The academic catalog is currently being updated for the 2022-23 year. View the Catalog Archive to access the 2021-22 catalog as well as catalogs from previous years.

Political Science

Carly Foster (department head)

The roots of the political science discipline extend back to ancient times when political philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle pondered the role of leaders and the meaning of citizenship and the good life. And yet, political science is also very much a modern science, utilizing sophisticated research methodologies to analyze political events and institutions. We study political phenomena at various levels—individual, group, local, national, international, and global. Ultimately we seek to develop in our students the capacity to understand, question and evaluate political phenomena in multiple contexts.

Required for a major:

Plan I. Thirty-two hours in the department, including POLS 130, 132; two courses in the 300-370 range; POLS 485. Students will fulfill the writing and speaking requirements by completing POLS 485 and the research requirement by completing POLS 485 and a senior project. The senior project does not have to be completed in political science. Normally a maximum of four internship hours can be counted toward the major, with the exception of the internship completed through the Washington Consortium program. In that case, all six internship credits will apply toward the major. The major is flexible, but it requires frequent consultation with the major advisor.

Students considering graduate study in political science, public policy or public administration should consider taking at least one course in economics and a statistics course.

Plan II (teaching). Same as general major requirements, except that a minimum of 24 hours must be selected from American government topics. A minimum of 34 hours of political science is required in Wisconsin. See Education department for secondary education minor requirements.

Required for a second teaching area: See Education department for specific requirements. The second teaching area license is offered only in the state of Iowa.

View program learning goals for an explanation of learning outcomes in Political Science. 

Political Science Courses

POLS 130 American Politics

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Human Behavior—Social Science Methods, Historical

An overview of the historical and contemporary practice of American politics that focuses on the nature of politics and government; the founders' ideas about the democratic republic; the constitutional theory and actual distribution of political power among the branches and levels of government; the problems and possibilities of governing America today; and the avenues available for citizen participation and influence.

POLS 132 Global Politics: Introduction to

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Human Behavior—Social Science Methods, Intercultural

This course will introduce students to (1) global issues, with examination of themes like globalization, economic development and poverty, global warming, ethnic conflict, democratization and war, and (2) global governance, with emphasis on the role of states, nonstate actors and multilateral institutions.

POLS 171 Mock Trial

  • 0 hours

This course involves preparation by students for the annual National Intercollegiate Mock Trial Tournament. The class will meet one to three times a week, September through early April. Students will work closely with a faculty sponsor and local attorneys who will guide them in preparing the case. Course may be repeated.

POLS 220 Science and Politics

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Natural World—Nonlab

Students in this course will engage in an examination of the complex relationships between science and politics. We will familiarize ourselves with scientific research methods, and examine the ways that political ideas and political systems influence and are influenced by scientific research and developments. Historical and contemporary scientific controversies will be explored.

POLS 237 Politics of the Middle East

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Human Behavior, Historical, Intercultural

This course examines the political problems of this vital region of the world, with a focus on the Arab-Israeli conflict, the politics of oil and other resource issues, the role of religion in politics, and the question of democratization. Offered alternate years.

POLS 238 Latin American Politics

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Human Behavior, Intercultural

This course examines the development of Latin American countries' current political situations. Country-specific analysis of current political situations will form the basis for comparative analysis.

POLS 240 Social Science Research Methods

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Human Behavior—Social Science Methods, Quantitative

This course will introduce you to the social science methods of investigation and analysis that are used in political science research. We will utilize the scientific method - identifying a definable problem, developing testable hypotheses, designing research strategy, gathering data, analyzing data, and interpreting results -- to investigate political phenomena.

POLS 241 Human Rights

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Human Behavior

The objective of this course is to understand who violates human rights, why human rights are violated, and what factors contribute to reducing human rights violations. The course will introduce civil and political rights, including rights to physical integrity, and the trends in advancing these rights around the world. The course first begins by introducing different types of human rights and the systems designed to protect these rights. It then proceeds to explain when violations are most likely to take place. Upon completing this course, students will be familiar with the institutions designed to protect human rights, what those institutions have yet to accomplish, and the factors that influence human rights violations.

POLS 247 Social Policy

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Human Behavior—Social Science Methods, Historical, Intercultural

By focusing on current governmental efforts to reduce poverty, this course will investigate the influence of race, gender, class, ideology, demography, organized interests, and a market economy on how social policy is made in America.

POLS 250 The Iowa Caucuses and the Presidential

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Human Behavior

Every 4 years in January, presidential candidates converge in Iowa, hoping that a good showing in the Iowa Caucuses will propel their campaigns. This class will take advantage of the learning opportunities presented by this phenomenon. We will investigate how the Iowa Caucuses work (in theory and in practice), the role that the Iowa Caucuses play in the presidential election process, and the social and political factors that explain candidate successes and failures. Students should be prepared to spend a significant amount of time attending presidential campaign events in Decorah and in surrounding Iowa communities.

POLS 252 Politics and Religion

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Religion, Human Behavior, Historical

This course will focus both on the history of the relationship between politics and religion in Amercia and current political issues that are difficult to separate from a very religious and a religiously diverse nation. We will devote significant attention to how religious beliefs influence the way citizens think and act politically and about how government decisions influence religious practices. (Students may use this course to fulfill either the second Religion requirement or the Human Behavior requirement, but not both).

POLS 254 Politics, Policy and Gender

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Human Behavior—Social Science Methods

This course examines the role of gender in politics and political systems. We will discuss electoral politics, political movements, policies, and policy-makers, all while considering the impact of gender on these political phenomenon. We will also explore the rise in the number of women elected to political offices in the US and across the globe. (Same as IDS 254)

POLS 258 Environmental Politics and Policy

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Human Behavior—Social Science Methods

In this course, students will identify and examine environmental issues confronting the United States, as well as the larger world. Students will identify and evaluate both current and proposed policies for addressing those issues. We will pay particular attention to the range of actors involved in the making of environmental policy and will emphasize the relationship among politics, economics, ethics, and science in the making of environmental policies in the United States and internationally.

POLS 261 Fleeing to and from Germany: Immigrants

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Human Behavior, Historical, Intercultural

It is at the core of human history: people leaving their homes in search of a better life. This course explores the role of immigration and emigration for the German-speaking countries over the last 250 years. We will look at the immigration of Germans to the US and South America in the 19th and 20th century, the mass displacement of Germans after WWII, the guest worker program in the 1950s and 1960s (which brought many foreigners to Germany), as well as the so-called European refugee crisis since 2015. We will research the different reasons for people traveling to and leaving Germany, the reactions of the population, and the consequences migration has had for German history and society. Specifically, we will analyze the political and societal reactions to the European refugee crisis and will put it into historical context. The course is taught in English. No German required. This course cannot be used to fulfill the language requirement.

POLS 330 Global Health Politics and Policies

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Human Behavior, Intercultural

What can help to explain the patterns of vast disparities in health outcomes for different people in different places? This course will examine the political, economic, and social factors that influence public health policies and health outcomes around the world. We will explore the role of governments, community organizations, technologies, Non-Governmental Organizations, healthcare providers, education systems, religious organizations, and cultural beliefs, in helping to explain differences in healthcare systems, and differences in health outcomes.

POLS 335 Terrorism and Democracy

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Human Behavior—Social Science Methods, Historical, Intercultural

This course will use works of social science, fiction and film to explore the following issues: the sources of modern terrorism, the political nature of terrorism and the tensions inherent in democracies between civil liberties and national security. A variety of terrorist organizations and countries will be investigated, with special attention to how the United States and other democracies have responded to terrorist attacks.

POLS 340 Environmental Justice and Law

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Human Behavior—Social Science Methods

Environmental justice addresses the distribution of environmental burdens and benefits across societies, as well as the ways that citizens have a role in influencing their environmental fates. In this course, we will use the frame of environmental justice to analyze critical issues in the realm of environmental law. The course will examine and analyze legal cases that involve environmental justice issues, as well as environmental conflicts that involve issues of inequality across race, gender, and socio-economic status. Further, we will explore the role of law and judicial processes as paths to address and ameliorate environmental injustice. Students will develop an understanding of the politics of environmental justice, as well as skills in legal analysis and policy analysis within an environmental justice frame.

POLS 342 Comparative Politics: Governments and

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Human Behavior—Social Science Methods, Intercultural

This course investigates the political systems of various countries, using the comparative method to understand variations in electoral systems, forms of government, bureaucratic structures, and other aspects related to the political process. Case studies cover major political systems around the world. The course considers the historical, institutional, cultural, and ideological developments that have led to various political systems.

POLS 350 Economic Policy

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Human Behavior

This course will examine the role of the state in the economy in democratic societies. Topics covered will include international trade policy, the government's capacity to manage the economy, the balance between state and market force and political pressures that influence economic policies. Offered alternate years.

POLS 355 Constitutional Law

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Human Behavior, Human Expression—Primary Texts

Relying primarily on Supreme Court opinion, the course emphasizes how the Supreme Court has and should interpret the Constitution. The course examines the role of the Supreme Court and the allocation of governmental powers within the American constitutional/political system.

POLS 357 Congress and the Presidency

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Human Behavior—Social Science Methods, Historical

An examination of the role of Congress and the Presidency in the American political system. Included are the powers and responsibilities of both institutions, the relationship between them, struggles over power and influence, and the capacity of Congress and the President to work together to make effective public policy.

POLS 360 Global Environmental Politics

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Human Behavior

This course examines the politics of global environmental issues such as climate change governance, poaching and illegal wildlife trade and policy, globalization of e-waste and waste cycles, and extractive industries such as mining and fossil fuel production, human rights and food production, as well as sustainable international development. We will take a three-pronged approach to our inquiry by a) analyzing the politics of global environmental change, b) examining global economic and political processes that shape the landscape of global environmental politics, and c) exploring the international agreements and institutions that seek to address transboundary, global environmental problems. Ultimately, we will explore global environmental issues and institutions in an analysis of the ways that environmental politics transcend local and national scales.

POLS 363 International Relations

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Human Behavior, Historical

An examination of theories and contemporary issues in international relations and international political economy.

POLS 364 United States Foreign Policy

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Human Behavior—Social Science Methods, Historical

The first segment of the course examines the evolution of American foreign policy from 19th century isolationism to global power in the 20th and 21st centuries. The second segment explores the making of foreign policy today, with focus on the alternative strategies available to decision makers.

POLS 366 Political Thought

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Human Behavior, Human Expression—Primary Texts

An historical survey of western political thought that explores competing visions of the political order. Readings will include selections from classical, modern, and contemporary political philosophy.

POLS 485 Seminar

  • 4 hours

Open to junior or senior political science majors, the seminar will focus on major political thinkers or themes. The course will rely on discussion, student presentations, and independent projects.

POLS 490 Senior Project

  • 1, 2, or 4 hours