Public Policy

President Ronald Reagan famously said: “The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”  Do you agree with this skeptical view of government, or perhaps do you prefer the perspective of Barack Obama, when he stated: “Our predecessors understood that the danger of too much government is matched by the perils of too little; that without the leavening hand of wise policy, markets can crash, monopolies can stifle competition, the vulnerable can be exploited.”

If you are someone fascinated by the process of government decision-making and searching for tools with which to gauge the results, you should consider studying public policy.  Training in public policy, one of the most dynamic areas within the social sciences today, can lead to career opportunities in government, education, law, and the nonprofit sector, as well as other occupational fields requiring sophisticated understanding of public affairs and leadership.

The Department of Political Science is a vital hub of public policy studies at Northeastern University.  Building on our research, teaching, and public service activities, the faculty has a multitude of resources to share with you.

Political Science is one of the largest departments in the College of Social Sciences and Humanities with over 25 full-time faculty (and numerous part-time faculty).  Approximately one-third of full-time members of the department have specializations in domestic or foreign policy.  Other faculty have also used their work to address important policy issues.   Among the topics covered in recent scholarship by the department are:

  • Health care reform
  • Urban public policy
  • National space policy
  • Education reform
  • Language policy and national identity
  • Deliberative patterns within the institution of Congress
  • Mental health care
  • Missile defense policy
  • Abortion rights
  • Nanotechnology policy
  • Home security policy
  • Control of small arms on the international scene

A major area of theoretical work in the field of policy studies is agenda setting and problem-definition, and several of our authors have made key contributions to this line of inquiry.  All in all, it is an encompassing body of work that has gained broad recognition across the discipline and beyond as indicated by awards from the Policy Studies Organization, American Political Science Association, and other groups.

Reflecting its size and the diverse research undertakings of its faculty, the Political Science Department is able to offer a large collection of policy-related courses on the undergraduate and graduate levels.  Some offerings are general (e.g., Public Policy and Administration, U.S. Foreign Policy, Techniques of Policy Analysis); others delve into specialized issues (e.g., Science, Technology, and Public Policy, Health Politics and Policy, Social Welfare Policy, Urban Policies and Politics, Business and Government).   In this way, the department meets the needs of students who are first being introduced to public policy studies as well as those more advanced and with well-defined interests.

The Political Science Department’s involvement with public policy matters goes beyond academics.  In fact, many members of the faculty have contributed to critical public policy debates through report writing, legislative testimony, participation in public forums, consulting, and other means.  Our faculty have captured public office and held appointive positions.  The department is particularly pleased to count among its ranks Michael Dukakis, former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate, and Stephen Flynn, former staff member of the National Security Council.  Recently, a graduate seminar in Education Policy was taught by adjunct professor Tom Birmingham, who played a pivotal role as president of the Massachusetts Senate in the state’s wide-ranging education reform law of 1993.  Instructors of this caliber bring an unparalleled wealth of practical experience into the classroom enabling them to help students appreciate the real-world context in which public policy decisions are made and executed.

Several options exist for students who wish to incorporate public policy studies within a Northeastern political science degree:

  • Undergraduate:  B.A. and B.S. students can complete a Concentration in Public and Policy Administration.
  • M.A., M.P.A.: Master’s students can complete a Specialization in Public Policy as part of their overall program
  • Ph.D.: Doctoral students can select Public Policy as one of their major fields and go on to prepare their dissertation on a substantive public policy issue or theoretical question

In addition, the department enhances students’ public policy expertise through various Experiential Education activities, most notably co-op and internships.  Based on collaboration with local groups and agencies, our Community-Based Research Initiative has also involved undergraduate and graduate students in applied research focusing on public policy issues of local, state, and regional significance.

The benefits of such professional training are clearly evident in the numbers of NU political science graduates who have gone on to work in public policy development and advocacy.  Our alumni can be found playing such roles as Director of Policy and Research, Massachusetts Health Connector; Policy Director, Rhode Island State Senate; Executive Vice President, Mass Inc; New York State Legislative Fellow; Fiscal Policy Analyst, Commonwealth of Massachusetts; Policy Advisor, Senator John Kerry; and Union Representative, AFSCME.  This is but a sampling from a larger group of success stories featuring an exceptional group of talented and hard-working students who are now achieving prominence in their careers within the public policy realm.

Do you want to know more about studying public policy in the Political Science Department?  If yes, please contact us to be put in touch with an advisor who can answer your questions and explore your interests with you.