Graduate Faculty of Political Science Showcases Discipline’s Strength at BU

March 31, 2011

If the size and impact of academic departments within the University were based solely on the number of faculty members on departmental rosters, one would get entirely the wrong impression about the discipline of Political Science at Boston University.

While the number of political scientists who call the Department of Political Science home may seem relatively small, the truth is, Boston University has over 30 research-active political scientists on campus in such places as International Relations, Geography, and the Law School, in addition to the eponymous department. “This adds up to a nationally significant number of political scientists at this university,” says Graham Wilson, professor of political science and department chair.

For this reason, Wilson has led the way to organize this strength into a new Graduate Faculty of Political Science (GFPS) who will work together to oversee and provide the faculty support for the already-existing PhD in Political Science. “The new Graduate Faculty of Political Science is all about making this fact clear and showing the outside world that BU is a major center for the study of political science in the United States,” says Wilson.

In effect, the GFPS is about leveraging the benefits of having so many research-active political scientists on campus and demonstrating how that in turn benefits the BU community. “Promoting the fact that BU is a major center for the study of the subject makes this a very attractive place for prospective political science PhD students, undergraduates and prospective faculty members,” says Wilson.

Why a Graduate Faculty of Political Science?

While there may be advantages to the fact that the discipline of political science at Boston University extends beyond the boundaries of the Political Science Department, this arrangement presents one distinct disadvantage: Neither potential PhD students nor colleagues in other universities in the US or overseas can readily see how strong the discipline of political science is at BU. The GFPS addresses this by providing a structure that makes BU’s extraordinary strength in the discipline evident to all.

The new group also acknowledges the existing reality that the PhD program already is dependent on the contributions of political scientists based outside the Department of Political Science. Without the courses offered by faculty members or their service as Readers on dissertation committees (currently requiring the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies), the program could not operate. Recognizing the critical nature of their contributions to the discipline of political science at BU, the GFPS offers all BU political scientists full and equal membership in the discipline of political science at BU.

Indirect Benefits of the GFPS

The GFPS will benefit a number of populations at BU, including undergraduates. “We are engaged in a very thorough, lengthy course audit with the Department of International Relations. Both departments are opening up to our majors, with lots of courses cross-listed in each department,” says Wilson. “About 20 IR courses will be cross-listed with our majors. This represents a radical expansion of opportunities for undergraduates.”

GFPS will add a new dimension within the scholarly community among political science faculty members, crossing departmental boundaries and clearing administrative hurdles. “We’ll have seminars focused on political science from a number of departments,” says Wilson. “We want to involve the young political scientists in international relations, political science, geography and wherever else they may reside and get them in touch with each other.” Wilson adds that this community will be particularly helpful to new faculty members.

The GFPS will meet formally at least once a year and will convene committees to carry out its work as the governing body for the political science PhD at Boston University. “Even if you’re in IR or Geography, you will come to that meeting and you will have a vote on the Ph.D. just like members of the Department of Political Science,” says Wilson. “From the point of view of students, what we’re saying is, all the people in the GFPS are people you should be thinking about as members of your dissertation advisory committees or chairs of those committees.”

Going forward, the challenge will be to identify the specific field strengths of this faculty in a way that will allow the prominence of political science and its PhD program at BU to be communicated and promoted to the larger community. Wilson suggests that one such strength might be in area of environmental politics where political scientists from Political Science, International Relations and Geography could combine to prove world-class training and supervision.

To get the word out about its mission and role within the Boston University community, the GFPS soon will launch a dedicated webpage. An event to formally launch the new faculty is being planned for the end of April.


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