Columbia's Summer Program on Democracy in Tunis & Istanbul

Author: Office of International Programs / Uluslararası Programlar Ofisi

For Visiting Students from Turkey, Tunisia, Lebanon, Egypt and Palestine
Columbia University Summer Program - Democracy and Constitutional Engineering


The substantive focus of the program will be on the concept of democracy, the challenges of democratic transitions and consolidation, and trade-offs associated with different ways of organizing democratic institutions.  Although the program will study general issues associated with democratic politics and will not focus exclusively on Tunisia and Turkey, these locations will provide students with meaningful exposure to the recent histories and challenges that Turkey and Tunisia have faced in their democracies.  Tunisia is the birthplace of the Arab Spring, and arguably the only country in the region that has remained on track toward democratic consolidation. Turkey has historically vacillated between democracy and authoritarian government, and its recent democratic history has seen its own challenges related to civil liberties, the role of Islam, constitutional reform and the political incorporation of the Kurds.  Student perspectives on the central issues in the program will be shaped by the incorporation of students from Tunisia, Turkey, Egypt, and Lebanon, where recent experiences with democratic governance have been extremely challenging and dramatically different.  To enable students to think systematically about how to formulate and test arguments about democracy, the program will integrate the study of democracy with the study of quantitative research methods, and will culminate in original research projects where students develop arguments about democracy and test them empirically. 
The Summer Program on Democracy in Tunis and Istanbul is the result of collaboration with Columbia Global Centers | Middle East in Amman, Columbia Global Centers | Turkey in Istanbul, and the Office of Global Programs. Scholarships will be available to CC/GS/SEAS students and students are encouraged to apply regardless of their financial resources.

Columbia hopes to recruit the strongest possible students for participation in this new program.  To this end:

  • Students must be enrolled in an accredited University located in Tunisia, Turkey, Egypt or Lebanon. Students can apply if they are Palestinian and are enrolled in any BA or MA program in Palestine or Israel.
  • Students should apply regardless of their financial resources.  The program provides scholarships, including support for travel and housing, to those with financial need. More information on scholarships is below.
  • A background in political science is not required.  Columbia invites all interested students to apply, whether their background is in political science, some other social science, or some other discipline outside the social sciences.
  • The program will include training in statistical methods and data analysis for social science research.   Students need not have a background in such methods, but they do need to have an interest in learning and engaging in such methods.

Academic Program:

The general goal of the program is to have students engage core empirical questions about democracy and democratic institutions. What is a democracy?  What are factors that lead to democratization and to the consolidation of democracies?  What are the trade-offs associated with different institutional forms – such as the electoral law -- that one can adopt when creating or changing a democratic system?  What are the particular challenges associated with democracy in ethnically or religiously divided societies, and are there institutional responses to these challenges that make the most sense?  To address such questions, students will learn central arguments in political science about democratic institutions. 

A second goal is to have students consider these questions about democracy through the lens provided by the cases of Turkey and Tunisia.  To this end, experts from Tunisia and Turkey who have participated in democratic processes in these countries will visit the program and provide students with their views of the particular challenges their countries have faced. Examples of  topics include the role of Islam in Tunisian constitutional debates, the role of women in the electoral politics of both countries, and the Kurdish issue and media freedom in Turkey.   The program will also consider challenges and experiences with democracy in the other countries from which the program participants will be recruited.
A third goal is to help students evaluate substantive arguments about democracy using quantitative research methods.  Thus, the program will integrate intellectually a course on democracy with a course on statistical research.  As part of the program, students from Columbia and the region will work together in small teams to make arguments about democratic institutions, and  provide empirical evidence for these arguments using appropriate data.
The program will therefore formally consist of two courses that will be integrated substantively:
POLS O3545: Comparative Democratic Politics
This course fulfills an elective requirement for the Political Science Major/Concentration at Columbia.
When taken as part of this overseas program, this course also fulfills a Global Core requirement.

POLS O3704: Data Analysis and Statistics for Political Science Research
The statistics course satisfies Columbia’s Political Science Major/Concentration’s requirement in research methods.
Although students should have a willingness to engage with quantitative research methods, the program assumes no prior formal training in statistical methods.
Students will work in teams on research projects, and the program will culminate in group research presentations.  Example topics of these research projects from 2015 include the effect of foreign aid on democratic consolidation, the effect of democratization on the rights of minorities, the sources of support for Islamist parties, and factors affecting electoral turnout across democracies.  Since the program unfolds in only three weeks during which students earn 6 credit hours, the workload is heavy.  Students will also be asked to complete some reading assignments before the program begins and to complete individual research papers based on the group projects  after the program is complete. 
Note: The University reserves the right to withdraw or modify the courses of instruction or to change the instructors as may become necessary.

Non-Columbia students from Turkey, Tunisia, Lebanon, Egypt and Palestine will receive a Columbia transcript for their participation in the program. Students must check with their home universities to see if and how this credit can transfer back to their home university.


John Huber, Columbia University, Department of Political Science

John Huber teaches and conducts research with a focus on the comparative study of democratic processes. He is the author of Rationalizing Parliament, of Deliberate Discretion? Institutional Foundations of Bureaucratic Autonomy (with Charles Shipan), and of numerous articles. Deliberate Discretion was awarded the Richard Fenno Prize, Gregory Luebbert Prize, and William Riker Prize. Huber's current research focuses primarily on ethnic politics,  inequality and the politics of redistribution.  Huber served as chair of the political science department from 2006-09 and 2010-13, and as Interim Director of Columbia's Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy (ISERP) in 2012-13.  He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2013.

Nolan McCarty,  Susan Dod Brown Professor of Politics and Public Affairs and Chair of the Department of Politics, Princeton University.
Professor McCarty was formerly the associate dean at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. His research interests include U.S. politics, democratic political institutions, and political game theory. He is the recipient of the Robert Eckles Swain National Fellowship from the Hoover Institution and the John M. Olin Fellowship in Political Economy. He has co-authored three books: Political Game Theory (2006, Cambridge University Press with Adam Meirowitz), Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches (2006, MIT Press with Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal) and Political Bubbles: Financial Crises and the Failure of American Democracy (with Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal). In 2010, he was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He earned his A.B. from the University of Chicago and his PhD from Carnegie Mellon University.

Housing and Meals:

Columbia will be arranging housing accommodations for students in both Tunis and Istanbul, most likely at hotels. All students participating in the program must stay in program arranged accommodations. Students will be able to purchase their own meals, although some group meals may be arranged in advance as program activities are being developed. Estimated meal expenses are in our Finances section.  

Program Calendar 2016
The start date for the program is June 5, 2016.  The program will last 3 weeks long until June 26, 2016.

Finances & Scholarships:
Regional students, who apply as visiting students to the program, will not be required to pay the Program Fee which covers the following expenses for the duration of the program: tuition, accommodations (breakfast included), course excursions, program activities, and the group flight from Tunis to Istanbul.

Regional students will be responsible for the following expenses: flight to Tunis, return flight from Istanbul to their home; health insurance, meals not covered by the program, and any miscellaneous expenses. Please note that all students must have health insurance which covers them overseas.

Estimated expenses:
Meals in Tunis:                  $150
Meals in Istanbul:              $200
Miscellaneous:                  $400
Transcript Fee:                  $105 (The Columbia Registrar requires this fee)

The program has limited scholarship funding for any regional student who may not be able to cover the additional expenses that are not included in the Program Fee. Students may apply for a scholarship of up to $500 (USD) to cover these additional expenses. Please apply for only what you need so that students who may not have the financial resources to participate in the program can be funded. A Scholarship application can be found within the application. It is due March 15th.


To apply, students are required to submit:

  • The program's academic questionnaire which includes a 500 word statement describing the student's motivation for participation in the program.
  • Relevant transcripts describing student academic performance at the university level.
  • A recommendation from a faculty member that describes the student's ability to pursue a rigorous academic program with other top students.
  • Final selection will include an interview, and students should not apply if they do not have strong skills in spoken English.

Students can submit these materials by clicking “start an application” below. You will have to create a log-in and password for our application website. Students will be able to upload materials and request that recommendations be sent electronically. If you have any problems with creating an application, please email 

Application deadline:
We ask students to apply by March 4th, 2016. If this is not possible, please email Meg Booth at to see if a late application can be considered.

 Click here to apply online.