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BWLI Students and Committee

New prof focuses on American political behavior

01/08/2014

Drawn to MCLA by the idea of a small college and an intimate teaching environment, southerner Dr. James Benjamin Taylor is the College's newest assistant professor of political science.

His decision to teach at MCLA is a return of sorts to his rural roots. Taylor, who grew up on his family's farm in LaGrange, Georgia, opted to attend college in the city. In addition to earning his bachelor's degrees at Georgia State University in Atlanta, he also earned his master's degree and Ph.D. in political science at that institution.

"I decided I wanted a Ph.D. while taking my sophomore-level classes. I enjoyed the classes very much, but was completely taken by the 'Research Methods' course I took that spring.  I decided that I wanted to teach people what I was learning in that class for a living," Taylor explained.

With a particular interest in American political behavior, Taylor's research aims to inform others about political science as a field, while it also includes practical implications for politics.

At MCLA, he'd like to develop a research methods sequence to take place over two semesters, where students would conduct various research projects related to North Adams. The end goal - after analyzing surveys and collecting data on political behavior and policy - would be to inform the City of its citizens' attitudes and suggest best practices.

"I love the idea that human behavior-particularly political behavior-is predictable," Taylor said. "So often people get convinced that human beings are so interesting and unique that nothing we do can be described in a systematic way, but in reality, all of social science demonstrates that's not true. Political science does that for politics."

Taylor, who arrived at MCLA this past fall, teaches "American Government," "Research Methods," as well as upper-level courses in American politics. 

"I love the small class sizes and welcoming environment of MCLA. The other faculty members have been great at helping make the transition easy, and I think the students are great.  The students are inquisitive and ready to work, which is all one can ask," he said. 

This spring semester, Taylor will teach "Political Psychology" and "American Institutions," which includes congress, president and judiciary. His plans for future classes include those that center on American political behavior.

"I like teaching adults who already have opinions about the world," he said. "I like the idea that I can help inform the opinions they have, or give students information that challenges the opinions they may have about politics or political behavior."

He hopes students realize that a college education is whatever they make of it. 

"MCLA has exceptional opportunities for students, but it is up to them to take advantage of it.  I hope that I can encourage students to take advantage of these opportunities and use them as springboards to great careers in politics or other fields," Taylor said. "The trajectory of MCLA is very exciting."