Professor Andrew Sinclair ’08 provides vibrant learning opportunities

Andrew Sinclair ’08 teaching in his government class.

Photos by Anibal Ortiz

This spring semester, as he prepared to teach his Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) seminar for the first time, Professor Andrew Sinclair ’08 decided to try out something he had dreamed of doing for years.

Guided by Sinclair, his students are engaging in a highly collaborative process of “deciding what they think the real rules of politics are” and how to represent those rules in a political simulation they are designing, which mixes both domestic politics and international relations.

“A simulation is like a complicated board game, except that the rules are intended to reflect the realities of politics,” Sinclair explained. In deciding the rules, he continued, his students will have to choose between different competing theories, and class discussion will focus on arguing the case for different ideas. So far, fellow CMC Professors Jordan Branch and Lisa Koch have stopped by to discuss their research and provide advice on topics including the importance of maps in international relations and the decisions leaders make about acquiring nuclear weapons.

Building and then teaching the PPE seminar provides Sinclair with these "opportunities to cross disciplinary and subfield boundaries and go back and count all of those things I thought I had been doing for fun as work,” he said.

With his research firmly grounded in American politics, Sinclair said the PPE politics seminar is also an intellectual space to “think about how my research work fits into the big picture.”

Sinclair, who is a Government professor at Claremont McKenna College, and a faculty advisor with the Rose Institute for State and Local Government, describes his scholarly work as “focused on political reform efforts in the United States in all parts of the public policy process, ranging from election laws to public administration.”

His current book project uses the history of political reform movements in New York and California from the Progressive Era to the present to examine contemporary questions about the success and failure of attempts to improve American politics by changing political institutions. This project builds off his earlier research on primary election reforms, like the adoption of the top-two primary in California. Along with Michael Alvarez, he is the author of Nonpartisan Primary Election Reform: Mitigating Mischief.

Professor Sinclair teaching a government class.

Sinclair met his future spouse Elissa Gysi ’08 at CMC.

Sinclair grew up just down the 210 freeway in nearby Altadena. His father was a professor at California State University, Northridge, whose experiences and challenges “working for California state government, with the yearly failures in Sacramento to pass a budget on time,” helped spark Sinclair’s interest in state and local political reform, inspiring his current research. Yet, he was also influenced by his maternal grandfather—a veteran of World War II, and an early instructor at the Air Force Academy—and summers he spent poring through his grandfather’s “immense” library of international affairs and military history books. Reading these books got him pondering the relationship between domestic politics and foreign affairs.

“‘Can we select better leadership and set better domestic policies to enable better foreign policy decisions?’ These are the things I’ve been thinking about for as long as I can remember,” Sinclair said. "Our scholarship is typically focused on advancing a narrower research agenda, but PPE provides a perfect setting for a discussion on how it all fits together."

As a CMC alumnus, Sinclair is keenly aware of the legacy and significance that the PPE program has on the College’s community. So much so that at the top of his PPE course syllabus, Sinclair has included two quotes from CMC Professor Ward Elliott, the College’s first PPE Politics professor, who passed away in December 2022: “My students were put on earth for my amusement and enlightenment—and I for theirs,” and, “Life is like Latin. If it were easy, the teacher would not have assigned it.”

Sinclair intends the course as an homage to Elliott, and to capture some of his spirit.

“My wife (Elissa Gysi ’08) and I met at CMC, and she majored in PPE and enjoyed the full Ward Elliott experience, including the singing parties,” Sinclair said. “In preparing for this class, she dug up some of her materials from her PPE classes and shared them with me. There are a lot of hallmarks of Ward’s classes that I used as inspiration in designing my own class.”

A decade after graduating CMC, having completed an M.S. and Ph.D. in Social Science from California Institute of Technology and a stint at NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, Sinclair joined the CMC faculty. Through the years, he has taught “Introduction to Politics” (Gov 20) as well as “Introduction to Public Administration,” “Public Opinion, Theory and Practice for Public Policy,” “Public Policy Process,” and “Political Reform.”

For Sinclair, who was a member of the CMS Football team — playing the “left bench, right bench, and occasionally, center bench”— PPE is another community on campus with its own culture and traditions. “I was not a PPE student myself and I didn’t work at the Rose Institute when I was at CMC. There are a lot of these things that I didn’t do, and I’m enjoying getting to work with the incredible students there now,” he said.

Professor Sinclair teaching a government class.

Throughout his courses, Sinclair strives to provide vibrant learning opportunities for his students. These opportunities range from quantitative analysis of new Rose Institute political survey data to periodically asking students to stand up in class and pretend to be Aaron Burr or Alexander Hamilton (“Without, of course, actual weapons,” he hastened to add.). In the case of the PPE seminar, to prepare his students to design their own politics simulation, Sinclair has them testing a variety of political-themed board games, including playing online Diplomacy—filling out the teams with CMC alumni as needed.

How does Sinclair compare his experiences at CMC as a student with his experiences teaching at the College? “Obviously there are new people, and nothing ever stays exactly the same. But I think there’s a lot of continuity, the things that made CMC a place that I liked as a student are still here,” he said. “The office I’m in right now and the building I’m in right now (Kravis Center) did not exist when I was a student here. But the feel of this building feels very much like it’s inspired by that kind of mid-century atmosphere of a lot of the early CMC stuff. It’s almost hard to remember that it wasn’t always here.”

“And we have some new programs that did not exist when I was a student, particularly in data science and public policy,” he continued. “I also think CMC has done a great job of launching its own summer research program, and I have enjoyed getting to collaborate with students that way too,” he said.

When he reflects on his own time at CMC, what stands out are the lifelong friendships he forged as a student. “There are a bunch of us who are still in touch,” he said. “And the great conversations we started at CMC have never really stopped.”

Anne Bergman


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