American Government & Politics

POLS 100-9 - FALL 2007

DuSable Hall, Rm. 276

3 Credits


Instructor: Sara Reed

Course Days & Time: T & TH, 3:30 - 4:45 p.m.

Office Location: TBA

Office Hours: TBA

Mailbox Location: 4th Floor, Zulauf Hall


Phone: 630-776-1906





This course provides an introduction to the American political system by exploring the foundations, structure, and procedures of government in the United States. We will draw upon historical and current events to examine the American form of democracy and its evolution over time. Particular emphasis will be placed upon the presidential campaign as it continues to unfold.




Upon successful completion of the course, students will have gained a general understanding of:

         The key philosophical perspectives underlying the United States Constitution

         American legislative and policymaking processes

         The U.S. judicial system

         The Presidency: Campaigns and elections, presidential power, and presidential roles

         The characteristics and functions of the federal bureaucracy

         Interest groups and political parties.

         The mass media and public opinion

         Civic engagement

         Civil liberties and civil rights








A. Readings:

The required text is Approaching Democracy: Portfolio Edition (2nd Edition), by Larry Berman and Bruce Allen Murphy. The ISBN number is 978-0-13-614008-5. You may purchase this text from the NIU Bookstore, the VCB (Village Commons Bookstore), or your favorite on-line bookseller. Please note that additional required readings will be available on Blackboard.


B. Blackboard and NIU E-Mail Accounts

You are required to utilize the NIU Blackboard system and your NIU e-mail account on a regular basis throughout the semester. Blackboard will be used for posting required readings, making important announcements, and for posting grades. Your NIU e-mail account will be utilized for individual communication as necessary during the course. Once you have set up your Blackboard account, go to and log in. Please let me know if you require assistance with this requirement.


C. Attendance

Regular attendance is required and is strongly recommended for your success in the course. You will earn one (1) point for each full class period that you attend. Students may use up to (2) class days without losing attendance points, as long as the missed days do not fall on a day in which an exam or required participation exercise has been scheduled. Students who are absent beyond the two excused days will receive a "0" for attendance on the missed day, except in the case of an extreme and legitimate circumstance. Students with an extreme and legitimate circumstance should consult with the instructor as soon as possible during the semester. Credit for an absence beyond the two excused days is at the discretion of the instructor and will require written documentation before it is officially marked as excused.


D. Participation

Participation is an integral part of this course. Students are encouraged to discuss the course material and to ask questions during each class session. In addition, there will be three (3) required participation exercises. The participation exercises will consist of in-class participation and a brief written report. Specific instructions will be distributed and discussed in class. The instructions will also be posted on Blackboard. Students who have an illness or extreme circumstance that prevents them from attending class on a required participation day will be allowed to make-up the participation points at the discretion of the instructor and with receipt of written documentation of a legitimate excuse.



E. Examinations

You are required to take (3) in-class examinations. The exams will be closed book, closed notes, and non-cumulative. Each exam will consist of fifty (50) multiple-choice questions. All students must take the examinations in class at the designated time. NO exceptions will be allowed expect for extreme or unusual circumstances.




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


Required Obligations


Exam #1

50 points

Exam #2

50 points

Exam #3

50 points

Attendance (1 point per day)

29 points

Participation Exercise #1

30 points

Participation Exercise #2

30 points

Participation Exercise #3

30 points




Grading Scale (points earned)

A = 242 - 269

B = 215 - 241

C = 188 - 214

D = 161 - 187

F = 0 - 160




Statement Concerning Students with Disabilities

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.


Department of Political Science Website

Students are encouraged to consult the Department of Political Science website 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 in tracking down department events and for accessing important details related to undergraduate programs and activities. To reach this 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 year 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

Please turn off all electronic devices and refrain from side conversations during class. Because this course will necessarily involve the discussion of controversial issues, students are expected to exhibit mutual respect and tolerance of each other's opinions. Likewise, it is expected that students will demonstrate courteous behavior throughout each class period. Please note that students in violation of this policy may be asked to leave the class and will not be given credit for attendance or assignments due that day.


Cell Phones and Cameras

The use of a cell phone, camera, or any other communication device during class or an examination 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/or the course) a student who cheats and plagiarizes. Students found in violation of this policy will be referred to the appropriate university judicial board for disciplinary action.





Make-up Exams

Make-up exams will be given only with a legitimate excuse and in the most unusual of circumstances. Students will be allowed to take a make-up exam only if they present written documentation of a legitimate excuse. Examples of a legitimate excuse include a medical emergency involving either the student and/or the student's immediate family, jury duty, or military service. Students are advised to consult with the instructor as soon as possible if they will need to make-up an exam.


Incomplete Grade Policy

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. Incompletes will only be given in rare circumstances, such as illness, death in the immediate family, or other extreme and unforeseeable circumstances. In the event of an incomplete, the instructor reserves the right to change assignment and exam formats for the remaining class work. 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.



The following schedule is tentative. Schedule changes will be announced in class and will be added to the syllabus posted on Blackboard. The syllabus on Blackboard is the most current source of information regarding the course schedule and course assignments. Please note that you are responsible for becoming informed about any changes made on a day in which you are absent from class. Readings with an asterisk can be accessed via Blackboard.




Assignments Due


Welcome & Course Overview



The Purpose & Scope of Government

Berman & Murphy, Ch. 1




Federalist #10 & #51


America's Founding & the Constitution

Berman & Murphy, Ch. 2


Skim through the Constitution



Berman & Murphy, Ch. 3



Berman & Murphy, Ch. 4



Berman & Murphy, Ch. 4


The Judiciary

Berman & Murphy, Ch. 6


The Judiciary

Berman & Murphy, Ch. 6


Exam #1

Exam #1


The Presidency

Berman & Murphy, Ch. 5


The Presidency

Berman & Murphy, Ch. 5


The Bureaucracy

Berman & Murphy, Ch. 7

Participation Exercise #1


Interest Groups

Berman & Murphy, Ch. 11


Political Parties

Berman & Murphy, Ch. 9


Public Opinion

Berman & Murphy, Ch. 8

Participation Exercise #2


The Media

Berman & Murphy, Ch. 12


Campaigns & Elections

Berman & Murphy, Ch. 10


Campaigns & Elections


"A Theory of Critical Elections"


Exam #2

Exam #2


Civic Engagement



Domestic & Economic Policy

Berman & Murphy, Ch. 15


Politics & the Life Sciences


"The Politics of Biology"


U.S. Foreign Policy

Berman & Murphy, Ch. 16


Civil Liberties

Berman & Murphy, Ch. 13


Happy Thanksgiving!

No Class


Civil Liberties

Berman & Murphy, Ch. 13


Civil Rights

Berman & Murphy, Ch. 14

Participation Exercise #3


Civil Rights

Berman & Murphy, Ch. 14


Exam #3

Exam #3


Integrative Exercise (4 - 5:50 p.m.)