The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

Why government and law, not political science?

Photo by Patrick Hansell for The Lafayette
The government and law major has a storied history at the college.

Lafayette is home to the only government and law department in the United States, according to Ilan Peleg, a government and law professor. The title is synonymous with the more nationally common program, political science. But why is it different?

The government and law department was named by Fred Morgan Kirby in 1921 after he created an endowment for the Kirby Professorship in Civil Rights. He intended to educate students in the field of government and law in hopes of students using their degree for a practical field, according to “The Biography of a College: Being the History of the Third Half-Century of Lafayette College” by Albert W. Gendebien.

“I think … [Kirby] wanted to educate potentially future lawyers, future business leaders, future politicians in both the workings of government and the workings of law,” said Helena Silverstein, the government and law department head.

The Kirby Hall of Civil Rights, also built by Kirby, has even changed.

“The downstairs part of the building has been updated to include representation of the civil rights movement of the 1950s to bring in this broader conception of civil rights and liberties than what the founder initially established,” Silverstein added.

Peleg said that the major’s name was “part of our identity.”

The college’s government and law website defines the program as “a comprehensive and rigorous program in the discipline of political science.” Courses in the department focus on American government, comparative politics and political theories.

The major eventually evolved to incorporate new topics and programs.

“When we educate students in law and constitutional law and civil rights and civil liberties, we educate them much more broadly in terms of how the notion of civil liberties and civil rights has developed over time,” Silverstein said.

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Patrick Hansell
Patrick Hansell, Staff Photographer

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