practitioners use to apply that process to theoretical problems, including: qualitative case studies, historical institutionalism, experimentation, survey research, content analysis, and statistical modeling.