Christopher H. Pyle

Class of 1926 Professor of Politics

Specialization
Constitutional law, civil liberties, rights of privacy; American politics; American political thought; decision making in complex organizations

Chris Pyle is a teacher, scholar, and political activist whose interests range across history, law, and politics, with an emphasis on civil liberties. He currently teaches courses on constitutional law, civil liberties, American politics, American political thought, and decision making in complex organizations.

Professor Pyle first received national recognition in 1970 when he disclosed the military’s massive surveillance of civilian politics and worked to end it as a consultant to Senator Ervin’s Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights, Senator Frank Church’s Select Committee on Intelligence, and the American Civil Liberties Union. These efforts led to his first book, Military Surveillance of Civilian Politics (1986).  During the 1970s and 1980s, Pyle was a consultant on privacy issues to Congress’s Office of Technology Assessment and a frequent witness on constitutional issues before the Senate and House Judiciary Committees and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. In 1984 he published The President, Congress, and the Constitution (with Richard Pious), and in 2001 Extradition, Politics, and Human Rights. During the 1990s, Pyle helped his then teenaged sons win a widely acclaimed court case affirming the free speech rights of high school student and in 2009 published Getting Away with Torture: Secret Government, War Crimes, and the Bush Administration. This was followed a year later by The Constitution under Siege (also with Richard Pious).

Professor Pyle has written extensively on freedom of expression, equal protection of the laws, privacy, investigative journalism, terrorism, the detention of persons without trial, the war crimes of the Bush administration, and the failure of the Obama administration, Congress, and the courts to hold the torturers accountable. His writings have appeared in hundreds of newspapers, including The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the Los Angeles Times, as well as The Nation, the Washington Monthly, the Civil Liberties Review, Foreign Policy, the American Political Science Review, the Political Science Quarterly, and the Boston University Law Review. He has received fellowships and grants from the Russell Sage and Mellon Foundations, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute for the Study of World Politics, the Aspen Institute, and the Fulbright Program

Pyle’s articles on military surveillance of civilian politics won the Polk and Hillman awards for investigative journalism in 1971 and 1972, respectively. In 2004 he received the Luther Knight Mcnair Award from the ACLU of Massachusetts for his contributions to civil liberties as a “teacher, scholar, and model citizen activist.” That same year he was elected chair of the Petra Foundation, a national organization that recognizes and assists “unsung heroes” who make extraordinary contributions to social justice. He is currently a member of the board of directors of the ACLU of Massachusetts.

Pyle has taught intelligence agents in the army; policemen at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice; undergraduates at University College, Dublin; law students at Harvard, and graduate students at Universidad Complutense de Madrid.  He has chaired Mount Holyoke’s programs in American Studies and Complex Organizations and is currently chair of the Department of Politics (2011-2012).  In 2007, he received the College’s distinguished teaching award.

Between semesters Pyle has taught a variety of short courses, including woodworking (building a boat with students), the Politics of Northern Ireland (taking his students to Belfast during the “troubles”), and colonial history (playing the role of 17th century immigrants, in costume at Plimoth Plantation, in the dead of winter). In 2005, 2007, and 2010, he took students to sea on tall ships (HMS Bounty, Picton Castle, and Brig Niagara) where they worked aloft, set and furled sails, manned the helm, and learned the basic arts of seamanship and navigation.

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