Introduction to American Government and Politics Syllabus

Northern Illinois University

DeKalb, IL 60115

(815) 753-1011,


Course Title:  Introduction to American Government and Politics

Course Number: POLS 100, Section 9

Class Location: DuSable Building, Room 252

Semester: Fall, 2006


I. Faculty Information

            a. Instructor:  Geoff Rogal (

            b. Office Location: DuSable 476

            c. Office Hours:          Wednesday: 1:00-2:30 pm

Friday: 2:45-4:00 pm 

Also, By Appointment

            d. Mailbox Location: Zulauf 415, Outside of Departmental Office

            e. Office Phone #: (815) 753-1818

            f. Department Phone #: (815) 753-1011


II. Course Identification:

            a. Credit Hours: 3

            b. Total Credit Hours: 3

            c. Days and Hours Course Meets: M/ W/F from 11:00-11:50 am.    

            d. Prerequisite: None

            e. Corequisite: None

            f. Course Description:

Within this course we will explore basic principles of the constitution, and the structure and functions of the federal government including Congress, the Presidency, the federal court system and bureaucracy.  The roles of political parties, pressure groups and public opinion in America are also examined. Special attention is given to English and American political philosophy and theory. 


III. Textbooks/Reading List:

            a. Required

Jillson, Calvin.  2005.  American Government.  Third Edition. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth.           

Additional handouts and required readings listed below may be accessed via web addresses or through NIU’s electronic library.  It is your responsibility to read these articles before attending class.


            b. Highly Recommended

Jillson, Calvin. 2005. Study Guide for American Government.  Third Edition. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth.

IV. Program/Course Goals or Major Purposes:

            a. To think critically

            b. To understand the ideas and values that influence, shape, change and govern                 the democratic process in the United States of America.

            c. To understand and evaluate the United States' governing authority through a                 process of checks and balances.

            d. To illustrate the function of a republic as related to other forms of                                   governing political systems.

            e. To better understand the United States Constitution.

V. Course End Competencies:

At the end of the course, you will be expected to know the following:

a. The concepts of freedom, order and equality; and why democracy is the basis for the United States.

b. The tenets of popular democracy, elite democracy and pluralism in relation to a system of participatory democracy.

            c. The origins and evolution of American federalism.

            d. The role of the two party system in America.

e. The role and organization of Congress, the Presidency, and the federal court system.

f. The effect and power of PAC's, special interest groups and the federal bureaucracy in the American political process.

            g. Specific Supreme Court cases and their impact upon civil rights and civil                        liberties, economic policies, foreign policies and interest groups.

            h. How public opinion is shaped, manipulated and measured in our system of                     government.

            i. Voting behavior and some explanations for how and why people vote.    

            j. The (mis)use of campaign finance laws during primaries and general elections.

h. The origins of fundamental theories which influenced the Framers of the American Constitution and Bill of Rights.


VI. Classroom Policies/Procedures, i.e. The Rules of the Game

a. Any student who fails to complete the following assignments will not receive a       

satisfactory grade for this course.

            b. Withdrawal Policy:

A student who does not withdraw from a course by the designated withdraw date may receive a grade of ‘F', depending on course progress and\or course attendance, which will become a part of the student's permanent record.  Please note the withdraw date at


            c. Final Exam Dates:

                        Final Exam: December 13, 2006 from 10-11:50 a.m.

            d. Turn off cell phones, pages and Blackberries before the start of all classes.  

            e. Be considerate of your classmates.



f. Attendance Policy:

Please attend class.  The examination will consist of both: lecture materials, and information absorbed, comprehended and otherwise discerned from assigned readings.  If a class is missed, ask a fellow student for the lecture notes.  You might have to wash his\her car, but the reward of increased knowledge and understanding is worth it!!!


g. Cheating, Plagiarism and Student Conduct:

                        If found cheating on an exam, the student(s) will receive a grade of zero for                       that exam.  If plagiarism occurs, the student(s) will also receive a                                               zero for that paper, activity or project.  Each student is responsible                                       for adhering to the code of Student Conduct as stated in the                                                       NIU Undergraduate Student Catalogue.


VII. Grading Policies/Procedures:

a. Each examination is worth 15% of your final grade.  You will be tested on the required readings and class lecture material.  There will be four (4) examinations comprising 60% of your final grade.  Also, I will assign three (3) short papers (2-3 pages in length, double spaced, spell-checked and typed).  Each paper is worth 10% of your final grade.  30% of our final grade will be based upon the quality (spelling, grammar, sentence structure, organization) of your papers.  The remaining 10% of your final grade will be based upon your attendance and participation during class.  Please arrive to class on time, prepared and awake.  I will calculate individual examinations, papers and the final grade based upon percentages.  Thus, the grading scale will be as follows:


                                    90%-100%      =A

                                    80%-89%        =B

                                    70%-79%        =C

                                    60%-69%        =D

                                    59% or below  =F


            b. No extra credit will be awarded.

c. No late papers will be accepted.

d. Make-up exams and incompletes will be allowed only with the prior approval of the instructor. 


VIII. Students With Disabilities:

NIU abides by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which mandates reasonable accommodations for qualified students with disabilities.  If you have a disability and may require some type of instructional and/or examination accommodation, please tell me early in the semester so I can help you attain the needed assistance.  You will need to register with the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR), the designated office on campus to provide services for students with disabilities.  The CAAR office is located on the 4th Floor of the University Health Services Building (telephone #: 753-1303). 

IX. Course Schedule/Calendar:


 Fall 2006 Semester Course Outline and Required Reading Assignments

(Assigned Readings and Examinations May Change At the Discretion of Instructor)


                                                            Part I: Foundations

First Week

Monday, August 28th                         Introductions, Distribute Syllabi

Wednesday, 8/30                                Introduction to Political Science

Friday, 9/1                                           Chapter 1:  The Origins of American Political Principles

(A brief history of democracy)

Elite Democracy/Popular Dem. Handout (xerox)

The Political Spectrum (xerox)


Second Week

Monday, 9/4                                        Labor Day, NO CLASS!                  

Wednesday, 9/6                                  Chapter 2: The Revolution & the Constitution

Declaration of Independence, Appendix A, pages 441-43 in textbook

Friday, 9/8                                           Chapter 2 continued

                                                            Article of Confederation (xerox)

                                                            Debate of the Constitutional Convention (xerox)


Writing Assignment #1:  Due at the beginning of class, Monday, September 11, 2006


First, read Pro and Con: Do We Need a Bill of Rights? The Federalists’ Dilemma located on page 43 in the textbook.


Next, in a 2-3 page, typed, double-spaced, coherent paper address the following questions:

a.       What rights are protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution?

b.      Briefly describe why the Federalists opposed this amendment; and anti-Federalists supported the amendment.  What are their respective positions?

c.       Finally, take a stand.  Do these argument(s) merit consideration by contemporary readers?  What do you think?  Which argument makes better sense to you?  Support your position.  


Third Week

Monday, 9/11                                      Chapter 3: Federalism and American Political Development (Papers Due)

Wednesday, 9/13                                Chapter 3 continued

                                                            Grants and General Revenue Sharing (Xerox)

Friday, 9/15                                         Supreme Court case: U.S. v Lopez (1995)

Go to and search for: US v Lopez (1995).  In the upper right hand corner of the page choose the HTML version and read Chief Justice Rehnquist’s opinion for the Court and, next to this, Justice Breyer’s dissent.  Compare and contrast the opposing interpretations of Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce (Article I, Sec. 8 of the US Constitution).


Fourth Week                                    

Monday, 9/18                                      Exam #1: Chapters 1, 2, 3

Wednesday, 9/20                                Chapter 4: Political Socialization and Public Opinion

                                                            (Return Exam #1)

Friday, 9/22                                         Chapter 4 continued

Be prepared to discuss Pro and Con: Knowledge, Ignorance and the Democratic Process, on page 90 in textbook.


Part II: American Political Culture

Fifth Week

Monday, 9/25                                      Chapter 5: The Mass Media and the Political Agenda

Wednesday, 9/27                                Chapter 5 continued

Friday, 9/29                                         Access the website

                                                            Click on the link, Public Opinion Matters. 

                                                            Scroll down and choose News Media/Coverage.

                                                            Select “Accuracy of the Press” and “On the Bias (July/Aug. 2002)” PDF links.

                                                            Be prepared to discuss the public opinion findings and poll results of the two articles.


Sixth Week

Monday, 10/2                                      Chapter 6: Interest Groups and Social Movements

Wednesday, 10/4                                Chapter 6 continued

Friday, 10/6                                         James Madison, Federalist #10: The Union As Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection, pages 462-65, Appendix D in textbook



Writing Assignment #2:  Due at the beginning of class, Monday, October 9, 2006


First, access website: and click on ‘IDEALOG’

Read the first section of the program explaining ideologies

Next, take the 20 question survey and answer the questions by clicking the button corresponding to your answer.

Finally, write (type) a 2 page paper explaining to which ideological category you belong based upon your answers.  Does this surprise you?  Why or why not??




Seventh Week                                   

Monday, 10/9                                      Chapter 7: Political Parties (Papers Due)                 

Wednesday, 10/11                              Chapter 7 continued

Friday, 10/13                                       V.O. Key, A Theory of Critical Elections, Journal of Politics (1955), pgs. 3-11.

Access this article through NIU’s electronic library.  Find at using an NIU internet connection

Eighth Week

Monday, 10/16                                    Chapter 8: Voting, Campaigns and Elections

Wednesday, 10/18                              Chapter 8 continued  

Friday, 10/20                                       Access .  Be prepared to discuss the pros and cons of the Supreme Court cases: Buckley v Valeo (1976) and McConnell v FEC (2003).  See pages 212-13 in textbook.

Do we need campaign finance?  Why or why not? 

Who Picks the President? (xerox)


Part III: Institutions

Ninth Week

Monday, 10/23                                    Examination #2: Chapters 4-8

Wednesday, 10/25                              Chapter 9: Congress: Lawmaking and Domestic Representation (Return Exam #2)

Friday, 10/27                                       Chapter 9 continued

Pork: A Microcosm of the Overspending Problem     (xerox)

                                                            How a Bill Becomes A Law, p. 237                          


Tenth Week                                      

Monday, 10/30                                    Chapter 10: The President: Governing in Uncertain Times   

Wednesday, 11/1                                Chapter 10 continued

                                                            The Electoral College (xerox)

Friday, 11/3                                         James Madison, Federalist #51: The Structure of the

Government Must Furnish the Proper Checks and Balances Between the Different Departments, pgs. 466-68, Appendix D in textbook.

High Crimes and Misdemeanors: A Short History of Impeachment (xerox)


Eleventh Week

Monday, 11/6                                      Chapter 11: Bureaucracy: Redesigning Government 

Wednesday, 11/8                                Chapter 11 continued  

Friday, 11/10                                       Mark P. Petracca, Predisposed to Oppose: Political Scientists and Term Limit, Polity (1992), Vol. 24, No. 4, pgs. 657-72 (  


Writing Assignment #3: Due at the beginning of class on Monday, November 13, 2006

First, go to the website  This site is run by the watchdog group, Citizens Against Government Waste. 

Second, browse the website for subject matter that interests you.  I recommend clicking on the “Pig Book” link as this will give you a plethora of pork legislation organized by year.

Choose one or two spending (appropriation) bills associated with the subject you chose.

Next, search the website (do not type www before Thomas as you will be sent to a vastly different website) for your representative in Congress or a member of the House of Representatives you wish to research.  Type in the key words or House Bill (examples are HB 1234 or HR 4321) for the spending bill(s) found at The Citizens Against Government Waste website.


Finally, write (type) a 2-3 page paper addressing the following questions:

  1. What were the justifications (arguments) for the spending project(s)?
  2. Did the bill pass or was it voted down (make sure to indicate if it was tabled in subcommittee, voted down in committee or on a floor vote and/or was amended).  
  3. Did your chosen Representative vote for or against the bill(s)?
  4. If you were a member of the House of Representatives would you have supported the legislation?  Why or why not?


Twelfth Week                                               

Monday, 11/13                                    Chapter 12: The Federal Courts: Activism versus Restraint (Papers Due)

Wednesday, 11/15                              Chapter 12 continued

Friday, 11/17                                       Alexander Hamilton, Federalist #78: The Judiciary Department, pgs. 468-472, Appendix D in textbook        


                                                            Part IV: Domestic and International Policy

Thirteenth Week                                          

Monday, 11/20                                    Examination #3: Chapters 9-12

Wednesday, 11/22                              Chapter 13: Civil Liberties and Civil Rights: Balance or Conflict (Return Exam #3)

                                                            The Bill of Rights (xerox)

Friday, 11/24                                       Thanksgiving Break, NO CLASS


Fourteenth Week

Monday, 11/27                                    Chapter 13 continued

Wednesday, 11/29                              Chapter 13 continued

Friday, 12/1                                         Chapter 14: Government, the Economy and Domestic Policy






Fifteenth Week                                 

Monday, 12/4                                      Chapter 14 continued

Wednesday, 12/6                                Chapter 15: America’s Place in a Dangerous World 

                                                            The Bush Doctrine

Friday, 12/8                                         Chapter 15 continued

Access the website and read the articles by Benjamin Barber, Jihad vs. McWorld and Jihad vs. McWorld Revisited. 


Sixteenth Week

Monday, 12/11                                    Finals Week Begins

Wednesday, 12/13                              Examination #4: Chapters 13-15.

                                                            Examination 10:00-11:50 a.m.

Friday, 12/15                                       Final Grades Submitted.  You may pick-up your final examination with your final course grade at the Political Science Office, Zulauf 415.