The law & policy major investigates the laws and policies governing our collective lives, both within the United States and in a broader global context, through the lens provided by a liberal arts education. This interdisciplinary major draws from the fields of economics, sociology, political science, religion, philosophy, environmental studies and more to discern the meanings, values, practices and institutions of the law and its operations.

To this end, our curriculum invites students to complement their in-class learning with a sustained engagement in the “real world” of law- and policymaking. Students thus often combine their enrollment in foundational courses like Philosophy of Law, The Judiciary, Economic Analysis of Policy, Gender and Justice, Constitutional Law and Human Rights with community-engaged topical courses like Juvenile Justice, Problem-Solving Courts, and Negotiation & Advocacy. Through this program of study, our majors develop a robust relationship with Cumberland County judges, legal practitioners and advocates, even as they identify area-specific interests to serve as the basis for future research and writing in independent, honors or graduate-level work. This area-specific interest is enhanced by the completion of an internship.

Within the law & policy major, students and faculty ask wide-ranging questions on the nature and purpose of the policies that emerge from concerns of jurisprudence and justice. Indeed, members of our department engage with issues related to the following, among many others:

  • individual liberty, privacy and autonomy
  • the achievement of political and social equality
  • the just distribution of resources and opportunities within a given society
  • the appropriate relationship between citizens and the state
  • the aims and limits of punishment
  • the ideal forms of democratic participation and representation
  • the moral and ethical commitments of a community
  • the preservation of human dignity.

Our department also affirms Dickinson’s principles of inclusion and equality and, as such, regularly promotes the discussion—both in and out of class—of issues of race, gender and class within law- and policymaking endeavors. Some members of our department similarly contribute to restorative justice initiatives on campus, in which students and faculty are trained in conflict resolution and community building.

Upon completion of the major, students will have gained an understanding of law and policy as a site of nuanced inquiry, such that they can:

  • attend to the ways in which law draws from moral argument, force and interpretation to regulate social and political life
  • recall the historical and contemporary development of law and policy in both the United States and the world
  • write and speak about legal phenomena with clarity and analytic rigor
  • apply their legal learning to their vocational and civic lives.

Students graduating from our department often pursue legal or policy-oriented careers and attend some of the top graduate schools in the nation.

Contact Info

James M. Hoefler
Professor, Political Science

Department Coordinator:
Maria Ritchie
Academic Department Coordinator


219A, Denny Hall
Mailing Address