For more than five decades, the Department of Political Science at Rochester has helped transform the discipline of political science.

When William H. Riker came to Rochester in 1962, the department had a six-person faculty, a small undergraduate enrollment, and no graduate program. Apart from the individual scholarship of a couple of young faculty members, the department was virtually unknown on the national stage.

Yet within a decade, our department had become one of the most intellectually exciting political science departments in the United States. Working with Richard F. Fenno, Jr., and other colleagues, Riker:

  • Pioneered an entirely new subfield in the discipline
  • Applied insights from positive political theory to the study of real-world politics
  • Trained an extraordinary group of graduate students
  • Established a robust and thriving undergraduate program

Fenno persuaded many students to turn their attention to the study of Congress. According to Berkeley professors Nelson Polsby and Eric Schickler, Fenno “contributed more to the understanding of the U.S. Congress” than any other scholar “in the more than 200 years since the founding of the American nation no scholar."

What emerged at Rochester, in the words of University of Georgia's Keith T. Poole and Princeton's Howard Rosenthal, was "the best doctoral program in political science in the world." The “Rochester School” of political science entered the vocabulary of an entire scholarly discipline. With good reason, Polsby characterized this achievement as "one of the great success stories of department-building in the annals of political science and perhaps of American higher education." Riker, Fenno, and later G. Bingham Powell, Jr., were each elected presidents of the American Political Science Association.


In its most recent rankings, U.S. News and World Report confirm Rochester's continuing stature as one of the nation's preeminent political science departments. Rochester’s Department of Political Science was ranked #4 (behind just Harvard, Stanford, and Princeton) in Political Methodology, #14 in International Relations, and #17 overall in Political Science.

These rankings are based on surveys of leading political scientists who evaluate departments according to the quality of their research and teaching.

The Rochester Department of Political Science remains the smallest department in the nation regularly ranked in the top tier, with a faculty less than half the size of the average faculty in the other top-ranked departments.


Dedicated to the highest levels of research, teaching, and institution-building, the department continues to build on its illustrious past. The department strives to offer leadership in advancing the scientific study of politics. We have a very specific notion of the mix of activities necessary to that endeavor. These include:

  • Formal theory and the drive to generalize
  • Rigorous empirical testing through sophisticated, theory-relevant statistical and qualitative methods
  • Expertise about the real-world phenomena that motivate such theoretical and empirical analyses

Our strong emphasis on positive theory and generalization, and historical commitment to (and success in) speaking to the discipline of political science, helps us stand apart from departments at other universities. We are committed to maintaining a faculty that stands at the cutting edge of both positive political theory and statistical methodology. We are equally committed to the principle that these systematic approaches be used ultimately in the service of understanding the regularities of politics in the real world.

PhD Program

Graduate education at Rochester is a community affair. Despite our range of substantive interests and methodological orientations, the faculty share a common vision of graduate training. All of us recognize the value of introducing graduate students to statistical methods and formal theory alongside a deep immersion in the intricacies of political processes.

Graduate students and faculty collaborate together on research. In addition to research and coursework, Rochester hosts weekly seminars, where graduate students and faculty present their own work and interact with leading scholars in the country.

Undergraduate Program

Undergraduates have the option of getting a BA in political science, a BS in political science, a BA in international relations, or a BA in politics, philosophy, or economics. In these programs undergraduates gain familiarity with American political behavior and institutions, the nature of politics in the rest of the world, and the sources of international conflict and cooperation.

We present students with multiple opportunities to study and immerse themselves in the hurly-burly of politics through coursework and internships, including programs in Brussels, London, Washington, and the local offices of the district attorney and public defender.

All students majoring in political science or international relations take courses in tools of analysis, with choices including:

  • Basic political methodology, which provides them with the competency to read and interpret data
  • Argument, providing them with a framework to construct, defend, and criticize theories and evidence
  • Positive theory, giving students the tools to construct basic formal models of politics

Systematic and rigorous social science is the hallmark of the Rochester program, at the undergraduate level as much as in faculty research and graduate education. Our undergraduate curriculum reflects the faculty's commitment to provide undergraduates with the ability and tools to think for themselves about the world they inhabit--to question, write clearly, make assertions, and understand the relationship between theory and evidence.

Every faculty member teaches undergraduates as well as graduate students, and all undergraduate political science and international relations majors are advised by full-time faculty members. Classes are generally small, and undergraduates have many opportunities to pursue research or reading at an advanced level.