This year we are celebrating our department’s 75th anniversary. Let me take this opportunity to share with you what we have learned about the history of our department from a treasure trove of historical documents (reflections from members of the department) that we recently uncovered from the 35th, 40th, and 50th anniversary celebrations…
In 1933, the year that Hitler came to power in Germany and Franklin D. Roosevelt started his first term, the Department of History was created. 14 years and one World War later, in 1947, that department split into two, creating the Department of Government and International Relations. After, what a member of the department Curt Beck (1947-1992) calls considerable ‘soul searching’, the department adopted its current name of Political Science in 1959. The first MA in government and international relations was awarded in 1948 and the first PhD in political science in 1963. The Department was initially located in two small offices in the Castleman Engineering Building, then had temporary quarters first in South Campus and next in the quadrangle, now occupied by the Faculty Alumni Center, followed by the first two floors of Monteith (where most of us had our first offices). Today we are in Oak Hall, which will be soon renamed after Susan V. Herbst, the 15 the president of UConn (2011-2019) and our colleague. The birth of the Department was not an isolated event. Curt Beck says that it was in part a response to America’s Post-World War II awareness as a world power and the intense interest in world affairs. But it was also part of the UConn’s most dynamic phase when new programs of instruction were added, many instructors hired, dormitories built, all to accommodate a rush of returning veterans, beneficiaries of the G.I. Bill of Rights, and an extraordinary number of students with an immigrant family background for whom a college education was a great new opportunity.
According to the reflections, the Department’s rapid expansion and the caliber of its newly recruited faculty was largely due to George McReynolds, the first head of the Department. McReynolds had been a member of the History Department before the war. During the war he served in the Pacific as a naval officer. An expert on Far Eastern policy he insisted that contemporary politics was sufficiently important to justify the creation of a separate department. George E. McReynolds served until 1950 when he became the Dean of Arts and Sciences. He set a tone of quality through his appointments and encouragement of scholarship. Beck says his emphasis on international relations left a permanent mark. G. Lowell Field who joined the Department as head in 1952 contributed to the growth of the Department, as well as the discipline, with an innovative approach to theories of political development. In 1967 he was succeeded by Louis Gerson known not merely for his scholarly contributions to the study of U.S. foreign policy under Truman and Eisenhower, but also for his efforts at expanding the expertise of the Department during his ten-year stewardship. Then David RePass was the Department Head during 1978-1983 followed by Larry Bowman, John Rourke, Richard Vengroff, Howard Reiter, Mark Boyer, David Yalof, and then finally me….it turns out I am the 12th and the first woman head of our Department.
Here is a quote from Beck at the 35th anniversary celebration: “Surviving 35 years does not entitle the Department to indulge itself in self-glorification. It is true this Department has outlasted Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter. The Department undoubtedly will survive the current age of doubt and pessimism. Thirty five years only gives the Department the privilege to face the future knowing that it has been a factor in influencing the thoughts of other colleagues in a wide variety of fields and that it has opened the minds of young men and women to ideas they might not otherwise have had and encouraged them in activities from which future generations will benefit…Most importantly, contemplating the last 35 years should remind us that the enthusiasm that led McReynolds and others to start this Department must be rekindled. The issues of 1983 may differ from those of 1947 but the discipline of political science is needed even more now to resolve the perennial problems of political authority, justice, respect for law and avoidance of international catastrophes.” Sound familiar? In year 2023, the relevance of our discipline could not be clearer. The world faces a whole set of crises, challenges, some new and some recurrent…and our field is still central to making sense of all of these events around us and helping our students navigate these interesting times.
At the 40th anniversary, Beck continues his musings. He says “so why are we celebrating our 40th anniversary in 1988? I suspect the main reason is that we feel good about ourselves. We are forty, which is a respectable, if not perfect, age. We are out of our adolescence and not yet
senile.” So, at 75th anniversary does it mean we are senile? I would say we are old but also wiser. Our Department has grown and flourished over the years, thanks to the hard work and dedication of our faculty, staff, and students.
Today, we are indispensable to the success of CLAS and UConn in general. From 4 faculty members in 1947, we are now 38 faculty strong. Over the years we have lost many dear colleagues, but we also have new blood amongst us! Our junior faculty who joined us in recent years are absolutely dynamite! They embody and display an impressive level of intellectual diversity and productivity. In their research they cover topics from organization of militant groups, to feminist mobilizations in Egypt and Tunisia to public opinion of climate change, to the role of corporations in international security, history of political thought and democratic theory, displacement by climate disasters, decolonial feminism, and to voting behavior in the United States, to name a few…
We have considerable representation in numerous interdisciplinary programs at UConn, both in its college and across the university. Our faculty conduct cutting-edge research, publish in top journals, are regularly invited as keynote speakers, receive awards that bring national and international recognition to our department, and contribute extensively to professional organizations as well as communities from local to state to national and international. Our Department offers an intellectual hub at the university, where we recognize and celebrate each others’ contributions and invite prominent scholars to give talks at our various workshops and colloquium. It is impossible to list all the accomplishments of our faculty here. That’s why we have our newsletters!
In 1988, Curt Beck writes “a major asset in the Department’s development was a mutual tolerance of diverse approaches to the discipline. While there were occasional differences over the relative emphasis to be given to public administration or international relations, behaviorists, institutionalists, and historically oriented colleagues coexisted from the 40’s to the present.”
We still have that diversity and a lot more of it today. And that diversity is our biggest strength. Our faculty also have a reputation for excellent teaching. From a small number of students in 1947, the department has become one of the largest in the university. In 2022-2023, we had 742 political science majors. We serve thousands of undergraduate students in a wide array of interesting and creative courses — including those in our incredible Alan R. Bennett Honors program. Our faculty go above-and-beyond in their advising and service contributions to the university. Our undergraduate program trains students to be active and constructive citizens providing them with research opportunities and experiences that demonstrate the real-world applications of their degree. And our students deliver. I would argue that they are by far the most active, engaged and award winning students at UConn. We offer a variety of internships, including in the US Congress, the CT General Assembly, law firms, state and federal agencies, and numerous advocacy groups. Our students have many opportunities to study abroad and get involved in organizations like the Pre-Law Society, the International Relations Club, the Model UN, the Pi Sigma Alpha Honor Society, the Undergraduate Political Review Journal, to name a few.
With its approximately 30 students, our graduate program also stands strong. In addition to our (once again) growing PhD program, we now have innovative, entrepreneurial masters programs which bring in ever more diverse and impressive students from all around the world. Our graduate programs encourage students to conduct their own research and work closely with faculty. Our low student-to-faculty ratio means that graduate seminars are typically small and students receive a great deal of individual attention from faculty members. Many of our graduate students move on to work at educational institutions or have successful careers in industry and public sector when they graduate.
And finally we are proud of the successes of our alumni. Many of our alumni have made notable contributions to society. Using data collected since 2016, the Center for Career Development survey shows that, on average, 39% of UConn’s Political Science graduates choose to continue their education; 34% of these students attend law school, while public administration and public policy are the next most popular fields of graduate study. Among the top institutions attended by our alumni are UConn, Boston College, American University, Columbia University, and Georgetown University. For our alumni who seek employment after graduation, top employers include Cigna, the CT General Assembly, the CT Judicial Branch, and ABC News, where alumni work as legal assistants, community engagement specialists, litigation paralegals, and research analysts.
Moving forward, we remain committed to the pursuit of knowledge and the advancement of our field. We will continue to explore new avenues of research and expand our programs to meet the evolving needs of our students and the wider community…
In doing so we need your help. We are excited to use this anniversary to renew the Fund for Political Science through which we are able to support and enhance our undergraduate and graduate programs in ways not underwritten by the University budget. We hope you consider donating to our Political Science Challenge Fund to help us create new and exciting programming for our students, award our students for their accomplishments, and generate more opportunities for our faculty to expand their research.
I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to everyone who has contributed to the success of our Department over the past 75 years. Whether you are a current or former faculty member, staff member, student or alumnus, you have played a crucial role in shaping our Department’s legacy. Let us continue to work together to achieve even greater heights in the years to come.
Cheers to 75 years of excellence and to many more years of success ahead!
Professor and Department Head of Political Science