Northern Illinois University

Department of Political Science

Spring 2005


POLS 100: American Politics & Government                                Instructor: Halima Kaiser-Khan    

Section 12: TTh 12:30-1:45 p.m. GH 342                                               E-mail:

Office Hours: T, Th 11:00 a.m.- 12:15 pm                                             Office: DU 476 

  And by appointment                                                                           Phone: (815) 753-1818


Course Objectives:

Most students have some idea of what a democracy means and the institutions that are necessary for the successful establishment of such a system.  However, very few are able to understand and articulate why these institutions were established, the practical considerations surrounding the decisions of the framers, what it takes to sustain a democracy both on the part of the individual citizen and government at large, and what it is that makes the American system unique in a comparative perspective.  For instance, we will ask: Why a system of federalism?  Why separation of powers?  Why checks and balances? With these and other questions informing our discussion, this course will help students apply critical thinking skills to go beyond the “what is” and ask the more important “why?”  Lastly, we will discuss current events and integrate them into the topics covered to gain a better grasp of American institutions and practices.


Required Text and Readings:

Burns, Peltason, et al. Government by the People, Brief Sixth Edition. (Upper Saddle River, N.J:

        Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2004).


The Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, New York Times, and Washington Post (to name a few prominent ones) are available free online and students will be required to read at least one newspaper for current events discussion.


Additional readings may be assigned either on the web and/or hard copies will be made available at the reserve desk in the library. The instructor will give further information regarding these during the course of the semester.



Scoring Weights:                                                                                      Grading Scale:

Exams 1 and 2: 15% each                                                                         A = 90% and above

Final Exam: 20%                                                                                      B = 80-89%

Journal: 20%                                                                                            C = 70-79%

Attendance and Class participation: 10%                                                    D = 60-69%

PoliSim Exercises: 20%  (4 @ 5% each)                                                    F = 59% and below

                                                                                                               No incompletes allowed


Course Requirements


Exams (300 points total): There will be three examinations over the course of the semester and will be a combination of (very few) multiple choice, short answers, and one or two essays, depending on the material covered, and may include geographic identification.  The final exam will be weighted more because it will be longer, cover more chapters, and may be comprehensive, depending on the performance of the class during the course of the semester.  In order to avoid a cumulative final exam, make sure that you perform well on Exams I and II and actively participate in class discussions.  It is understood that there will be no make-up exams and will only be given if extraordinary circumstances arise.  In such instances, documentation will be required and I reserve the right to change the format of the exam. 


Journal:  “Government and the Media” This journal exercise is designed to help students follow media coverage of the government.  Comprehensive guidelines for the assignment will be handed out during the second week of class.


PoliSim Exercises:   Attached to the textbook is a CD-ROM with simulations for American Government.  Each student is required to answer at least one question from the topics offered, for a total of 4 for the course.  Each answer should be no longer than 2 pages or 500 words (minimum length is 300 words). You have the option of choosing which question you would like to answer so long as each one is from a different topic.  You will notice that there are 5 PoliSim exercises on the assignment schedule.  You do NOT have to do all 5.  I will only count the first four that are turned in and will ignore the fifth.  So, don’t waste your time writing the fifth one in the hopes of extra credit.  Please follow the deadlines.      


Attendance: Attendance is mandatory and will be taken promptly at the start of each class.  All students are expected to be present and seated before attendance is taken.  Late-comers will not be allowed into class unless prior permission has been taken.  It is the duty of the student to inform the instructor before class in the event an absence is necessitated.  More than two unexcused absences will translate into the final grade being lowered by half a grade.  Sleeping during class will be counted as an absence. 


Class Participation:  It is crucial that students actively participate in class discussions.  Each student is capable of bringing a unique perspective to the subject at hand and in so doing, adds to the enrichment of all in the classroom.  It is for this reason that class participation will be graded.  I am aware that some of you are more hesitant to speak than others and would rather be active listeners.  However, I strongly encourage you to overcome these inhibitions and meet me for guidance.  It was not too long ago that I was sitting where you are now and have felt the same fears.  I know that these fears can be dealt with and participating will not only help in combating your hesitation but will also add to your personal enhancement.  I personally believe that teaching is one of the best ways of learning.  Not only does an educator impart knowledge and skills, he or she also learns from the students.  Let’s make this an enjoyable course for all, try to learn, and have fun. J 


Course Policies:


Classroom Decorum:  Usage of cell-phones and other methods of communication with the outside world are strictly prohibited in the classroom.  Please make sure these instruments are turned off and stored away upon entering the room.  It is strongly advised that you take care of all personal business before the start of the class.  Once you are in the classroom, you are expected to remain in your seat till the end of the class period and be respectful of others present.  Violations of these policies will adversely affect your grade.  Any exceptions will have to be explicitly negotiated, in advance, with the instructor.


Extra Credit:  Without exception, extra credit is not an option.  There are plenty of opportunities to improve your grade with the course requirements and if you find you are having trouble, please seek help early in the semester.  Efforts will be made to give extra help but it is generally assumed that you will be responsible for the work in accordance with the stated deadlines.

Unannounced Quizzes:  The instructor reserves the right to give pop-quizzes if it becomes grossly apparent that the students are not keeping up with reading assignments.  These grades will be averaged into the class participation component.  
Disability: NIU abides by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which mandates reasonable accommodations be provided for qualified students with disabilities. If you have a disability and may require some type of instructional and/or examination accommodation, please contact me early in the semester so that I can provide or facilitate in providing accommodations you may need. If you have not already done so, you will need to register with the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR), the designated office on campus to provide services and administer exams with accommodations for students with disabilities. The CAAR office is located on the 4th floor of the University Health Services building (815-753-1303). I look forward to talking with you soon to learn how I may be helpful in enhancing your academic success in this course.
Academic Dishonesty: Plagiarism, cheating, and other novel forms of academic dishonesty will be dealt with seriously.  The instructor reserves the right to fail the student for the rest of the course in the event these offenses are detected.  Please do not purchase papers online or have others do the writing for you.  It is not at all difficult to detect writing that does not belong to you. 


Withdrawal Policy:  If you choose to stop attending class you, the student, are responsible for withdrawing from the course.  The instructor will not do so for you.  If you stop attending and have not withdrawn, a failing grade will be entered. 


General Advice:   This is not a particularly “hard” course.  Keeping up with the readings, turning in assignments on time, attending class, taking notes, and participating will assure the student of a good grade. It is recommended that students read the chapter before coming to class and pace the assignments according to their schedules.  Do not wait till the last week to cram everything in.  The scoring weights are provided to help you keep track of your grades as they are turned in.  Also, as most other instructors, I do not purport to have all the answers.  I will do my best to answer your questions and I strongly recommend that you challenge the instructor so that everyone may benefit.  Please feel free to ask questions because there are no such things as “dumb” questions.  The best way to learn is by constantly questioning what we are taught and told.  Lastly, do utilize the services provided by the Writing Center to help improve your writing and editing skills.  A well-written paper is among the first steps to success.  


Disclaimer:  The instructor reserves the right to change the schedule. Every effort will be made to follow the syllabus.  However, certain topics may demand a longer discussion which will necessitate in modifications to the syllabus.  In such an event, the instructor will provide ample notice about the changes instituted.  However, please read the assigned chapters for the week even if the chapter for the previous is carried over.  


Reading, Exam, and Assignment Schedule:




Week 1: The Establishment of the Union and Origins of the Constitution

August 23—Introduction and Overview of the Syllabus

August 25—Declaration of Independence, Appendix, A-1

                    Burns, Chapter 1 (including the Constitution)                   


Week 2:

August 30—Continue discussion on Chapter 1                  

September 1—The Federalist Papers, Nos. 10, 51, and 78


Note: The reading load is considerably heavier the first two weeks.  This is necessitated because of the nature of the material covered.  Please make sure you are familiar with the readings because they provide the foundation upon which the rest of the course proceeds.




Week 3: American Federalism

September 6—Burns, Chapter 2

September 8—Burns, Chapter 3 Political Culture and Ideology


Week 4: The American Political Landscape

September 13—Burns, Chapter 4

September 15—Chapter 4 continued; PoliSim Exercise 1 due


Week 5: Political Parties and Interest Groups

September 20 and 22—Burns, Chapter 5

September 22—Study guide for Exam 1 handed out


Week 6:

September 27—Finish pending discussion and review for Exam 1 (Chapters 1-5)

September 29—Exam I


Week 7: Public Opinion, Voting, and Elections

October 4—Burns, Chapter 6

October 6—Burns, Chapter 7: The Media and American Politics




Week 8: Congress: The People’s Branch

October 11 and 13—Burns, Chapter 8

October 13—PoliSim Exercise 2 due



Week 9: The Presidency: The Leadership Branch

October 18 and 20 —Burns, Chapter 9



Week 10:  The Federal Bureaucracy: Executing the Laws

October 25 and 27—Burns, Chapter 10

October 27—PoliSim Exercise 3 due and study guide for Exam II handed out


Week 11:

November 1—Finish pending discussion and Review for Exam II (Chapters 6-10)

November 3—Exam II


Week 12: The Judiciary: The Balancing Branch

November 8 and 10—Burns, Chapter 11

November 10—PoliSim Exercise 4 due


Week 13: First Amendment Freedoms

November 15 and 17—Burns, Chapter 11 and 12




Week 14:

November 22—Burns, Chapter 12 continued

November 24—No class


Week 15: Equal Justice under the Law

November 29 and December 1 —Burns, Chapter 13

November 29—“Government and the Media” journal due

December 1—PoliSim Exercise 5 due



Week 16: Finals

Tuesday, December 6: Noon-1:50 p.m.