Dr. Matt Streb


Office:  Zulauf 412


EMAIL: mstreb@niu.edu


Office Hours:

T and R, 3:30-4:30

W, 9-12


Phone: 753-7046

POLS 100: American Government and Politics

Fall 2005

T and R, 2:00-3:15

Music Building 202



Course Description:  A day cannot pass when you do not feel the effects of the American Government.  The government plays a role in everything from determining how fast we can drive to work to making sure we are not attacked by a foreign power.  This course is designed to give a broad overview of all of the players in our governmental system.  We will study the roles of everyone from George Bush and Dennis Hastert to you and me.

            First, we will start by examining the “backbone” of American Government: the Constitution.  We will discuss why our founders decided on the type of constitution that they did, why it has lasted for so long, and what rights it provides us.  Second, we analyze the major institutions of the government.  We will learn how the presidency, Congress, courts, and bureaucracy work individually and also how they interact.  Also, we will discuss why some say the media is the “fourth branch” of government and what influence, if any, it has on the public.  Next, we turn to other actors and influences on the government.  Why is the general public so important in maintaining our system of government?  What are the roles of political parties and interest groups?  Finally, we study voting and elections.   We will examine a host of questions: Why is voter turnout so low?  What factors influence how people vote?  How does a disinterested public make rational voting decisions?  What is the role of money? 

            The goal of this course is to make each student understand how American politics (and politics in general) relates to his/her everyday life.  Whether your future is taking you into business or law, into public administration or education, or the arts or the sciences, politics will touch your lives in many ways.  Students should leave this course with a solid understanding of how our government works as well as of contemporary political debates that often have large impacts on our lives.  While the general public often holds a negative opinion of our government, I think you will see just how dynamic and exciting American politics really is.     



Grading: You will receive several grades over the course of the semester.  Two midterm exams (Tuesday, September 27th and Thursday, October 27th) and a final exam (Tuesday, December 6th at 2 PM) are required.  Each exam is worth roughly 25% of your final grade.  The final will not be cumulative.  The exams will be composed of an essay question, four identification terms and five multiple-choice questions.  I will distribute review sheets to the class including possible identification terms or essay questions. 

You will also be required to write a 6-8-page paper on current a political controversy (I will give you several from which to chose).  The paper is worth roughly 25% of your final grade.  The paper assignment will be discussed in greater detail during class.  The assignment is due on Thursday, November 10th.    


PAC Money: Political Action Committees are organizations that provide candidates with campaign money in order to help a person become elected or to help influence legislation.  Just as PACs are said to “buy” votes (although we will discuss whether this claim is true), you will have the opportunity to “buy” your grade.  Students’ PACs may donate up to $5,000.  The way you accumulate PAC money is quite simple.  For each class you attend, your “PAC” will give me $150.  Attendance can earn you as much as $3,900 (26 class periods, not including the two midterms).  You have to be in class when I take attendance to earn PAC money.  You are expected to be in class on time.  Anyone who is late will not receive PAC money for that day.  Also, eleven times during the semester, I will ask you a simple question on the readings, current events, or lectures.  If you answer the question correctly, your “PAC” will make a contribution of $100.  PAC quizzes can earn you as much as $1,100. 

So what can PAC money do for you?  Depending on how much money your PAC gives me, you can either make your grade on an exam or paper count for a greater or a lesser percentage of your final grade or add points to one of your grades.  Each $100 you earn allows you to increase or decrease a grade by .2% or you can increase one grade by .1 points.  For example, say you earned all $5,000 by the end of the semester and you received an A on your midterm.  Instead of Midterm #1 counting 25% of your final grade, it can now count 35% of your final grade.  You could then make your final exam, for example, only count 15% of your final grade.  Or, you could simply choose to add 5 points to one of your grades.  However, I am not easy to buy.  If you miss more than five classes or get more than four PAC quizzes incorrect, you do not qualify for PAC money.  You must let me know how you want your PAC money spent before you take your final exam.  Also, you cannot change the percentage of more than two grades.  PAC money will be explained in greater detail on the first day of class.


Examples of How PAC Money Can Be Used:

            You attend 24 of the 26 class periods                           $3,600

            You get 9 of the 11 quizzes correct                               $900

            Total PAC Money                                                        $4,500


You receive an A on Midterm #1 and decide that you do not think that you are going to do very well on the final.  Therefore, you decide to make your midterm count for 34% of your final grade and the final count for 16% of your final grade.  Or, you could simply add 4.5 points to one of your grades.


            You attend 24 of the 26 class periods                           $3,600

            You get 2 of the 11 quizzes correct                               $200

            Total PAC Money                                                        $3,800


Your contribution does not persuade me to change the weight of your grades because you got more than 4 PAC quizzes incorrect .


Grading Scale:

93%-100%      A         90%-92.9%     A-        87.5%-89.9%  B+      

83%-87.4%     B          80%-82.9%     B-        77.5%-79.9%  C+      

73%-77.4%     C         70%-72.9%     C-        67.5%-69.9%  D+      

63%-67.4%     D         60%-62.9%     D-        Less than 60%   F


Required Course Materials:

Two books are required for this course:


            Barbour, Christine and Gerald C. Wright.  2003.  Keeping the Republic, 2nd

            edition.  Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.


            Barbour, Christine and Matthew J. Streb.  2004.  Clued in to Politics.  Boston,

            MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.


Keeping the Republic and Clued in to Politics are available at the NIU bookstore.  They are far more inexpensive if you use a website like www.campusi.com.  In addition, you will be required to read The New York Times or some major national newspaper.  The PAC quizzes and multiple-choice questions on your exams will often cover current events discussed in The Times.  You can get The Times through a subscription or for free on the Internet (www.nytimes.com) (registration required). 


How Can I do well in this Course?

            This course is no more difficult than most other 100 level courses you have had, if you keep up with the work!!  You must attend lectures, keep up with current events, and do all of the readings before class in order to receive a good grade (doing this does not ensure a good grade, however!).  Also, students are strongly encouraged to ask questions during lectures or visit me during my office hours.  I will be glad to look over rough drafts of papers or go over possible exam material.  Finally, cheating and plagiarism will not only keep you from learning the material, they will get you an F in the class and possible suspension or expulsion from school.  See the Student Handbook for more information on cheating and plagiarism.


Study Skills Workshops:

            Twice during the semester, I will hold study skills workshops that are designed to help you with your papers and exams.  Attendance is not mandatory, but it is highly encouraged.  The dates of the study skills workshops are listed below.  Rooms will be announced.


Monday           September 19th  3:00-3:30      HOW DO I STUDY FOR A 100 EXAM?

Monday           October 31st    3:00-3:30        HOW DO I WRITE A POLS 100 PAPER?     


Statement Concerning Students with Disabilities:

Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, NIU is committed to making reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities. Those students with disabilities that may have some impact on their coursework and for which they may require accommodations should notify the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR) on the fourth floor of the Health Services Building. CAAR will assist students in making appropriate accommodations with course instructors. It is important that CAAR and instructors be informed of any disability-related needs during the first two weeks of the semester.


Department of Political Science Web Site:

Undergraduates are strongly encouraged to consult the Department of Political Science web site on a regular basis. This up-to-date, central source of information will assist students in contacting faculty and staff, reviewing course requirements and syllabi, exploring graduate study, researching career options, tracking department events, and accessing important details related to undergraduate programs and activities. To reach the site, go to http://polisci.niu.edu.


Course Outline:

NOTE:  Readings should be finished by class time on the day they are assigned.  For example, students should have read B&W chapters 1-2 and B&S “Preface to Student” and “Introduction” by August 25th.


Introduction to Course and American Government

            August 23rd                   T                      Introduction to the Course/Developing

Critical Thinking Skills

August 25th                   R                      Intro to Politics (B&W, chps 1-2; B&S,

Preface to Student; Introduction)

            August 30th                   T                      Intro to Politics, cont. (B&S, 1.1, 2.2, 16.2)

            September 1st             R                     NO CLASS.  APSA Conference


The Backbone of American Government    

September 6th  T                      The Constitution (B&W, chps 3-4)

September 8th               R                      The Constitution, cont. (B&S, 3.2, 3.4-3.5)

            September 13th             T                      Civil Liberties (B&W, chp 5)

            September 15th             R                      Civil Liberties, cont. (B&S, 4.1-4.3)

            September 20th             T                      Civil Rights (B&W, chp 6)

September 22nd            R                      Civil Rights, cont. (B&S, 5.2-5.4)

September 27th           T                      MIDTERM #1



September 29th             R                      Congress (B&W, chp 7)

            October 4th                  T                      Congress, cont. (B&S, 6.2-6.4)

            October 6th                  R                      The Presidency (B&W, chp 8)

            October 11th                T                      The Presidency, cont. (B&S, 7.2-7.4)

October 13th                R                      The Judiciary (B&W, chp 10; B&S, 9.2-9.4)

October 18th                T                      The Judiciary, cont./The Bureaucracy

(B&W, chp 9; B&S, 8.2-8.4)

            October 20th                R                      The Media (B&W, chp 15)

            October 25th                T                      The Media, cont. (B&S, 14.1-14.3)

            October 27th               R                     MIDTERM #2


Actors and Influence on Government

            November 1st               T                      Interest Groups (B&W, chp 13; B&S, 12.2-


            November 3rd               R                      Interest Groups, cont./Political Parties

(B&W, chp 12)                       

November 8th               T                      Political Parties, cont. (B&S, 11.1-11.4)

November 10th             R                      Public Opinion (B&W, chp 11)

                                                                        PAPER DUE!

November 15th             T                      Public Opinion, cont.

November 17th             R                      Public Opinion, cont. (B&S, 10.1-10.4)           


Voting and Elections

            November 22nd            T                         Voting (B&W, chp 14)

            November 24th           R                     NO CLASS.  Happy Thanksgiving!

            November 29th             T                      Elections

            December 1st                R                      Elections, cont. (B&S, 13.1-13.3)


Final:   Tuesday, December 6th at 2 PM