Until about a decade ago, approximately a quarter of Claremont McKenna graduates were government majors. Over time, this number has been steadily decreasing and has hovered at around 11% for the past few years. This drop in enrollment shows a marked shift away from Claremont McKenna’s reputation as a politically-oriented college with a strong government program. Conversations with students and professors across campus show that the lack of change in the department is one explanation for these falling enrollment numbers.
While other colleges’ government programs have evolved to reflect society’s current political values, CMC students and professors recognize that the College’s government major has remained remarkably unchanged over the past decade. In particular, students at CMC have voiced concerns about the problems with the program’s practical applicability and diversity, both in the composition of the faculty and in the courses offered.
Recent CMC alumna and government major Jessica Jin ’16 explained that the “practical applicability of what the Government Department teaches is fairly narrow in scope.” Jin noted CMC’s emphasis on political theory as opposed to policy. She stressed the “weakness in existing curriculum” and expressed her hopes that CMC bolster its government major through new hires. “It is so critical to have someone who is heavily quantitative in the department or, at least, offering a fresh perspective,” Jin said.
Dr. Andrew Busch, the Chair of the Government Department, acknowledged several of these weaknesses in the department. He explained that the department wants to hire professors with expertise in teaching public policy, public organization, and public administration who can explain “how policy gets done.”
Busch pointed to the Policy Lab, a course taught by Professor Zachary Courser and Professor Eric Helland, as a demonstrative example of the steps the Government Department is taking to alleviate these concerns about course offerings. This course looks at domestic policymaking through a hands-on, client-based approach by complementing classroom analysis with assisting a policy think tank in Washington, D.C.
Busch also noted that he has encouraged professors to create new classes, which has generated new class ideas such as Professor Jon Shields’ course on black intellectuals and Professor Shanna Rose’s course on economic policy and social welfare.
Skip Wiltshire-Gordon ’19, a government major, raised the issue of the lack of diversity among professors. Wilshire-Gordon explained that while he has been impressed with the caliber of professors, the biggest downside of the department for him has been that professors tend to be primarily white men.
Since its founding, CMC has had a reputation of homogeneity in terms of its demographic composition and political ideology, which historically leaned conservative. While the department does not keep demographic statistics on faculty, even today CMC’s government department has significantly more male faculty than female, has very few faculty of color, and leans significantly more conservative than government departments at other colleges. When discussing these statistics, Busch explained that since the department is relatively old, many of these full professors have been teaching at CMC for decades and are products of times with different priorities.
Busch insists this diversity gap has been gradually closing, since most of the recent hires have been women. He also points to an increasing number of professors who come from a range of ethnic backgrounds. He believes that “substantial representation of both sides of the political spectrum” is “even more important” than the demographic composition of the department.
While CMC may have a government department that is less diverse than other colleges, Busch believes that it is rather “much more diverse” due to its “variety of viewpoints.” In this way, Busch views the department’s reputation as more conservative as a benefit.
It is evident that there is a desire from students and faculty alike to re-establish the prominence of the government major. Busch hopes to “work to build up a sort of camaraderie around the idea of being a government major again.” However, students have emphasized that, in order to build up this sort of camaraderie, there will have to be significant structural changes within the department, specifically those in course offerings and faculty diversity.
As Jin highlights, “if the Government Department wants to remain relevant at CMC and among other government departments, it should adapt to the realities of the world that CMC students are about to enter.”