Swat international relations program recognized as among the best

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

In a survey published by the March/April issue of Foreign Policy, Swarthmore was named as one of the top 20 schools to study international relations on the undergraduate level. The list was topped by large universities such as Harvard, Stanford, Georgetown and Yale. Swarthmore and Williams College were the only two small liberal arts colleges in the top twenty, coming in at 14 and 18 respectively.

The survey was sent out to top scholars in the field of international relations, and asked them to identify, among other things, the best places to study international relations on the undergraduate level. Professor of international relations Dominic Tierney said in an email “I had hoped that Swarthmore might appear in the list, and I am delighted that it did.”

Scott Tanner ’08, who is currently abroad at the U.S. Embassy in Lithuania, cites close student-faculty relations as a reason for the program’s success, which is absent at large universities. Tierney agrees: “Faculty members such as Ray Hopkins and Jim Kurth have done a tremendous job teaching international relations at Swarthmore for several decades.” Past faculty, such as Kenneth Waltz, Robert Keohane, and Ken Oye are “superstar scholars” in the field.

Tierney also believes that despite its size, Swarthmore “makes a big impression on the international politics world through it’s alumni, ex-faculty, and social activism.” A political symposium being held at Swarthmore from March 30-31st in honor of Professor Raymond Hopkins will feature some of the biggest names in the profession. “Virtually everyone speaking is either currently teaching at Swarthmore, or was somehow involved in our teaching program.” explains Hopkins.

Professor Peter Katzenstein ’68, who is now teaching at Cornell University, will be speaking at the symposium. Katzenstein also cites Swarthmore’s strong faculty as the reason for it’s success. Kenneth Waltz was a faculty member when Katzenstein was a student. He calls Waltz one of the greatest scholars of his generation. “He wrote books everyone has to read, his work has defined the field.” he said in a phone interview. Katzenstein remembers Waltz as a “a very tough critic, someone I learned a great deal from.”

International relations at Swarthmore is an interdisciplinary program. Though international relations used to be a major, Hopkins said that the program was “cumbersome” and didn’t properly prepare students in all areas necessary. Students interested in international relations can major in subjects such as history or political science, and have an emphasis on international relations. “Our strength now is in teaching international politics as a core. Students then get context from history courses, or apply explanations that borrow from sociology and psychology.” Despite the small faculty, “We offer a wide range of courses focused on international security issues (guns), and international political economy (trade),” said Tierney.

Tanner says that the political science department has been very accommodating in allowing him to pursue his interests. “My specific interests are in security issues, and so after an introductory IR course and a mid-level course on East Asian politics, I was able to take Professor Tierney’s security issues seminar. I also try to take courses in history and economics to supplement what I am learning in political science.”

Hopkins believes that Swarthmore’s strong development in international relations in recent years has to do with a a series of proposals made by the college in the early 1990s that would encourage students to become more “international.” The college opened up more opportunities with foreign study, expanded foreign language offerings, and took on more students and faculty with international backgrounds. “All of these things had a good effect on students interested in international affairs.”

Katzenstein believes it is important for students interested in international relations to get real world experience. Swarthmore teaches students to be learn how to think and write, but that should be balanced by practical experiences. “Work for an NGO, work for the government, work for journalists.” Katzenstein believes learning foreign languages is also important. He dismisses notions that some languages are more important to learn then others. “People say nowadays that you should learn Japanese, learn Chinese. I don’t think it’s important.” he says. “Learn a language that interests you. If you’re interested in Icelandic, learn Icelandic.” Though few people speak Icelandic, Katzenstein says that it’s up to an individual to make that language relevant. “Iceland is one of the oldest democracies in the world- so find a way to make it interesting for yourself, and you can make it interesting for others.”

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