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Greetings from the Department Head

This issue of our departmental newsletter is flying under a new banner—Political Spectrum—reflecting the wide range of interests and opinions that shape political behavior. We hope you enjoy it!

Rich Pacelle, Professor and Department Head
Rich Pacelle, Professor and Department Head

Although your calendars might suggest that it is 2015, it is clear that the 2016 presidential campaign is well underway (actually the 2020 campaign has already started, but that is a story for another time). When I began writing this, sixteen candidates were officially running for the Republican nomination and five were competing for the Democratic nod. By the time you read this there could be up to a half-dozen more. When most Americans see all of this, they hear the ominous theme music from Jaws. However, in the Department of Political Science, the accompanying tune is strictly "The Ode to Joy." It is our time. We love politics. We debate and revel in politics 365 days a year. But every four years, the election captures broader attention. Our class enrollments go up, we get to test our theories of political behavior, and the public actually wants to know what we think.  Our teaching, research, and service come into alignment.

Professors have a number of responsibilities. Certainly, we are best known around campus and throughout the state for our teaching. We seek to impart our knowledge of politics and government to our students to help them become better citizens. We are also charged with advancing knowledge. A flagship university expects its faculty to conduct research to broaden our understanding. In addition to teaching our students and advancing knowledge, we are also expected to contribute to the general welfare. We do that by preparing our students and sharing our research, but we also do it by directly serving the community. Sometimes we are asked to talk to local groups or to serve as an analyst for a local radio show or evening news broadcast. We are expecting a lot of business before November 4, 2016 (the post-mortem on the election results).

This fall marks my one year anniversary as department head and my first chance to say hello via the newsletter. It has been an eventful year for me. In addition to moving to Knoxville and trying to learn navigate around campus and the community, I taught my first classes at UT, had a book on the Supreme Court published, and had the chance to speak to groups and the media on the momentous Supreme Court decisions on Obamacare and same sex marriages and the rise of Donald Trump.

Around the department there is general agreement that my most important accomplishment of the year was coaching the faculty softball team to a victory over the graduate students. (You can read more about it by clicking here). I realized that the department was serious about softball during my interview. In addition to the normal components of an academic interview, a research presentation, a teaching discussion, meeting with faculty, students, and administrators, the department made me take batting and fielding practice.

Returning to a more serious note, upon my arrival in the department I observed that our department is vitally involved in public scholarship and community engagement. That theme unfolds in the articles in this issue of Political Spectrum. Experience Learning is the focus of the university's recently announced Quality Enhancement Plan which emphasizes the importance of student experiences in applying academic coursework in real life settings through service learning, study abroad, internships, and research activities.  It seems to be a particularly appropriate time to showcase some of the activities of our undergraduate students engaged in university and community service activities that improve schools and communities. Our undergraduates are engaged as well in applying academic learning in real life settings in our coursework with a service component and in the legislative internship program where they work as staff of elected officials. The  Master's Program in Public Administration (MPPA) is dedicated to training public servants.  Moreover, our graduate students and faculty often do research that has applications to policy and real life problems. We will feature a few examples of students and faculty service in this newsletter.

A number of our alumni have also been recognized for their public service contributions. I also want to introduce you to bookends of sort: the second person to receive a doctorate from the department way back in 1963, and the second most recent doctoral graduate who finished his dissertation and was awarded a degree in June 2015. Each of them has had a career marked by significant public service.

As I celebrate my first anniversary with the department, I am looking forward to a great second year in the department. I invite you to come by the department to visit when you are in the Knoxville area and to keep up with our activities by visiting our website often.  Feel free to write me at to share your news.  I would welcome hearing from you.

Now back to our election coverage.  According to a study, if the presidential election were held today, 77 percent of Americans would be very confused because this election is typically held in November.

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