Keith Dougherty, a professor in the School of Public and International Affairs, created the American Founding Group to bring students and faculty together to discuss a pivotal time in the nation’s history.
Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I earned my Bachelor of Arts in political economy from Tulane University. I earned both my master’s and Ph.D. from the University of Maryland. I am a professor in the department of political science in the School of Public and International Affairs. I conduct research and teach undergraduate and graduate students about the creation and implications of America’s political institutions.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I came to UGA in 2003 to fill a position in political theory. Part of UGA’s appeal was the department of political science, which was very strong in formal theoretic and empirical research. Since then our department has grown stronger, along with the university.
What are your favorite courses and why?
My favorite course is “Introduction to American Government, Honors.” It’s a great class because students come from diverse backgrounds (almost no political science majors) with open minds and surprisingly little knowledge of the subject. The amount they learn from the beginning of the course to the end is tremendous. I get my students engaged in the Federalist debates, help them learn legal precedent and introduce them to an advanced theory or two of legislative voting. This helps them understand American government and all of its subjectivity better than the typical civics 101 approach.
What interests you about your field?
Part of my research focuses on the American Founding, an incredible time in U.S. history filled with brilliant minds creating the world’s longest-lasting constitution. Because the American Founding is so important for American history, some politicians have invoked the framers and developed several myths. It’s fun to study this era because it allows you to debunk myths, figure out what we know, what we don’t know and what we probably can’t know. Trying to push the discipline further using techniques like data analysis is also very rewarding, particularly in an area that rarely uses such techniques.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
I received three National Science Foundation grants. The first allowed me to study a few votes at the convention in depth. The second allowed me to create the Constitutional Convention Research Group, which inferred delegate votes on all of the substantive issues raised at the Constitutional Convention using statements made by the delegates in debate. Our team used this information to create spatial maps of delegate preferences, which are useful for advanced research. My third NSF grant allowed me to bring top scholars from history, economics and political science to campus to discuss these issues. With this momentum, I also created the American Founding Group—a group of undergraduates, graduates and faculty who meet monthly to discuss issues related to the American Founding.
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
There has been incredible synergy between my research, teaching and student groups. I created the American Founding Group, predominantly a student organization, so that I could read everything under the sun related to the American Founding … well, if I lived long enough. The American Founding Group has brought in guest speakers from Oxford and Stanford (the latter was this year’s speaker for Constitution Day). Talking with people at this caliber improves my research, as have my several collaborations with student members of the AFG. The latter have resulted in publishable research papers. Both have inspired me to teach “American Political Thought” for the first time this spring, broadening student exposure to these kinds of ideas.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
I want students to gain an education, one that will allow them to think critically and constructively about the many decisions they will make throughout their lives. Students describe my classes as challenging, which is something I am very proud of. I want them to master the material and understand its nuts and bolts rather than simply accept the conclusions of an allegedly “learned scholar.”
Describe your ideal student.
The ideal student is one who engages in classroom discussions, comes to your office because they’ve found something interesting in the readings that you have not assigned, and lets other students participate in discussions. He or she is also willing to help students who are not grasping the material as quickly.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…
… in Stanford Stadium during a Georgia football game. If that doesn’t count, then it’s either pounding away at my research in my office or engaging a guest lecturer in our department seminar room. Note, the American Founding Group meets off campus, in a coffee shop, so that’s why it’s not listed.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to assistant coach my 7-year-old son’s football team. The head coach is a former center from UGA. I also like playing a zombie on the cast of Zombie Farms in October.
Community/civic involvement includes….
I help the PTA with the fall festival, help coach some of my son’s teams and give talks to local organizations, like the Sons of the American Revolution.
Favorite book/movie (and why)?
“The Martian,” with Matt Damon, was fun. It’s an exciting film with some intellectual rigor.
Proudest moment at UGA?
I think my proudest moment was when an undergraduate came into my office and said “Dr. Dougherty, I really like your game theory course. I like it so much that I want to do this for a living.” I didn’t believe her. She then asked me to identify the best program in the country for such study. I said “Rochester.” She applied for this one program alone, started taking the math classes needed for her to excel in that program, and was accepted. The program included graduates from Harvard, Stanford, Harvard, and good ol’ Kristen Rullison from UGA.
(Originally published Jan. 17, 2016)