Introduction to American Government and Politics Syllabus

Northern Illinois University

DeKalb, IL 60115,


Course Title:  Introduction to American Government and Politics

Course Number: POLS 100, Section 5

Class Location: McMurray Hall, Room 208

Semester: Fall: August 26-December 9, 2008


I. Faculty Information

            a. Instructor:  Geoff Rogal (

            b. Office Location: MC 208

            c. Office Hours: Wednesday, 1-3:00 pm; Thursday, 5-6:00 pm and by appointment

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

e. Department Phone #: (815) 753-1011 (leave a message with Karen Schweitzer,        

Administrative Assistant, Political Science Department).


II. Course Identification:

            a. Credit Hours: 3

            b. Total Credit Hours: 3

            c. Days and Hours Course Meets: Tuesday and Thursday, 3:30-4:45 pm

            d. Prerequisite: None

            e. Corequisite: None

            f. Course Description:

Within this course we will explore basic principles of the US 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.  2008.  American Government: Political Change and Institutional Development.  Fourth Edition. New York: Routledge.         


Additional handouts and required readings listed below may be accessed via web addresses and through Blackboard.  It is your responsibility to read these articles before attending class.


IV. Program/Course Goals or Major Purposes:

            a. To think critically

            b. To understand the ideas and values which 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 political parties and the origin 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 ANY of the following assignments will not

pass 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: Tuesday, December 9, 2008--- 4:00-5:50 pm!!

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

Also, do not text message during class.  This is just disrespectful.

            e. Be considerate of your classmates.

f. Attendance Policy:

 From past teaching experiences, I have amassed substantial empirical evidence suggesting a student who attends class on a regular basis is more likely to perform at a higher level during course evaluations (examinations, papers, class participation) than a student who is frequently tardy or absent from scheduled classes. So, come to class! While attendance is not required, it is strongly recommended. You, or somebody else, are/is paying for this opportunity to gain knowledge—Take advantage of it!   

Once again, please attend class.  The examinations will consist of lecture materials, and information absorbed, comprehended and otherwise discerned from assigned readings.  However, I understand a class may be missed, skipped or “blown off” on occasion.  It is your responsibility to acquire the missed class material. Please, don’t—I repeat—do not ask me for lecture notes or missed materials. 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.  Please consult NIU’s

Academic Integrity webpage at

for further information. 


VII. Grading Policies/Procedures:

a.       There will be three (3) examinations.  Each examination will be worth 20% of your final grade.  You will be tested on the required readings, handouts and class lecture material.  Therefore, the 3 examinations will comprise 60% of the final grade.

b.      Also, I will assign three (3) short papers (2-3 pages in length, double spaced, spell-checked and typed).  30% of your final grade will be based upon the quality (spelling, grammar, sentence structure, organization) of your papers.

c.       The remaining 10% of your final grade will be based upon your class participation and attendance.  Thus, the grading scale will be as follows:


                                    90%-100%      =A

                                    80%-89%        =B

                                    70%-79%        =C

                                    60%-69%        =D

                                    59% or below  =F


            d. No extra credit will be awarded.

e. No late papers will be accepted.

f. 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 2008 Semester Course Outline and Required Reading Assignments

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


                                                            Part I: Foundations

First Week:

Tuesday, 8/26                                      Introductions, Distribute Syllabi

Thursday, 8/28                                    Chapter 1:  The Origins of American Political Principles (A brief history of democracy)


Second Week:

Tuesday, 9/2                                        Chapter 2:  The Revolution & the Constitution

Declaration of Independence, Appendix A, pages 444-46 in textbook

Thursday, 9/4                                      Chap. 2 (cont.)

Handout: The Articles of Confederation (Blackboard and in Jillson, pp 447-52).

Handout: Debate of the Constitutional Convention (Blackboard)

Third Week:

Tuesday, 9/9                                        Chapter 2 (cont.)

Handout: Elite Democracy/Popular Dem. (Blackboard)


Writing (Paper) Assignment #1:  Due at the beginning of class, Tuesday, September 16


First, read Pro and Con: Do We Need a Bill of Rights? The Federalists’ Dilemma located on page 41 in the Jillson 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.  


Thursday, 9/11                                    Chapter 3: Federalism and American Political Development          

Handout: Grants and General Revenue Sharing (Blackboard)


Fourth Week:

Tuesday, 9/16                                      Paper #1 Due

                                                            Chapter 4: Political Socialization and Public Opinion

Thursday, 9/18                                    Chapter 4 (cont.): American Ideologies         

                                                            Handout: American Ideologies (Blackboard)


Fifth Week:

Tuesday, 9/23                                      Examination #1, Chapters 1-4 and lecture materials        


Part II: American Political Culture


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

Sixth Week:

Tuesday, 9/30                                      Chapter 5 (cont.)

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



Writing (Paper) Assignment #2:  Due at the beginning of class, Tuesday, October, 7


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 2-3 page paper explaining to which ideological category you belong based upon your answers.  Does this surprise you?  Why or why not??


Seventh Week:

Tuesday, 10/7                                      Paper #2 Due

Chap. 6 continued

James Madison, Federalist #10: The Union as Safeguard against Domestic Faction and Insurrection, pages 465-68, Appendix D in Jillson textbook

Thursday, 10/9                                    Chapter 7: Political Parties


Eighth Week:

Tuesday, 10/14                                    Chapter 7 continued

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



Ninth Week:                                     

Tuesday, 10/21                                    Chapter 8 continued

Thursday, 10/23                                  Chapter 8 (cont)


Tenth Week:

Tuesday, 10/28                                    Examination #2: Chapters 5-8


Part III: Institutions


Thursday, 10/30                                  Chapter 9: Congress: Lawmaking and Domestic Representation


Eleventh Week:

Tuesday, 11/4                                      Chapter 9 continued

                                                            James Madison, Federalist #51: The Structure of the Government Must Furnish the Proper Checks and Balances between the Different Departments, pgs. 468-71, Appendix D in textbook.

Thursday, 11/6                                    How a Bill Becomes a Law, p. 237

                                                            Handout: Checks and Balances (Blackboard)


Twelfth Week:

Tuesday, 11/11                                    Chapter 10: The President: Governing in Uncertain


Thursday, 11/13                                  Chapter 10 (cont.)

                                                            Handout: The Electoral College (Blackboard)


Writing (Paper) Assignment #3: Due at the beginning of class on November 25, 2008.

First, go to the website and access Executive Resources, and then click on Presidential Materials and access The Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents.  The website is published by the Office of the Federal Register and contains statements, messages and other presidential materials released by the White House during the preceding week.   

Second, once at the website, click browse to access the years. Third, pick one year. 

Fourth, choose one month of the year and look at the table of contents for each week.

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


  1. How do the activities listed illustrate the many roles that the president plays?
  2. Given the information you found on the website, provide examples for each presidential power (Remember: What are the powers of the President?). 
  3. What issue(s) seem to dominate the President’s attention?  In your opinion, what may be some reasons for the President to address these issues?


Thirteenth Week:

Tuesday, 11/18                                    Chapter 11: Bureaucracy: Redesigning Government  

Thursday, 11/20                                  Chapter 12: The Federal Courts: Judicial Activism vs. Judicial Restraint   



Fourteenth Week:

Tuesday, 11/25                                    Paper #3 Due

                                                            Chapter 12 continued

                                                            Alexander Hamilton, Federalist #78: The Judiciary Department, pgs. 471-74, Appendix D in Jillson textbook         

Thursday, 11/27                                  No class: Thanksgiving Break!!!


Fifteenth Week:                    

Tuesday, 12/2                                      Chapter 13: Civil Liberties and Civil Rights: Balance or Conflict

Thursday, 12/4                                    Chapter 13 continued

                                                            Handout: The Bill of Rights (Blackboard)


Sixteenth Week:                                Finals Week                                                              


Tuesday, 12/9                                      Final Examination, (Examination #3)

Chapters 9-13 (thus, the final is not cumulative)

Special time: 4:00-5:50 pm