Faculty Approve Recommended Changes to MPA Core Curriculum

May 18 2021
By Nolan McCarty, Interim Dean

At a meeting last week, SPIA faculty voted to adopt the recommendation from the MPA Core Curriculum Review Committee to incorporate a new required course on race, power, and inequality into the MPA summer program. This new foundational course will be a half-term, and it will supplement the half-term diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) course requirement approved last year. The new foundational course will be offered during the summer prior to the first year of the MPA program (the time most students know as “Math Camp”). This will allow incoming MPA students to develop the necessary context for addressing DEI issues throughout their studies at Princeton.

SPIA undertakes periodic curricular reviews to make sure that we continue to provide state-of-the-art training to our students. This year, in light of continuing racial inequities such as those resulting from police violence and the disparate racial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the MPA Review Committee paid special attention to how SPIA can better incorporate issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout our core curriculum. This effort is one way we’re working to meet President Eisgruber’s call to his cabinet to think creatively and broadly about how to address racism and injustice, both at Princeton and globally.

In addition, the Committee identified areas in the existing core courses that warrant greater attention to asymmetries of power, stratification, and structural inequalities. The School has organized new faculty teams who will draw on feedback from the MPA Core Curriculum Review surveys to revamp the content, structure, and overall approach to the following core courses:

  • SPI 501: Politics of Public Policy
  • SPI 502: Psychology for Policy Analysis and Implementation
  • SPI 511b and 511c: Microeconomic Analysis

501: Politics of Public Policy

The structure and content of this course will undergo a set of experimental changes, including: refining the list of topics to those with the most policy-relevant insights; presenting topics in a more integrated way, with lessons from both domestic and international settings; reviewing how case studies are presented and precept time is used; and including a greater focus on writing, among other policy-relevant skills.

502: Psychology for Policy Analysis and Implementation

This course will focus on how psychology can contribute to critical problems — including racial and other social inequalities, climate change, and extremism — while at the same time incorporating more issues of professional and organizational management. The course will continue to pay attention to how and where psychological insights can be used in the diagnosis of policy problems and in policy design.

511b: Microeconomic Analysis

This course’s structure, content, and general approach will be overhauled — restructuring it to include theoretical discussions followed by empirical applications with direct policy relevance and connections to DEI issues. Lectures will be organized around specific topics like individual decision-making and externalities, and new content will be included, for example, behavioral economics, insurance, and market failures.

511c: Microeconomic Analysis

This course will also undergo a full-scale overhaul, with a focus on applied economic methods, demonstrating how economists combine theory and data to evaluate policies. The revised course will explore the effects of government policies on income distribution and resource allocation and discuss how policies should be designed in light of those effects. DEI-relevant course topics will include inequality, discrimination, welfare programs, social insurance, taxation, family policy, and environmental policy.

I wholeheartedly support these proposed curriculum changes as one component of a holistic effort to foster an inclusive and equitable teaching and learning environment at SPIA. I look forward to sharing them with the next SPIA dean once appointed, and highlighting even more DEI-related efforts in future blog posts.