Fall 2009

Northern Illinois University


Faon Grandinetti

Office:  Zulauf 107                                                       


E-mail:  fgrandinetti@niu.edu               

Office Hours:    T, TH 9:20-10:50 or by appointment


Class Meetings: T, TH 8:00-9:15 AM

Classroom: DU 459





Principles, processes, and problems of American government and politics.  Examines the impact of changes in contemporary American politics.




This introductory course in the government and politics of the United States serves several roles at this university.  Most obviously, it provides a college-level introduction to the American political system and serves as a prerequisite for many upper level courses in American Government.  But probably most importantly, it gives students the tools they need to understand how American government and politics affect the everyday lives of the people living in the United States.


This course has four key objectives. The first objective is to inform students of the components of American government and how those components relate to each other.  The second objective is to help students understand the strengths and limitations of the American system of government.  The third objective is for each student to become intimately familiar with the way the various components of the system affect the American people.  Finally, the course should help students develop important skills of critical thinking. All of these goals will be addressed through a semester-long project that examines an issue of your choice as it relates to American government and politics.


            In order to be successful in this course, students are required to regularly read the assigned text as well as work on their semester project.  The majority of learning that takes place in the course will not be during classroom lectures, but rather during discussions of course topics and work on the semester project.  Thus, students who expected to simply come to lectures, take exams, and receive a passing grade in the course are strongly encouraged to reconsider their decision to take this class.  On the other hand, students who have a genuine desire to learn how their lives are affected by the system of government under which they live will likely perform well in this course.


            Overall, the purpose of this course is for you to understand American government and politics and how it relates to your everyday life or to issues that are important to you.





Although most students have taken at least a general United States civics course, I proceed under the assumption that many students have little background or memory of the subject matter.  Thus, most class sessions will begin with lecture format.  However, students are encouraged to ask relevant questions throughout the lecture.  I will also call on students to discuss their semester projects and what they are learning about the relationship between their topic and the portion of American government and politics we are discussing in class.





There is only one text required for this course, although I may occasionally distribute other readings that I find pertinent to the topics we discuss.  This text is available at the university bookstore:


Keeping the Republic, Third Brief Edition, by Christine Barbour and Gerald C. Wright.


There is also a website for the book that includes study guides, outlines, an author’s blog, and other potentially useful materials at http://republic-brief.cqpress.com/






There are three basic requirements. The first requirement is the semester project.  This project will be explained at length in a separate handout, but in short you will be required to research a specific political issue throughout the semester, providing weekly feedback about how that issue relates to the course material.  Each Tuesday I will post a set of questions online that I want you to consider in relation to your issue and the week’s topic of discussion. This written portion of the project comprises 50 percent of your final course grade.  You will also be required to present your project to the class at the end of the semester.  An additional 10 percent of your grade is based on this short presentation.  Further detail is provided in the semester project information handout.


            Second, there will be two written examinations, each worth 15 percent of the grade for a total of 30 percent.  The midterm will take place on October 15th.  The noncumulative final exam is scheduled for December 10th.  Although these exams comprise a relatively small portion of your grade in comparison to most other introductory courses, I encourage you to take them very seriously.  The midterm and final examination will be scored on a 0 to 100 percent scale and assigned a corresponding letter grade (with plus and minus designations). Your weekly online course handouts include study guides for each topic we cover.


            The third requirement is participation.  Participation is worth 10 percent of the total course grade.  It is based on your regular attendance, in-class participation, and discussion board contributions including: (a) regular and thoughtful participation in class lectures and discussions, (b) regular attendance (no more than three absences), (c) regular and thoughtful contributions to the discussion board and (d) arriving on time to class (two late arrivals will be equal to one absence). Although I recognize that some students are naturally more inclined to participate than are other students, a vital part of the learning process in political science courses includes class discussions.  Moreover, the discussion board should provide an outlet for those students who may be less inclined to speak up during class.  Thus, you should do your best to involve yourself in the learning process that takes place each day in class as well as in the online environment—it will not only improve your grade but your understanding of the course material as well.  In general, relevant class participation will be evaluated according to the following scale (with plus and minus grades being possible):


            A = regular and thoughtful participation              

            B = occasional and thoughtful participation                     

            C = regular attendance, but little or no participation

            D = less than regular attendance

            F = little or no attendance



Grading Scale:

93%-100%        A         90%-92.9%       A-        87.5%-89.9%    B+       

83%-87.4%       B          80%-82.9%       B-        77.5%-79.9%    C+       

73%-77.4%       C          70%-72.9%       C-        67.5%-69.9%    D+      

63%-67.4%       D         60%-62.9%       D-        Less than 60%   F





Semester Project, written component = 50 percent

Semester Project, presentation component = 10 percent

Midterm Exam = 15 percent

Final Exam = 15 percent

Participation and Attendance= 10 percent




1.       Electronic Assignments: All assignments for this class will be distributed and collected electronically via NIU’s Blackboard system.  As will be explained further in a handout, you will be responsible for a course project that you will expand throughout the semester.  Each student will keep one file that includes all of his or her work on that project and submit it online by 8 AM each Monday morning.  Each Tuesday I will post a new set of questions for you to consider for the week, due the following Monday.  I will also respond to your posting electronically.  Please do not get in the habit of waiting until the last minute to post your contribution each week (see my late assignment policy).  Also, please remember that your file should always include all of your previous work on your topic so that we may both go back to review what you have already learned or to make changes as current events dictate.


2.       Makeup Exams: Makeup exams will only be given in extraordinary circumstances.  If such circumstances arise, please contact the instructor as soon as possible and before the scheduled exam. To keep the process fair for everyone in the course, students will be asked to support requests for makeup exams with documentation. A missed examination without prior notification and a documented excuse will result in a zero.


3.       Late Papers:  I do not accept late papers.  Any time you want to turn in an assignment and it does not reach me by the time it is due, it will be counted as though you skipped the option of writing that paper.  In other words, you will receive a 0 for the paper.  Because there are weekly assignments in this course, each student can miss one deadline over the course of the semester without having the 0 grade apply.  However, for that week only the assignment must be turned in to me by the next week’s deadline (so you will turn two assignments in that week) or the 0 will apply. If you are submitting two assignments in one week, copy them to the same document so you can submit them together on Blackboard.


4.       Extra Credit: Extra credit assignments will not be given on an individual basis to raise final course grades.  Like makeup exams, such projects raise serious questions of equity. If a project is made available, every member of the class would be given the opportunity to complete it.


5.       Handouts: Handouts are a privilege for those students who attend class on a regular basis. No student is entitled to supplemental materials simply because they are registered for the course.


6.       Classroom Etiquette: Students are to arrive at class on time. Two tardy arrivals are equivalent to one class absence.  Students are to remain for the entire session unless excused by the professor beforehand or confronted with a serious personal emergency. For instance, it is not acceptable for students to walk in and out of class to answer cell phones, take casual bathroom and smoking breaks, or attend to other personal matters. Cell phones, pagers, or any electronic devices that make noise must be placed on vibrate during class unless the instructor has been notified beforehand of a special circumstance (e.g., sick family member, pregnant wife, special childcare situation, etc.). It is not acceptable to use an iPod, read a newspaper, use a laptop for anything other than taking class notes, or engage in other behavior that distracts one from the class proceedings once the session has begun. No one should talk while someone else is talking; this includes comments meant for a classmate rather than the entire group. What may seem like a whisper or a harmless remark to one person can be a distraction to someone else. Overall, classroom dialogue and behavior should always be courteous, respectful of others, and consistent with the expectations set forth by the university.


7.       10-Minute Rule: Just as I expect you to arrive at class on time each day, you can expect that I will do the same.  However, if some extraordinary event occurs and I am not in class within 10 minutes of the start time, you can assume class is canceled and leave the classroom.


8.       Incomplete Requests: Such petitions will be granted only in extraordinary circumstances. The instructor reserves the right to ask for documentation to verify the problem preventing completion of the course by the normal deadlines. If the student does not present documentation from a university office or official, the matter will be left to the instructor’s discretion.


9.       Academic Dishonesty: Regarding plagiarism, the NIU Undergraduate Catalog states: “students are guilty of plagiarism, intentional or not, if they copy material from books, magazines, or other sources without identifying and acknowledging them. Students guilty of, or assisting others in, either cheating or plagiarism on an assignment, quiz, or examination may receive a grade of F for the course involved and may be suspended or dismissed from the university.” The above statement encompasses the purchase or use of papers that were written by others.  Please note that your assignments will be analyzed by the SafeAssign feature in Blackboard. In short, students are advised to do their own work and learn the rules for proper quoting, paraphrasing, and footnoting.  The department offers a site to help you prevent plagiarism when writing your papers: http://polisci.niu.edu/polisci/audience/plagiarism.shtml


10.   Class Participation: I recognize class discussion comes more easily for some people than for others. By temperament or habit, some individuals are “talkers” while others are “listeners.” Learning to be both is an important subsidiary goal of this course.  Comments that are not relevant to the ongoing discussion and off the point will not be rewarded. Remarks that are disruptive to the discussion, insensitive to others, or attempt to dominate the discussion will not be tolerated. I strongly prefer students to participate on a voluntary basis. If you are particularly uneasy about talking in class, or feel closed out of the discussion for another reason, please speak with me. Remember: communication skills and self-confidence are extremely important assets in the professional world. Thus it is better to develop these things in the collegial environment of this class rather than under more difficult circumstances later in life.


11.   Withdrawal Policy:  If you choose to stop attending class, you, the student, are responsible for withdrawing from the course.  The instructor will not do so for you.  If you stop attending and have not withdrawn, a failing grade will be entered at the end of the semester. 


12.   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 for which they may require accommodations should notify the University's Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR). CAAR will assist students in making appropriate accommodations with course instructors. It is important that CAAR and instructors be informed of any disability-related needs during the first two weeks of the semester.


13.   Department of Political Science Web Site: Undergraduates are strongly encouraged to consult the Department of Political Science web site on a regular basis. This up-to-date, central source of information will assist students in contacting faculty and staff, reviewing course requirements and syllabi, exploring graduate study, tracking department events, and accessing important details related to undergraduate programs and activities. To reach the site, go to: http://www.niu.edu/polisci/


14.   Undergraduate Writing Awards: The Department of Political Science will recognize, on an annual basis, outstanding undergraduate 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 and $50.00. Papers, which can be submitted by students or faculty, must be supplied in triplicate to a department secretary by February 28. 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.


15.   Amendments: This syllabus is subject to change with written notice.  However, I will not change the value of any graded components of the course.

· Reading assignments are to be completed before arriving at class on the assigned date.







àCourse Introduction

àLecture: Politics

àAssignment 1 posted


àRead Chapter 1

àLecture: American Citizens and Political Culture


Assignment 1 Due



àRead Chapter 2

àLecture: The Founding


àContinue lecture


Assignment 1 Revisions Due



àRead Chapter 3

àLecture: Federalism

àAssignment 2 posted


àContinue lecture


Assignment 2 Due



àRead Chapter 4

àLecture: Civil Liberties

àAssignment 3 posted


àRead Chapter 5

àLecture: Civil Rights


Assignment 3 Due, Assignment 2 Revisions Due



àRead Chapter 6

à Lecture: Congress

àAssignment 4 posted


àContinue lecture


Assignment 4 Due, Assignment 3 Revisions Due



àRead Chapter 7

à Lecture: The Presidency

àAssignment 5 posted


àContinue lecture



Assignment 5 Due



àRead Chapter 8

à Lecture: The Bureaucracy

àAssignment 6 posted


àContinue lecture


Assignment 6 Due



àMidterm Review

(Midterm will cover all material up to and including The Bureaucracy)


àMidterm Exam

(Grades will be posted by end of the day)


No Assignment Due



àRead Chapter 9

àLecture: The Legal System & Courts

àAssignment 7 posted


àContinue Lecture


Assignment 7 Due



àRead Chapter 10

àLecture: Public Opinion

àAssignment 8 posted


àRead Chapter 13

àLecture: The Media



Assignment 8 Due



àRead Chapter 11

àLecture: Parties and Interest Groups

àAssignment 9 posted


àContinue Lecture


Assignment 9 Due



àRead Chapter 12

àLecture: Voting, Campaigns, & Elections

àAssignment 10 posted


àContinue Lecture


Assignment 10 Due


17th àPresentations

19th àPresentations

22nd: None


24th àPresentations

26th  NO CLASS: Thanksgiving Break

29th: None


1st àPresentations


6th: STUDY!





FINAL EXAM, DU 459, 8-9:50 AM