Teaching

For Students...

Note

This page describes my current and planned courses at Claremont McKenna. Current CMC/5C students should free to get in touch to ask questions: asinclair@cmc.edu.

Prospective students should make sure to check in with the Admissions Office about visiting courses by following this link (here).  


Gov’t 20: Introduction to American Politics

Gov’t 20 is a popular course at CMC because many non-majors also take this to fill their graduation requirements. While some of the content is in common between sections, professors design and teach their own version of this course - so you should look around to see which Gov’t 20 section might most interest you.

I really enjoy teaching this course. While introductory, in the sense that it assumes very little knowledge about American government or politics, it is not simplistic. This is an opportunity to examine the whole of American politics and think about the really big and important questions and challenges in our society. The box below links to an example syllabus.

      

Gov’t 50: Introduction to Public Administration

As a society, we focus a lot of attention on elections and the relationships between voters and elected politicians. That’s a good thing! Elections are important and I have spent a great deal of my research energy studying them. Still, there is more to politics. Every day, governments large (the U.S. Federal Government) and small (the City of Pasadena) make important decisions about how to implement policies.

An elected politician does not staff the window at the DMV, or count the bears in a National Park, or administer the MTA. It’s not just which public policies a legislature can pass that matters - it’s also how those policies are administered (for a more extensive view of this argument, see here). For a democratic policy process to function, there needs to be some reasonably well-functioning tie not only between voters and politicians but also between politicians and the rest of the “policy workers,” like bureaucrats and contractors. Making those links function, and do the things we might want them to do, is quite challenging - and sometimes requires trading off between desirable but conflicting goals.

This course gets at some of the fundamental challenges of democratic policymaking. For example, on one hand, we often want bureaucrats to act independently and to use their technical expertise without “interference.” On the other hand, we also want them to be responsive to what voters want and to fit into a constitutional order which places power in the hands of elected officials. These issues raise all kinds of ethical and practical dilemmas. Exploring them is the point of the course.

In addition to some standard readings in public administration, this course will also feature an extended example: the career of Robert Moses, as described in Robert Caro’s famous book, The Power Broker. This is a truly epic book; if you want to check out a bit about it, see the “40-years on” piece in the NYT (here).

This is a good course to take for students interested in careers in public service.


This course combines the technical aspects of a survey methods course with literature in political science and public policy on the role of public opinion in public affairs. In short: we are going to study what public opinion is, why we care about it, and how we measure it all in the same course.

The goal for the course is to make it possible for you to read, understand, and place in context current work on public opinion; to execute your own data analysis; and to write up the results of your analysis in a way that an ordinary human being can read them. Ideally, a student will leave this course with a completed project which can be used as a writing/analysis sample for job and graduate school applications.

It will be helpful, but is not strictly required, for students to have taken a prior course involving quantitative methods for social science of some kind - like CMC’s Gov’t 55 (Introduction to Research Methods in Political Science), Econ 120 (Econ Stats), Math 52 (Stats), or Psyc 109 (Psyc Stats). This is a bit more practice-oriented than Econ 125 (Econometrics) might be, depending on the instructor, but you might also benefit from having taken at least some course in which you’ve seen an introduction to linear regression. If you haven’t done any of these courses, that’s fine, and don’t be discouraged from taking the course, but talk to me before you sign up.

You will need to get access to a copy of Stata* and it will be helpful to have a laptop to bring to class so we can workshop materials in class. Stata is installed on CMC’s lab computers – but I strongly advise you to get your own (IC or SE, not “Small Stata”); at the moment, this course is not scheduled to use one of the computer lab classrooms for its regular meetings.  You can buy a perpetual license for Stata 15 IC for $200 or get a 6-month license for $45, here: https://www.stata.com/order/new/edu/gradplans/student-pricing/

Ok: *. For students plugged into the “data science” world, you might wonder: Why not teach this in R? I think Stata is easier to learn quickly. It is a nice balance between having some easy ways to get started (using simple drop-down menus, with lots of defaults, and no real coding required) and being able to do more complicated things (writing your own scripts and much more). Now, it is also true that R is cheaper: it’s free to download. Yet, as one of my old colleagues used to say, “R is free… for people who place no value on their time.”

Gov’t 65: Public Opinion, Theory and Practice for Public Policy