The Department of Political Science at Western Michigan University, originally known as the Western State Normal School, began in 1904. The department was listed as History and Civics in the summer of 1904 course book. In these early years, courses in civics were primarily focused on citizenship and civil affairs and many of these courses were taken by education students. By 1919, the History and Civics Department was renamed History and Economics, which later changed in 1920 to History and Social Science when courses in political science were first offered. Political science courses expanded to include American federal government, state and local government and comparative government. Throughout the 1920s other courses were added. D.C. Shilling began his career in political science at WMU in the 1920s. A distinguished scholar whose tenure at the University lasted 30 years, Shilling taught all of the courses offered throughout the course of the semester in the department's early days.

In 1945, the Department of Social Sciences was divided into four separate departments: history, political science, economics and sociology. The Department of Political Science continued with only Professors Shilling, Weber and Santoro. In 1955, the department began a Master of Arts program. By 1960, the department had grown to 11 professors and by the 1970s that number had increased to more than 20. The department established the Institute of Public Affairs in 1963 to encourage research and provide opportunities for faculty and students to become actively involved in public affairs. In 1964 Milton Greenberg became the first elected chairperson of a department at WMU. Many other departments subsequently changed from appointed heads to elected chairs. In 1974 the Center for Public Administration was created and later became the School of Public Affairs and Administration. The Master's in Development Administration followed in 1985. The department has historically been a strong advocate of experiential education and its internship programs have been a key avenue for this type of learning. In 1991 the department, in cooperation with the Lee Honors College, established a Capital Internship Program. This program allows up to 15 students each spring semester to complete an internship in Lansing. To date, more than 180 students have been capital interns, showcasing WMU's students to the Lansing political community to the benefit of the University and the students.

In recent years, students in the department were twice recipients of the major national Truman Scholarship and the Udall Scholarship. A number of students actively participate on our Mock Trial Team and in Model Arab League. To date, the department has almost 500 students majoring in political science.

In 1992 the department established a doctoral program to prepare students for careers in teaching, policy analysis and applied as well as academic research. The department has awarded eight Ph.D.s. The faculty has a daunting publication record of books and numerous publications in the leading professional journals in the field. In recent years, several members of the faculty have received National Science Foundation grants. The department's Institute of Government and Politics continues to be an active focus of intellectual stimulation. Programming includes brown bag lunches, evening lectures, assorted panel discussions and guest speakers. The programming, organized by IGP, is open to students, faculty and community members.