The Department of Politics and Government has existed as an independent department for close to fifty years. Prior to the mid 1960s, ISU courses on politics and government were offered through the Social Sciences department. Created in 1934, this department also offered history, economics, sociology, and anthropology courses. In 1934, offerings in the discipline included only three courses -- American Government, Municipal Government, and Political Parties. A fourth political science course, International Relations, was added in 1935.
A separate department of Political Science wasn't formed until the late 1960s. During that decade, "Normal" was dropped from the University's title, and enrollment more than tripled from fewer than 5,000 students in 1960 to more than 15,000 by 1970. In 1964, ISU began awarding non-teaching degrees. In 1966, the Social Sciences Department was divided into four new departments consisting of Economics, History, Political Science, and Sociology-Anthropology (the social sciences major was retained as part of the history department).
Dr. Alice Ebel, who had started at ISU in 1934, became the first Department Chair. In addition to teaching courses on State and Local government, Dr. Ebel actively participated in local politics and became the first woman elected to the McLean County Board. Dr. Ebel's special legacy as a pioneering woman in politics remains through the major scholarship fund she established for women planning to go into public service related jobs.
From 1969 to 1992, Dr. Hibbert Roberts presided over the department's period of greatest growth. During this time, the size of the faculty increased from eight to twenty-two and the number of political science majors reached 400. Dr. Roberts taught courses on American Foreign Policy and on East Asia, and he led several ISU educational tours to China. In memory of Dr. Roberts, and with generous financial contributions from the Roberts family, a scholarship was established for political science majors. A teaching award was also created in his memory, and a lectureship was established to honor his service to the University.
Dr. Thomas Eimermann served as Department Chair from 1992 to 1998 after having taught pre-law and paralegal courses at ISU for more than twenty years. During those years he served as the University’s pre-law advisor and founded the Legal Studies (paralegal) program and the ISU Mock Trial Team. As chair, he led the department through a major revision of the curriculum, established a new graduate sequence in Applied Community Development affiliated with the Peace Corps, started the Annual Conference for Students of Political Science, and brought in some of the department’s most productive scholars. When Professor Eimermann retired, he created a pre-law/mock trial scholarship, and thanks to the generosity of one of his former students, ISU has a state of the art pre-law advisement center named after him. He is an expert in constitutional law and has written a widely-used book on paralegal studies.
Dr. Jamal Nassar, an expert on Middle Eastern politics, led the department from 1998 to 2007. Under his leadership, the department innovated the curriculum in both the graduate and undergraduate majors, started its student journal, Critique, and changed its name from the Department of Political Science to the Department of Politics and Government to better reflect the scope of its courses and approaches. During this time the department grew, and at its height, the department had twenty three permanent faculty lines, four hundred majors and about two hundred minors. During Dr. Nassar's tenure as chair, Schroeder Hall was renovated with design input from the department, resulting in some of the most modern offices and classrooms on campus.
Today, the department is led by Dr. Ali Riaz who, before joining ISU, taught at universities in England, South Carolina, and Bangladesh. Combining both academic experience and a unique perspective gained as a broadcast journalist in the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) World Service in London, Dr. Riaz's counts among his primary research interests South Asian politics, political Islam, state-society relationships, and community development. A prolific researcher, Professor Riaz has published more than ten books in Bengali and eight in English. His recent publications include Islam and Identity Politics Among British Bangladeshis: A Leap of Faith, and Inconvenient Truths About Bangladeshi Politics, and Islamist Militancy in Bangladesh: A Complex Web.
Prior to taking over the chairmanship, Riaz received numerous awards for teaching and research and was recently named University Professor, the highest award possible for faculty with administrative responsibilities. Under Professor Riaz's leadership, the Legal Studies program gained A.B.A. approval and expanded to include a full major. In addition, both the undergraduate and graduate curricula have expanded to provide a broader understanding of the discipline and to more closely align with the university and departmental missions. The undergraduate curriculum now includes an introduction to political inquiry as well as professional development and community engagement components, while the graduate curriculum more closely reflects the methodological pluralism of the discipline.
Special thanks to Emeritus Professors Thomas Wilson and Tom Eimermann for their contribution to this history.