American Government & Politics

POLS 100-8, Fall 2006

W 6:00 – 8:40 p.m., DU 459


Instructor:      Sara Reed

Office:             DuSable Hall 476

Hours:             W 3:30 – 5:00 p.m.                                                                                               

                        & by appointment


Phone:             630-776-1906


I.    Course Description

Affecting nearly every part of our lives, the American political system is exciting and complex.  Government often regulates our health and safety, our economic opportunities and our ability to choose how we express ourselves.  Competing interest groups and limited resources create an especially challenging climate for politicians and policymakers as they attempt to resolve pervasive problems such as terrorism, poverty and global warming.  Advances in technology and our changing cultural norms often add to these challenges.


This course aims to demystify the complexities of the American political system by providing a college-level introduction to the foundations, institutions, and processes of American government.  At the beginning of the course, we will discuss key philosophies on the scope and nature of government, followed by an overview of democracy, the Constitution, civil liberties and civil rights.  We will subsequently explore political participation and the mass media.  We will examine American political institutions, such as Congress and the presidency and conclude with an analysis of how public policies shape our lives.  Ultimately, this course provides students with the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of how and why the American political system has evolved into its present state. 


II.  Course Objectives

Upon successful completion of the course you will be able to:

1.  Identify and discuss the major philosophical perspectives on government.

2.  Explain the basic legislative and policymaking processes within the United States.

3.  Understand the importance of key Supreme Court cases within historical and contemporary contexts.

4.  Think critically about presidential power.

5.  Participate in informed debates about civil liberties and/or civil rights issues.

6.  Reflect upon how you may enrich your life through political participation.


III.  Course Requirements

  A.  Textbook and Readings

Your main textbook is:  American Government and Politics Today:  The Essentials 2006-2007, by Bardes, Shelley, & Schmidt, 12th ed., Thomson Wadsworth.  I highly recommend you purchase this text from the NIU bookstore or the VCB (Village Commons Bookstore) because your purchase will then include the required bundle of readings.  The ISBN # for purchases at the NIU bookstore or the VCB is 0495290904.  Otherwise, if you choose to purchase the main text through another on-line vendor, you will need to purchase the required bundle of readings separately.  The ISBN # for the main text if purchased outside of the NIU bookstore or the VCB is:  0534647332.  The ISBN #s for the required bundle of readings if purchased separately are:  0495003522, 0495171077, 0495130990, and (0534274897 – through Thomson website only). 


B.  Supplemental Readings

In addition to the textbook and the required bundle of readings, there will be various required supplemental readings throughout the course.  The supplemental readings are listed on the Course Calendar and are referenced at the end of this syllabus.  They will be available on library reserve or from JSTOR.


C.  Blackboard

You are required to utilize your Blackboard account.  Blackboard will be used for making important announcements, giving helpful hints, using interactive study tools and posting grades throughout the semester.  For instructions on getting started with Blackboard, go to:


D.  Attendance and Participation

Attendance and participation are considered to be very important aspects of this course. You are strongly encouraged to ask questions and make relevant comments throughout each class period.  Your class attendance and participation grade will include three components:  1) Attendance,  2) Weekly quizzes and 3) One group presentation. 


1.  Attendance (10%)

You will earn one (1) point for each full class period that you attend.  One (1) point will be deducted for each class that you are either partially or fully absent without prior approval from the instructor.  Excused absences for either part or the full class period will be given only with a legitimate excuse such as a documented illness or emergency, jury duty, military service, or participation in athletic or other university sponsored activities. 


2.  Weekly Quizzes (20%)

The quizzes are designed to help you study for the mid-term and final exam.  They also provide a means for you to check up on your understanding of the important concepts and terms in the course.  Quizzes are not intended to be as challenging as the mid-term or final exam.  Rather, they serve as an opportunity for you to gauge your progress and understanding of the course material on a weekly basis.  In addition, the quizzes are designed to give you the opportunity to earn extra credit points.  Note that it is possible to obtain more than a total of 100 percentage points in the course. 


Quiz Administration

There will be a total of twelve (12) weekly quizzes during the semester.  Quizzes will cover the lecture and assigned material for the week and will be administered during the second half of the class.  Each quiz will have a total of fifteen (15) questions, one point per question.  However, each quiz will only be scored out of ten points.  Ten correct answers will result in a score of 100%.  Students who receive at least ten of the fifteen questions correct will then have the opportunity to receive one bonus point for each additional question answered correctly.  It is possible, therefore, for someone who receives fifteen out of ten for all quizzes to earn an additional 10% at the end of the semester.  That is, instead of receiving the full 20% available for the quizzes, a student could receive 30% - a full letter grade increase!


While the quizzes include the opportunity for extra credit, students should take care to note that they are required, not optional.  Students should also note that each quiz is tied in with their attendance.  For instance, if a student is marked down as present at the beginning of the class but does not take and submit the quiz during the second half of the class, he or she will be counted as absent for the entire class period.


3.  Group Presentation (15%)

Students will be randomly assigned to a small group (approximately 5-6 students per group) and will be responsible for one (1), twenty-five minute presentation for the semester.  The purpose of the group presentation is to provide students with a chance to actively engage in the week’s material and to provide a forum for class discussion.  Detailed instructions will be handed out as a supplement to this syllabus during the first week of class. 



E.  Issue Paper (15%)

Students will write one (1) issue paper on a current events topic of their choice.  A detailed instruction sheet will be provided in class for this assignment.


F.  Midterm & Final Exam (20% each)

The mid-term and final exam will each consist of 75 multiple choice and true and false questions.  The exams will be administered in-class and will be non-cumulative.  Students will be allowed the entire class period to complete each exam.  The mid-term will cover the first half of the course.  The final will be administered during final exam week and will cover the second half of the course. 


IV.  Course Evaluation

Students will be evaluated based upon the following obligations and grading scale:


Attendance                         10%                      

Quizzes                               20%                                             

Group Presentation              15%

Issue Paper                         15%

Mid-Term Exam                  20%

Final Exam                          20%

Total:                                  100%


Grading Scale:

A =      90 –      100%

B =       80 –      89%

C =       70 –      79%

D =      60 –      69%

F =       0        59%


Please note that in order to pass the course all required items must be turned in.  A missing quiz, exam, presentation or paper will result in an “F” for the course.  A student who has a legitimate, documented excuse will be allowed to make-up an item for full credit.  Students without a legitimate, documented excuse will still be required to make up the missed item, but will receive a grade no higher than 65%. 


V.  Announcements and Policies


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.  Students who believe that their disability 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 the instructor be informed of any disability-related needs during the first two weeks of the semester.


Department of Political Science Website

Students are strongly encouraged to consult the Department of Political Science web site on a regular basis.  This central source of information will assist students in contacting faculty and staff, reviewing course requirements and syllabi, exploring graduate study and researching career options.  Undergraduates may find this website especially useful for tracking down department events and for accessing important details related to undergraduate programs and activities.  To reach the site, go to


Undergraduate Writing Awards 

The Department of Political Science will recognize, on an annual basis, outstanding papers written in conjunction with 300-400 level political science courses or directed studies.  Authors do not have to be political science majors or have a particular class standing.  Winners are expected to attend the Department’s spring graduation ceremony where they will receive a certificate of $50.00.  Papers, which can be submitted by students or faculty, must be supplied in triplicate to the department secretary by the end of February.  All copies should have two cover pages – one with the student’s name and one without the student’s name.  Only papers written in the previous calendar can be considered for the award.  However, papers completed in the current spring semester are eligible for the following year’s competition even if the student has graduated.


Classroom Behavior

Because this course will necessarily involve the discussion of controversial issues, students are expected to exhibit mutual respect and tolerance for each other’s opinions.  Likewise, it is expected that students will demonstrate courteous behavior throughout each class period.  Please turn off all electronic devices and refrain from side conversations during class.


Cell Phones

The use of a cell phone or any other communication device during class-time, a quiz or a test is prohibited.


Cheating & Plagiarism

Cheating and plagiarizing in any form will not be tolerated.  The instructor reserves the right to fail (for an assignment and the course) a student who cheats or plagiarizes.  Students found in violation of this policy will be referred to the appropriate university judicial board for disciplinary action.


Make-up Quizzes and Exams

Make-up quizzes and exams will be given for those with a legitimate excuse such as a documented illness or emergency, jury duty, military service, or participation in athletic or other university sponsored activities.  Students without a legitimate, documented excuse will also be required to make-up a missed quiz or exam in order to pass the course, but will receive a grade no higher than 65%.  


Incomplete Grade Policy

As indicated in the NIU Undergraduate Bulletin, incompletes will only be given in rare circumstances, such as illness, death in the immediate family, or other unusual and unforeseeable circumstances.  Incompletes are given at the discretion of the instructor and only when it is possible that the completion of the remaining work could result in a passing grade. An incomplete must be resolved within the appropriate time limit or it will automatically be changed to an F.  The student is responsible for seeing that incompletes are made up before the expiration date.


VI.  Course Calendar

The following schedule is tentative.  Any modification to this schedule will be announced in class.  If you are absent from class, you are responsible for becoming informed about any changes made during your absence.  The syllabus on Blackboard will be the most current.  Readings and assignments should be completed by the date in which they are listed on the calendar.




Assignment Due





Welcome and Introduction



Syllabus Review



Politics Defined



Purpose and Scope of Government



Forms of Government






Types of Democracy

Bardes, Ch. 1


Democracy in the USA

Bardes, A-4 - A-7


Political Culture and Ideology

Supplement #1


American Values

Quiz #1





The Constitution:

Bardes, Ch. 2


Creation and Ratification

Bardes, Ch. 2 Appendix



Bardes, A-7 - A-9


Separation of Powers

Supplement #2


The Bill of Rights

Group Presentation



Quiz #2





The Constitution:  Principles

Bardes, Ch. 3


Checks and Balances

Supplement #3



Group Presentation



Quiz #3





Civil Liberties

Bardes, Ch. 4



Mayer, J.D. 9-11:  Aftershocks



of the Attack, pp. 37 - 55 (bundle)



De Jonge v. Oregon (bundle)



Roe v. Wade (bundle)



Group Presentation



Quiz #4





Civil Rights

Bardes, Ch. 5


Mid-Term Review

Supplement #4



Brown v. Board of Ed... (bundle)



United Steel Workers v. Weber (bundle)



Group Presentation



Quiz #5





Mid-Term Exam

Mid-Term Exam:  6:00 p.m.
DuSable Hall, Rm. 459





Interest Groups

Bardes, Ch. 7, 8


Political Parties

Group Presentation



Quiz #6





Public Opinion

Bardes, Ch. 6


Campaigns and Elections

Bardes, pp. 287 - 310


The Media

Supplement #5



Group Presentation



Quiz #7








The Courts

Bardes, Ch. 13



Bardes, A-9 - A-11



"Battle Supreme...", pp. 35 - 54



Marbury v. Madison (bundle)



Group Presentation



Quiz #8






Bardes, Ch. 10



Supplement #6



McCulloch v. Maryland (bundle)



Group Presentation



Quiz #9



Issue Paper Due





The Presidency

Bardes, Ch. 11, 12


The Bureaucracy

Supplement #7



U.S. v. Nixon (bundle)



Group Presentation



Quiz #10





Happy Thanksgiving! - No Class









Public Policymaking

Bardes, Ch. 14


Economic and Social Policy

Supplement #8


Science and Technology Policy

Group Presentation


Politics and the Life Sciences

Quiz #11








Civic Engagement

Supplement #9


Final Exam Review

Quiz #12





Final Exam

Final Exam:  6:00 p.m.
DuSable Hall, Rm. 459


VII.  Required Supplemental Readings


TED is available via library reserve and is an abbreviation for the following book:

David T. Canon, John J. Coleman, and Kenneth R. Mayer, eds., The Enduring Debate: Classic

and Contemporary Readings in American Politics, 4th ed. (New York: W.W. Norton &

Company, Inc., 2006).


Required Supplements

#1:  Howard Zinn and Sidney Hook, “How Democratic is America?: How Democratic is America? A

 Response to Howard Zinn,” in How Democratic is America?  Responses to the New Left Challenge

(Chicago: Rand McNally, 1971), pp. 39 – 75.  (available on library reserve)


#2:  Charles Beard and Robert Brown, “An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution:

       Founding Fathers, the Question of Motive,” in TED, pp. 56-67.


#3:  Paul Peterson, Jonathan Adler, Thomas, Derthick, and Kettle, “The Price of Federalism”:  “The

       Framer’s Design”: “Debating the Issues:  The Future of Federalism,” in

       TED, pp. 73 – 87.


#4:  Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Perpetuation of our Political Institutions”:

       “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” in TED, pp. 102-115.


#5:  V.O. Key, Jr., “The Voice of the People:  An Echo from the Responsible Electorate,”

        in TED, pp. 330 – 335.


#6:   Canon, et al., Sean Paige and Jonathan Cohn, “Citizens Against Government Waste”: “Rolling out

        the Pork Barrel”: “…The Case Against the Case Against Pork,” in TED, pp. 158 – 174.


#7:  James Q. Wilson, “From Bureaucracy:  What Government Agencies Do and Why

        They Do It,” in TED, pp. 215 – 224.


#8:  Charles Lindblom, “The Science of Muddling Through,” in TED, pp. 469 – 477.


#9:  Robert Putnam, “Tuning In, Tuning Out:  The Strange Disappearance of Social

       Capital in America”. 1995. Political Science and Politics, 28, pp. 664 – 683.

       (access in JSTOR).