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Public Policy

Explore the processes of making social choices and the content of policy issues from a multidisciplinary perspective. Most courses in the Program in Public Policy serve as interdisciplinary complements to departmental offerings. Likewise, the minor in public policy is designed to be a valuable complement to majors in both the social and the natural sciences. 

The first course in the sequence is either PPL 220 Public Policy Analysis or GOV 207 Politics of Public Policy. Contact any of the advisers in the program for more information.

Requirements & Courses

Public Policy Minor


Six courses

  1. GOV 207PPL 220 or a substitute core course approved by the minor adviser in consultation with the Public Policy Committee
  2. Two electives (see Courses tab)
  3. Two courses from other departmental offerings that have substantial policy content selected in consultation with the minor adviser
  4. PPL 400 or an alternate course selected in consultation with the minor adviser


PPL 220 Public Policy Analysis (4 Credits)

Analysis of the institutions and processes of public policy formation and implementation. Explores models designed to explain policy and also those whose purpose is to "improve" policy. Develops and uses analytical tools of formal policy analysis. Examines the debate over the possible and proper uses of these analytic tools. {S}

Fall, Spring, Alternate Years

PPL 250 Race and Public Policy in the United States (4 Credits)

Explanation of current policy issues regarding race. Topics include voting rights, compensation, public and private education, bilingual education and affirmative action in employment. Recommended background: PPL 220 or a course in American government. {S}

Fall, Spring, Alternate Years

PPL 400 Special Studies (1-4 Credits)

By permission of the director. Variable credit.

Fall, Spring

Crosslisted Courses

AST 214 Astronomy & Public Policy (4 Credits)

This course explores the intersection of physical science, social science, psychology, politics and the environment. How do scientists, decision makers and the public communicate with each other, and how can scientists do better at it? What should the role of scientists be in advocacy and social movements? How does scientific information influence lifestyle and behavior choices among the public at large? The course focuses on three topics with close ties to astronomy: (1) global climate change, which involves basic atmospheric physics; (2) light pollution, which wastes billions of dollars per year and ruins our view of the starry sky without providing the safety it promises; and (3) controversial development of mountaintop observations such as the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea, HI. Throughout the course students develop science communication skills using proven techniques borrowed from theater. Prerequisite: one college science course in any field and MTH 111 or the equivalent. {N}{S}

Fall, Spring, Alternate Years

ECO 224 Environmental Economics (4 Credits)

The economic causes of environmental degradation and the role that markets can play in both causing and solving pollution and resource allocation problems. Topics include resource allocation and sustainability, cost-benefit analysis, pollution standards, taxes, permits, public goods and common property resources. Prerequisite: ECO 150. {S}

Fall, Spring, Annually

ECO 234 Partisan Economic Issues (4 Credits)

An analysis of selected microeconomic and macroeconomic issues about which our two political parties disagree. Specific issues include health care; Social Security and other entitlement programs; taxes, government spending and budget deficits; immigration; and the role of government in the economy. Prerequisites: ECO 150, ECO 153 and ECO 220 or its equivalent. {S}

Fall, Spring, Alternate Years

ECO 324nr Seminar: Topics in the Economics of the Environment-Natural Resources (4 Credits)

How do we expect competitive markets to allocate natural resources? Will market systems result in excess pollution? Can market outcomes be improved in relation to the environment and natural resources? If so, what are the relative strengths and weaknesses of different approaches? This course examines these issues through discussion of the economic theories of externalities, common property and public goods, and their implications for the allocation of resources. The course explores these questions by analyzing specific policy issues and debates related to the environment and resource use including: climate change, pollution, biodiversity, energy, sustainability, land use and fishing rights. Through this exploration, the course touches upon a number of other theories and techniques including dynamic optimization and intertemporal choice, price vs. quantity regulation, nonmarket valuation, cost-benefit analysis and the use of incentive-based regulation. Prerequisites: ECO 220 and ECO 250. Enrollment limited to 12. Juniors and seniors only. Instructor permission required. {S}

Fall, Spring, Variable

ENV 323 Seminar: Climate and Energy Policy (4 Credits)

This course examines climate change and energy policy from several perspectives including scientific, economic, equity, political and practical considerations. We examine sources and trends of greenhouse gas emissions and climate impacts and then focus on a specific sector (e.g., electric power) to consider existing policies, market structures and the spectrum of approaches to reduce emissions. Students work in small groups on projects in an active policy area and prepare a briefing and memo. Prerequisite: ENV 101 or permission of the instructor. Enrollment limited to 12. Juniors and seniors only. Instructor permission required. {N}{S}

Fall, Spring, Annually

GOV 207 Politics of Public Policy (4 Credits)

A thorough introduction to the study of public policy in the United States. A theoretical overview of the policy process provides the framework for an analysis of several substantive policy areas, to be announced at the beginning of the term. Designation: American. {S}

Fall, Spring, Alternate Years

GOV 244 Foreign Policy of the United States (4 Credits)

Just what is "United States foreign policy"? By what processes does the United States define its interests in the global arena? What instruments does the U.S. possess to further those interests? Finally, what specific foreign policy questions are generating debate today? Designation: American, International Relations. Prerequisite: GOV 241 or equivalent. {S}

Fall, Spring, Annually

IDP 208 Women’s Medical Issues (4 Credits)

A study of topics and issues relating to women’s health, including menstrual cycle, contraception, sexually transmitted infections, abortion, mental health, nutrition, osteoporosis, the media’s representation of women and gender bias in health care. Social, cultural, ethical and political issues are considered, as well as an international perspective. {N}


SOC 232 World Population (4 Credits)

This course introduces students to environmental, economic, feminist and nationalist perspectives on population growth and decline. The course examines current population trends and processes (fertility, mortality and migration) and considers the social, political, economic and environmental implications of those trends. The course also provides an overview of various sources of demographic data as well as basic demographic methods. Prerequisite: SOC 101. Enrollment limited to 35. {S}

Fall, Spring, Alternate Years

SOC 333 Seminar: Social Justice, the Environment and the Corporation (4 Credits)

Over the last century, the reach of corporations has gradually extended into all facets of life, yet most people rarely stop to think about the corporation as a social entity. This course focuses on the social, economic and legal foundations that both shape its power and provide a dominant logic for its actions. We examine the implications of corporate power and processes for communities, workers and the environment. We also focus on the ways that governments and various social groups have sought to change corporate assumptions and behaviors concerning their social and environmental responsibilities. Prerequisite: SOC 101. Enrollment limited to 12. Juniors and seniors only. Instructor permission required.

Fall, Spring, Alternate Years

SWG 222 Gender, Law and Policy (4 Credits)

This course explores the impact of gender on law and policy in the United States historically and today, focusing in the areas of constitutional equality, employment, education, reproduction, the family, violence against women and immigration. Students study constitutional and statutory law as well as public policy. Topics include sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, pregnancy and caregiver discrimination, pay equity, sexual harassment, school athletics, marriage, sterilization, contraception and abortion, reproductive technologies, sexual assault, intimate partner violence and gender-based asylum. We will study feminist efforts to reform the law and examine how inequalities based on gender, race, class and sexuality shape the law. We also discuss and debate contemporary policy and future directions. {H}{S}


SWG 271 Colloquium: Reproductive Justice (4 Credits)

This course is an interdisciplinary exploration of reproductive health, rights and justice in the United States, examining history, activism, law, policy and public discourses related to reproduction. A central framework for analysis is how gender, race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, disability and nationality intersect to shape people’s experiences of reproductive oppression and their resistance strategies. Topics include eugenics and the birth control movement; the reproductive rights and justice movements; U.S. population control policies; criminalization of pregnant people; fetal personhood and birth parents’ citizenship; the medicalization of reproduction; reproductive technologies; the influence of disability, incarceration and poverty on pregnancy and parenting; the anti-abortion movement; and reproductive coercion and violence. Prerequisite SWG 150 or equivalent. Enrollment limited to 20. {S}



Carrie N. Baker

Women & Gender Studies

Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman Chair of American Studies and Professor of the Study of Women and Gender

Carrie Baker

Brent Durbin


Associate Professor of Government; Director of Program in Public Policy; Chair of Government

Brent Durbin

Leslie King


Professor of Sociology; Director of Honors, Sociology

Leslie King

Scott LaCombe


Assistant Professor of Government and of Statistical & Data Sciences

Headshot of Scott LaCombe

Exploring Big Data Through a Humanities Lens

Associate Professor of Government Brent Durbin is launching a project that aims to explain how the 21st-century “big data revolution” is affecting politics and social change.

Read About The Big Data Research Project
Brent Durbin

Contact Public Policy

Lisa DeCarolis-Osepowicz

Administrative Assistant

Hatfield Hall 102

Smith College

Northampton, MA 01063

Phone: 413-585-3510 Email:


Individual appointments may be arranged directly with the faculty.