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At Your Service

Message from Richard Pacelle, Professor and Department Head

As current students or alumni of UT, what do you think of when you remember your favorite professor? You probably remember the classes you took with your BPF (Best Professor Forever). Very likely, it was not your professor’s research (books and articles). Even less, likely thinking about the service that your favorite does in the department, for the discipline of political science, or to the community. We thought it might be nice to see the people behind the curtain.

I come from a family of teachers. One sister teaches pre-school, another teaches elementary school, my uncle and numerous aunts taught at the elementary level. My father was a high school teacher. So, I chose college teaching so I could complete the stretch from pre-school to a BA, MA, MPPA, or a PhD. I just went into the family business. But even the teachers in my family don’t really understand what I do. How many times did I hear: “You teach two classes a week?” “What do you the rest of the week?”  If you have the same questions, you came to the right place.

Professors are expected to teach. My family knew that much. What about the rest of their time and effort? Sometimes, you will be in a course and the author of your textbook has the same name as the professor standing in front of the class. But most of the time, the professors teaching your classes have published articles and books about the topics you are struggling with.  Tennessee is a flagship institution in the state. When you go home and see your friends who are going to other schools in Tennessee or across the country, they may be reading the books and articles that YOUR professor wrote. This past year, our faculty kept the librarians across the country busy. A number of faculty members in our department published books this past year in their areas of expertise.

Faculty are supposed to be experts in their fields. They get promoted and tenured by being strong teachers and publishing books and articles that are reviewed by their peers. So, as I would tell my doubting relatives, when I am not in class, I am not on the beach or the golf course, I am doing research so I can keep teaching.

Teaching and research are the most important components of the job. But there is more. Our salaries are paid by your tuition dollars and tax dollars. And in return, the third part of our responsibilities is service to the department, the university, the discipline of political science, the community, the region, and the state. How do we do that? We evaluate those who teach and do research. We change, when necessary, the curriculum. We need to stay current. We help establish the requirements for graduation. We serve the university by sitting on committees to improve teaching and the environment for the staff and students. We serve the discipline by improving conditions for diversity and inclusion, to share the teaching and research innovations. 

Four years ago, one of our colleagues, Professor Will Jennings, won the award as THE Teacher of the Year (for the whole American Political Science Association). He had already won all the campus awards.

We serve the community in many ways. Our Master’s of Public Policy and Administration (MPPA) program trains public servants to work in local, state, and national government. Different classes on the undergraduate and graduate levels have worked to ameliorate hunger on campus or make recommendations for enhancing small towns to generate resources and visitors. Learn more about Professor Tim Ezell’s work in this area

Faculty give talks on campus to various groups. Something is always going on in the political world and we are asked to make sense of it for students or local or state groups.

Sometimes our faculty have a megaphone. Most of the faculty has been on a local television news or public affairs program or fielded questions on a call-in radio show. And sometimes, our expertise is sought far from home. Faculty may write an article published in the Washington Post or be quoted by a national news magazine to share their expertise. Sometimes, we are called by newspapers in other countries as they try to understand what is going on in American politics and how it might affect them. 

I hope you enjoy looking through the following examples of how our faculty serve the local, state, national, and international communities. 

Publications in the Popular Media

  • Jana Morgan and co-author Professor Chris Witko from Penn State published an op ed on the minimum wage in The Hill.

  • On the eve of its 2021 term, Richard Pacelle wrote about the power of the Supreme Court and how its exercise of that power might undermine its legitimacy. Pacelle also spoke on the death of Colin Powell with local media.

  • Leah Christiani published articles in the Monkey Cage (part of the Washington Post). One examined the racial impact of masks. African Americans wearing masks were viewed differently than whites wearing masks. Christiani and her colleagues also looked at attitudes toward mandatory testing for the Corona virus and quarantining.Christiani’s research on racial discrimination in traffic stops has been widely cited and used by federal, state, and local authorities to combat unequal treatment.

  • Brandon Prins authored a Monkey Cage article on the targets of pirates.

  • In the aftermath of an election where more female candidates won, Kirsten Widner and co-authors wrote a piece about why this would make a difference.

  • Nate Kelly wrote a piece for the 3Streams blog "How Institutional Gridlock and Racism Increase Income Inequality.” Kelly also shared his expertise with school and COVID in Knox County with local media. 

  • Gary Uzonyi shared his expertise on Afghanistan with local media.


We like to provide a few snapshots of what we are doing when we are not in front of a class. As political scientists, most of us have given talks on and off campus. I did four such talks over the last year (and over Zoom): on the 2020 election, the January insurrection, voting rights, and changes in the Supreme Court. Many of my colleagues are invited to other campuses to share their expertise.

A number of the Political Science faculty serve as consultants to various government agencies:

  • Professor Jana Morgan is a consultant for the United States Department of State on Latin America democracy.
  • In October, Professor Brandon Prins spoke to an international organization in Asia created to curtail maritime piracy in the Indo-Pacific region. ReCAAP is the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia. The organization has 21 contracting parties, including most countries in Asia, several in Europe, the US, and Australia. The presentation focused on the underlying drivers of sea-piracy and what government measures have successfully arrested the spread of pirate attacks. Most of the attendees were personnel from coastguards and other maritime security organizations of countries in the Indo-Pacific.
  • Professor Wonjae Hwang advised the National Research Foundation of Korea (one of the biggest grant agencies in Korea) to help the development of a performance management model of grants. He also advised Jeju Peace Institute, a South Korean think tank with the development of the international peace index.
  • Katie Cahill is the associate director of the Baker Center and an adjunct faculty member in political science. Cahill and the Baker Center publish the annual Orange Book (with help from graduate and undergraduate students). The Orange Book examines numerous policy issues confronting Tennessee and is available to state legislators and officials. Cahill also co-authored a 95-county information sheet on substance use disorder in Tennessee that is being used by the system to inform local leaders. You can see it online here. The Baker Center also continued its efforts to get people registered to vote. The Baker Center joined with the Secretary of State's office for a Vols Vote tailgate before the UT-Tennessee Tech Game.

Finally, there is teaching, research, and service to the discipline. Professors typically need to publish original research in peer reviewed books or journals. When professors write a book length manuscript or a shorter journal length manuscript, it is submitted and then reviewed by other professors. Publishing an article is not so easy. International Studies Quarterly had 720 manuscripts submitted in the last year and published 85. PSJ is even more selective. The journal rejects over 92 percent of the submissions.

The Department of Political Science currently houses four journals, the most of any college or university. Jana Morgan is the journal editor for the politics and international relations submissions for Latin American Research Review -- the flagship journal of the Latin American Studies Association. Matt Buehler is a co-editor of Mediterranean Politics. Krista Wiegand and Brandon Prins edit International Studies Quarterly, arguably the most prestigious journal in the field of International Relations. Michael Jones edits Policy Studies Quarterly, the top ranked policy journal and in recent assessments, the top journal period. 

Richard Pacelle is the current chair of the law and courts section of the American Political Science Association. He is responsible for filling dozens of offices, organizing the section’s public outreach, and creating award committees.

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