Northern Illinois University

The Department of Political Science


POLS 220 - Introduction to Public Policy - Fall 2008

DU 459- (Monday/Wednesday/Friday 9:00 - 9:50 am)


Instructor:  James O. Bagaka                                     Office Hours: Mon 10:00 - 11:30 a.m.

E-mail:                                          Wed 10:00 -11:30 am - By Appointment

Office:  Zulauf 114


Introduction and Overview

This is an introductory course to the public policy process in the United States. An important component of the course is to understand what “public policy” means.   After understanding what public policy means, we will then consider why some problems reach the public agenda, why some solutions are adopted and others rejected or ignored and why some policies appear to succeed while others fail. We will largely examine policy making at the national level, but we will also look at examples at the state and local governments. Given that this is an election year, you will find this course informative on issues that the two presidential candidates will be discussing. Of particular interest will be issues like; healthcare, energy, education, taxes, the environment (global warming), abortion, stem-cell research among others. Although we all have an interest of making “good” policies, seldom do we agree on what “good” policies entail. In this regard, as you will learn in this course, policy making is a complex and interesting process than what your favorite TV or newspaper anchor would have you believe. Thus, this course will help you understand how and why governments and citizens make the decisions that can affect, positively or negatively, your life.

This course is divided into two parts. In part I, we will explore the theories of public policy, institutional structures that affect and implement public policy and the actors (official and nonofficial) that initiate and agitate for policy change. The goal of this first section is to give you the tools required to understand and analyze policy. Part II will entail a survey of current policy issues, more so, those that shape the debate in this year’s presidential election.

Course Goals

·         Understand what is meant by “public policy”;

·         Understand the dynamics of policy making and how it relates to politics;

·         Equip you with the tools to intelligently analyze policies, be able to weave out weaknesses and strengths in partisan or news media depictions of policy issues;

·         Be able to apply your knowledge of the policy process to any issue in your community.

This course is also designed to improve your academic skills and knowledge areas in the following ways:

Oral Communication

Class discussions on the assigned readings in class and paper discussions.

Written Communication

Assigned papers and homework

Analytical Thinking

Final Paper – A Policy Issue


Course Policies and Procedures

Student Responsibilities

In recent semesters I have noticed a number of students failing to meet their academic obligations. Recurring problems include absconding classes (and then asking “did I miss anything”), talking on cell phones, text messaging friends, arriving late, leaving early among other misconducts. Apart from being irritating, such actions negatively affect the learning environment. Surprisingly, the same students who engage in these malpractices are the first one to complain about the grading scheme with the now familiar excuse, “I really need a B or A to get to nursing/law school”. Although only a few students meet this description, my recent experience shows that the number is on the rise. Thus, I generally expect your academic responsibility to be your highest priority. Kindly, desist from the above negative behaviors. The point I want you get is this: attend class regularly, do the readings and you will excel; fail to do your part and your grades will be poor.


Attend Class: Since this is a college level course, regular class attendance is assumed. Students who fail to attend the lectures and our Friday discussions will miss important information and will consequently receive lower grades. Attendance will be taken daily and will constitute 5% of your final grade. Those arriving late or leaving early (without my informed consent) will be counted as absent.

You are allowed three unexcused absences from lectures after which you will start losing your 5% of the attendance points. More than ten (10) total unexcused absences from lectures – the three you are allowed plus seven more – will result in a failing grade regardless of whether you have done all the assignments. If you miss class for a legitimate reason, you must provide documentation. If there is a snowstorm and the university remains open, then class will be held.


Discussion Section: I have created a discussion section on Blackboard to facilitate and extend our class discussions beyond the 50 minutes assigned for the class for the three days we meet. The goal of this section is to enable you to post news media articles of relevance to our class discussions. Articles that support, negate or even challenge our class discussions are highly encouraged. Your duty therefore is not to simply copy and paste articles on blackboard, but rather to introduce your article and state why you posted it – simply, why should we care about it? The goal here is to spur debate. Discussions on blackboard will constitute 10% of your final grade. For you to earn all the points in this section, you MUST post at least one article and two responses to a news article posted by any one of your classmates. I will keep track of those participating in these discussions and award points accordingly. Please DO NOT wait until the end of the semester to post your articles on blackboard or react to your colleagues’ posited articles.


Written Assignments: You will be required to write TWO papers in this course. The first paper is what I have called the “Presidential Issue Paper”. Given that this year we will be electing a new President to the White House, this paper will require you to listen to a debate between the two contenders (John McCain and Barrack Obama) and pick the one issue that you agree or disagree with either one of them. Your assignment will be to identify the issue that you agree/disagree with the candidate (2 points); state the candidate’s arguments about the issue (2 points); argue how the candidate’s political leanings shape/inform his arguments (2 points); make a counterargument (2 points) and your conclusion (2 points). Total points = 10.

Length – 2-3 pages. Due Date: To Be Announced Later

The second/final paper requires you to identify a policy issue of interest to you for analysis. Such issue should not be limited to the national level only but may include policy issues at the state or local levels. I strongly suggest you limit issue choice to the state and local policy arena. You MUST CONSULT WITH ME before choosing your policy issue.

Your Task: identify an  issue and state why it is of interest to you (3 points); identify actors involved - official and unofficial (5 points); state their opposing arguments (5 points); identify the governmental structures that currently deal with the issue (3 points); make an argument about your likes and dislikes of the current policy: if you like the current policy, state why it should not be changed; if you do not like it, state why it should be changed (6 points); and conclusion (3points). Total points = 25.  Length: 4 – 6 pages long.  Due date: November 24th 2008, @ 9:00 am.


Reminder: I do not and will not accept/grade late papers unless you have a verifiable reason. All written papers must be submitted in hard copies in class and in person. You must also post your final papers on blackboard on the discussion section so that your classmates can have access to it. No excuses will be entertained for not doing your work, including but not limited to job obligations, family problems, your workload in other courses, computer crashes, car problems, printer malfunctions, etc.


NOTE: Towards the end of the semester, we will spare our last three classes to review your final paper. Each student will be given a chance to present his/her policy paper. These presentations will be part of your participation and attendance grade. Everybody MUST participate in these presentations.


Readings: Since this is a university course, you are expected to read, discuss and engage with the course material. Not everything covered in the books will be discussed in lectures, but I will expect you to read all assigned readings including book chapters, journal articles and any other readings that I will deem necessary. Lectures are meant to enrich the material covered in books not simply to reread it.


Friday’s Discussions: All Fridays will be used for class (group) discussions. Each Friday, the class will be divided into groups (about eight) and each will be given a task/issue to which they will make arguments either for or against or both. Before the end of the class each group will be required to report back their findings to the class. Be aware that in such discussions you will have to entertain opposing views from the ones you hold dear. Although you are entitled to your opinion (which I encourage), the challenge in these discussions is for you to learn to respect and listen other peoples’ opinions.


Academic Integrity

 Students are required to adhere to NIU’s code of student conduct for academic integrity.  Violations will result in a failed grade on the assignment and possibly the class.  You are expected to ensure that all assignments submitted for a grade reflect substantially your own work, that work submitted under your name is substantially original, and that you have understood and learned the competencies in each assignment and not relied solely on the knowledge of others.  Students whose work is substantially plagiarized from others will receive a ‘0’ on that assignment or exam.  If you are unclear of what actions constitute plagiarism, please see me.


Instructor’s Responsibilities

Having spelt out your expectations in this class, you are also entitled to know your expectations of me. In exchange of your attention and cooperation in class, you can expect me to

Create an open and stimulating environment for free exchange of ideas and for questioning the underlying assumptions. I also support and encourage students to challenge my arguments since I hold no monopoly to “truth”.


Support your right to appeal any grading decision or decision not to give a make-up exam. Your appeal must be made in writing or via e-mail no later than 24 hours after the test or written paper assignment is returned.


Be prompt, prepared and respectful of all view points. This is not to imply that you and I are to uncritically accept every argument. Our mutual goal is to critically examine issues based on available evidence on important issues. I concede that there exists a difference between analysis and personal or ideological attacks and I hope as the semester progresses this will be clear. Please do not allow my ideology or your classmates’ ideological leanings prevent you from speaking your mind.


Additional readings – make them available, accessible and on time.


STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES: "Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, NIU is committed to making reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities. Those students with disabilities that 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 instructors be informed of disability-related needs during the first two weeks of the semester".


There will be one midterm exam but NO final exam. All students will, however, be required to attend the session scheduled for our final exam. We will use that session to finalize our class presentations. The midterm exam will consist of multiple-choice, true-false and short questions answered in writing. Make-up exams will only be given in extreme emergencies and only with prior notice to the instructor.  An unexcused absence on the date of an exam will result in a score of zero for that test.


Midterm                                                                                                                                      50%

Presidential Debate Issue Paper                                                                                       10%

Final Paper                                                                                                                                 25%

Discussion Section                                                                                                                   10%

Class Participation & Attendance                                                                                        5%

Total                                                                                                                                           100%


Extra Credit??? None. Sorry!

Books and Other Readings

In addition to the assigned books, you will be required to do additional reading(s) of journal articles, other book chapters and news paper articles (from your classmates) posted on blackboard. All additional readings will be posted on blackboard under “Course Documents”.

Two books are required for this course and are available at the University Book Store. You are free to order these books online from, Borders or Barnes and Nobles.


Congressional Quarterly Researcher (2008). Issues For Debate In American Public Policy. 8th (eds). Washington, D.C.


James Gosling, (2004). Understanding, Informing and Appraising Public Policy.  Pearson/Longman, New York.


Current Events


Since I’ll be using current events to provide examples of real issues in public policy, you are expected to be familiar with major current issues. Your postings on blackboard will thus be drawn from major front page or front section stories in the Chicago Tribune, New York Times or the Washington Post.  Our University library subscribes to the Chicago Tribune and is readily available online.




WK                    Day             Date              Lecture Topic                                                                     Readings

1                   Mon          25-Aug              Class Introductions

                                            & Course Policies


Wed        27-Aug               Defining & Classifying Public Policy               Cochran et al, Ch. 1 pp. 1-6

                                                                                                                         Gosling, Ch. 5 pp.74-74.


Fri             29-Aug             Group Discussion                                               Stone, Intro, pp. 3-6


2                    Mon         01-Sep              No Classes


Wed        03-Sep              Models of Policy Making

                                           and Value Judgments                                       Gupta, Ch.1 pp. 1-5 & pp. 11-16


Fri          05-Sep               Context & Instruments of Public Policy        Cochran et al., Ch.1 pp. 11-20

                                                                                                                        Peters, Intro, pp. 6-14 

3                   Mon       08-Sep            Fragmented Gov’t & Policy Making                Gosling, pp. 23-36; & pp. 108-116

                                                                                                                     Cochran et al., Ch.2  pp.25-40


Wed       10-Sep           States & Policy Process                                     Gosling, Ch.4 pp.54-71       


Fri          12-Sep           Group Discussion (Gupta, pp.15)                     NY Times, September 15, 2000


4                   Mon       15-Sep           Conceptual Frameworks of                             Gosling, Ch.6 pp.93-97

                                       Studying Public Policy                                     Birkland, Ch.1 pp.6-8;

                                                                                                          In Shafritz, et al., (Kingdon), pp.148-159


Wed       17-Sep           Policy Process  & Agenda Setting          Gosling, Ch.3, pp.39-44

                                                                                                           Birkland, Ch.1 pp.1-5


Fri          19-Sep           Group Discussion                                     Issue: MN I-35 Bridge Collapse


5                   Mon       22-Sep          Problem Definition                                    Gosling, Ch.5, pp. 75-76

                                                                                                          Stone, Ch.8 pp. 137 -145 & 188-197

                                                                                                          Kingdon, pp. 108-119


Wed       24-Sep         Agenda Types &Policy Models               Gupta, Ch.3, pp. 49- 53

                                                                                                          Shafritz, (Cobb & Elder) pp. 128-136


Fri          26-Sep          Group Discussion                                      Gupta, pp. 54. “School Safety Case”.


6                   Mon       29-Sep         Policy Actors (Official)                               Kingdon, Ch.2, pp. 23- 47


Wed       01-Oct         Outside (unofficial) Actors                      Kingdon, Ch. 3, pp 48-74


Fri          03-Oct         Group Discussion    -   Issue: “Snail Darter” In Gupta, pp. 89.


7                   Mon        06-Oct       Windows of Opportunity, National          Gosling, Ch.3, pp.46-50

                                   Mood & Policy Entrepreneurs


Wed        08-Oct      Midterm Review


Fri        10-Oct       MIDTERM EXAM






8                    Mon        13-Oct    EDUCATION – No Child Left Behind                CQ., pp. 1-20


Wed        15-Oct    Fixing Urban Schools                                         CQ., pp.25-44    


Fri           17-Oct    Group Discussion    - Issue “Are Schools’ Graduation Rates Accurate” CQ., pp.11

                                                                                “An ‘A’ For Everybody” – Chicago Tribune


9                   Mon        20-Oct    HEALTH: Universal Coverage                             CQ., pp. 49-68



Wed       22-Oct      Rising Health Costs                                            CQ., pp. 73-91


Fri          24-Oct    Group Discussion - Issue: “Should the Rich Pay More for Health Care?” CQ., pp. 84


10               Mon       27-Oct     ECONOMY: Consumer Debt                             CQ., pp. 267-286


Wed       29-Oct     Controlling the Internet                                   CQ., pp. 291- 310


Fri          31-Oct     Group Discussion – Issue: “Who Should Control the Internet – Gov’t or

                                                                                 Telephone and Cable Companies” CQ., pp.297-298


11                 Mon       03-Nov    SOCIAL: Gun Violence                                    CQ., pp. 122-140                 


Wed       05-Nov    Stem Cell Research                                          CQ., pp. 97-116.


Fri          07-Nov    Group Discussion  - Issue: “Is Conducting Medical Research on Unused Embryos

                                                                                From Fertility Clinics Immoral?”  CQ., pp. 100-101.


12                Mon       10-Nov    HOMELAND & FOREIGN POLICY:  Illegal Immigration            CQ.,  pp. 339-361


Wed       12-Nov     Treatment of Detainees                                                               CQ.,  pp. 367-384



Fri          14-Nov     Group Discussion   -   Issue: “Should the Gov’t Outlaw “Extraordinary

                                                                                    Rendition?”                                CQ., pp. 373-374


13                 Mon       17-Nov     ENVIRONMENT: Energy Efficiency                                          CQ.,  pp. 169-187


Wed       19-Nov     National Parks                                                                             CQ.,  pp. 193-209


Fri          21-Nov      Group Discussion   -   Issue “Can States Do More To Encourage Energy

                                                                                     Efficiency?”                             CQ., pp. 177-178          


14                Mon       24-Nov      JUSTICE: Death Penalty  (FINAL PAPER DUE)                       CQ., pp. 243-262



Wed       26-Nov                           Thanksgiving Break


Fri         28-Nov                            Thanksgiving Break

15                Mon      01-Dec       Final Paper Presentations


Wed      03-Dec       Final Paper Presentations


Fri        05-Dec        Final Paper Presentations


16             Mon  08-Dec       FINALS


Summary & Conclusions


Where Do We Go From Here – The “Tank-man” Film. – Possible Extra Credit‼‼