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Political science class makes return, expands law-related courses

Published: Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Updated: Wednesday, February 12, 2014 02:02

“Constitutional Law,” a political science course focusing on court decisions, civil liberties and the U.S. Supreme Court, has only been offered to Tufts students three times in the past eight years. The rare class, currently offered this semester, has remained popular and highly sought after by students. The class poses a larger question about general course selection at Tufts — why are some courses neglected, while others are offered every semester?

“The objective is to provide students with as rich and comprehensive a repertoire of political science courses as possible,” Chair of the Department of Political Science Professor Malik Mufti told the Daily in an email regarding the department’s course selection.

Creating a balanced course catalog can be difficult. In the Department of Political Science specifically, the catalog is shaped by several factors, including faculty specialization, student demand and major requirements, according to Mufti.

“We therefore try to make sure that our offerings each year are a combination of courses that meet the curricular needs of political science majors and courses that reflect the areas of specialization of our individual faculty members,” Mufti said. “These ... naturally change somewhat over time in line with the professors’ interests, as well [as with] student demand.”

“Constitutional Law” is an example of a class that has been recycled through the course catalog, as the department has tried to create balanced course offerings. 

The course was last offered to both Fletcher students and Tufts undergraduates in the fall of 2012 — returning to the Department of Political Science after its last run during the fall of 2006. Taught this semester by Teresa Walsh, a lecturer in the department, the course has maintained its popularity after its six-year absence.

“We capped the class at 40 students and there is a waiting list,” Walsh said. “Next week is the drop date, and I see no indication that anyone is dropping it.”

Senior Tom Morley, a student in “Constitutional Law” this semester, echoed Walsh’s thoughts about the popularity of the class.

“There [were] definitely more people in the class than anticipated,” Morley, a double major in political science and Russian and eastern European studies, said. “[And] more people who wanted to get in.”

Morley added that Walsh was generous with additional student sign-ups.

“When a lot of people came to the class, Professor Walsh was great about it,” he said.

The course is suggested by Tufts Pre-Law Advising as a “law-related course” that can help students prepare for the rigor of law school, according to its website. Other courses pertaining to law in the English, philosophy and drama departments are also recommended for students who expect to apply to law school.

Morley said he believes having a constitutional law class at Tufts is an important part of the course catalog for pre-law students.

“Having a constitutional law class shows students what law school is like and gives them an actual grounding in the material before they have to go to law school,” Morley said. “It’s definitely something that a school as good as Tufts should have.” 

Morley, however, is not on the pre-law track. 

“I thought I might as well take ‘Constitutional Law,’ because I thought it would be fun, and it is,” he said. “It is really interesting and the professor is great, but I never want to be a lawyer. I never want to go into it.”

Walsh, however, described the class as useful for all students at Tufts to take, not just those on the pre-law track.

“I like to think of this class as really the law of democracy, and our students need to understand how that works to be able to make reason judgments on a lot of the things they come in contact with, even on a daily basis,” Walsh said.

Walsh discussed Michelle Kosilek v. the Department of Correction, a recent course that her students have examined in-depth, which focuses on an appeal that grants a sex change operation for a prisoner. Understanding the ruling required a deeper knowledge of the Eighth Amendment, according to Walsh, which her course can help provide.

“Our students and other people commenting on this case really cannot get into the substantive portion of it unless they know what the 18th Amendment is,” she said. “There could easily be a course in several of the amendments respectively ... So I think it is important for our students to have some kind of a background, to have some sense of the tools that are out there and the kinds of analysis that takes place in these very long opinions.”

The class attracted many political science and international relations majors, but also other majors including history, peace and justice studies, American studies and even students from outside of the humanities, according to Walsh.

“Overwhelmingly, the highest numbers of majors are political science and IR,” Walsh said. “But we cross the social sciences and have several engineering and computer science students, creating a good cross-section.”

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