Prior to the mid 1960s, 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, and she established a major scholarship fund for women planning to go into public service related jobs.
From 1969 to 1992, Dr. Hibbert Roberts presided over the department during its period of greatest growth. During this period, 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 led several ISU educational tours to China. In memory of Dr. Roberts, and with generous financial contributions from the Roberts family, a scholarship and a teaching award were 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 program in rural development affiliated with the peace corps, started our annual student conferences, 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 formalized the sequences for graduate and undergraduate majors, created a lifestyle floor in Atkin-Colby Residence Hall, 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. Due in large part to retirements, a third of the current faculty in the department have been hired during his time as chair. In 2004, Professor Nancy Lind joined the leadership team as Associate Chairperson. Today, the department has twenty three permanent faculty lines, four hundred majors and about two hundred minors. During Dr. Nassar's tenure as chair, the department also relocated its offices from the old Schroeder Hall to Milner Library, and then back into a different area of the newly remodeled Schroeder Hall. Today, the department’s offices and classrooms are in one of the most modern buildings on campus.
Today, the department is led by Dr. Ali Riaz who, prior to taking over the chairmanship, has received numerous awards including the Dean’s Award for Outstanding Scholarship in 2004, Outstanding College Researcher Award in 2005 at Illinois State University, and 2006 Pi Sigma Alpha Teaching Award. Before joining ISU, Dr. Riaz 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, Professor Riaz has published more than ten books in Bengali and five in English. His recent publications include Unfolding State: The Transformation of Bangladesh (2005), and Paradise Lost? State Failure in Nepal (2007). Dr. Riaz's counts among his primary research interests South Asian politics, political Islam, state-society relationships, and community development.
Special thanks to Emeritus Professors Thomas Wilson and Tom Eimermann for their contribution to this history.