University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Chair's Welcome

Jane E. FountainIn many ways, we are not a typical Political Science department.  We’re a comprehensive department at a Research I public university, yet our approach to studying and teaching politics features work at the intersections of the traditional subfields. The work of our distinguished and diverse faculty is rigorous, methodologically diverse, grounded in theory, global in reach, and engages many of the most important questions in politics.  Over the past several years, the department has doubled in size by adding new faculty whose work cuts across subfields and investigates protest and dissent, international migration, education politics and policy, international human rights, comparative democratization, political psychology, and the language of politics, among other topics. As a result, we are now the largest department in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences with more than 35 faculty and two majors.

What does this mean for you?  If you’re an undergraduate Political Science student, it means our curriculum starts with a focus on political issues and problems and offers you perspectives and theories that help make sense of a complex political world.  In addition to traditional introductory courses in Comparative Politics, American Politics, World Politics, etc., we teach courses called “Race and Politics,” “The Politics of Food,” “Controversies in Public Policy,” “Power and Participation,” “Politics Now,” “Democracy and Justice,” and others that reach across disciplines. If you’re a Legal Studies student, it means you are also part of a unique and diverse community. We are the only university in New England to offer a legal studies major, and we are one of the most interdisciplinary programs in the College. We often say that legal studies is education about law, whereas law school is education in law. As a legal studies student, you will have the opportunity to explore courses including “Human Rights and Wrongs,” “Modern Political Trials,” “Alternative Dispute Resolution,” “Death Penalty in America,” “Law and Literature,” and “Environmental Justice.”

While many of our introductory political science and legal studies courses are large, we cap most of our upper-level courses to ensure smaller classes, richer discussions, and an integrative learning experience.  Not only will you receive an excellent educational experience within the classroom, but you will also have the opportunity to actively engage in cutting edge research outside the classroom with some of the most prominent scholars in the discipline. For example, many of our undergraduates have the opportunity to work with faculty on their research projects through our research fellowship program, an experience that provides students with the skills to excel on the job market or go on to graduate school at the most prestigious universities in the country and world. Political science majors may further bolster their education and credentials by taking advantage of our Accelerated MA Program.

Our graduate program in Political Science is strong in all the major subfields, yet what sets us apart is our cross-subdisciplinary approach to political science and our embrace of a diverse menu of methodological approaches.  Our faculty cluster around broad themes that cross traditional subfield boundaries, such as Ambiguities of Democracy, Language and Politics, and the Politics of Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration. We address these themes with a wide array of approaches; indeed, members of our faculty are recognized experts in interpretive methods, quantitative analysis, computational social science, survey research, and qualitative and historical research. If you are in search of a program that will empower you to address important questions with a diverse array of tools, you would be hard-pressed to find a better place to study.  

We do all of this in the beautiful Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts. The Five-College area (which includes Amherst, Hampshire, Mt. Holyoke, and Smith Colleges, in addition to UMass) provides abundant intellectual opportunities and Amherst is often mentioned as one of the country’s best college towns. And, of course, we are just two hours from Boston and about three hours from New York City.

Take a look around our website and, better yet, visit us in Amherst.  You’ll find a distinctive department and an exciting intellectual environment.

Jane E. Fountain
Chair and Distinguished Professor