POLS 100: Introduction to American Government and Politics

Department of Political Science

Northern Illinois University


Instructor: Alisa Von Hagel, Office: DuSable 476, Email: avonhagel@niu.edu

Office Hours: Monday, Wednesday 1-2 PM; Thursday 2:30-3:30 PM, and by appointment

Class Location and Time: DuSable 459; Monday, Wednesday, Friday 12-12:50

Semester: Fall 2009, August 24 – December 12


Course Overview:  This course will explore the foundations of American government, its political institutions and the participants involved in the process.  The course will examine the basic principles of the U.S. Constitution, and the structure and functions of the federal government including Congress, the Presidency, the federal court systems and bureaucracy.  The roles of political parties, interest groups and public opinion in American are also examined.  At the close of the course, students will be expected to know our system of participatory democracy, and how the values of freedom, order and equality shape this system.  Also, students will be expected to understand the origins of American federalism, as well as the development and role of political parties.  Finally, students will be expected to be well versed in the three branches of government, in addition to the impact of public opinion and voting behavior on the activities of these three institutions. 

Course Objectives: 
The primary purpose of this course is to develop the students’ ability to think critically in the classroom and as active participants in the American democratic process.  Examination of the values and ideals which shape American government should provide students with the ability to better understand contemporary political events through study of the evolution of American political institutions.


Required Textbook:


Jillson, Calvin. 2009.  American Government: Political Change and Institutional Development. 5th       

                Edition.  New York: Routledge.


The textbook is available at the campus book store and is also available at various online sources.  Additional handouts and required readings listed below may be accessed via web addresses, or Blackboard.  It is your responsibility to read these articles before attending class.


Rules of the Game:

A. Turn off cell phones, Blackberries, and electronic devices of all kind before the start of class. If I see you text messaging during class, I will take points off your participation.

B. Disagreement is expected and encouraged, however consideration for your classmates and instructor is required.

C. 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 receive a zero for the paper.  Each student in responsible for adhering to the code of Student Conduct as stated in the NIU Undergraduate Student Catalogue. 


Grading Procedures:

A. There will be three exams, each worth 20% of your final grade, and together comprise 60% of your final grade.  The tests will be based on the readings from the textbooks, readings posted on Blackboard and the material from class lectures. NO MAKE-UP EXAMS WILL BE GIVEN, except in case of emergency and then only at the discretion of the instructor (contact the instructor before the exam!).  If there are problems or conflicts, contact the instructor well in advance of the exam.  The final exam will not be cumulative however students may be required to draw on material from the first half of the course in a general way.


B.  Additionally, there will be three short papers (2-3 pages in length, double-spaced), each worth 10% of your final grade.  Your grade will be determined by your ability to compose a well-written, legible, grammatically correct research paper.  The paper will be evaluated according to the quality (support for the thesis, spelling, grammar, sentence structure, organization) of the information presented.  Further instructions for each paper will be discussed in class, thus it remains imperative to attend class in order to obtain the parameters for each assignment.  Late assignments will be docked one letter grade for every day late. Failure to complete any of the assignments outlined above will result in an automatic failure of the course.

                i) Writing Assignment #1: Due IN CLASS, Wednesday, September 9

                    First, read Pro and Con: Do We Need a Bill of Rights? The Federalists’ Dilemma located on

                    page 41 in the Jillson textbook.  In a 2-3 page, typed, double-spaced paper address the

                      following questions:

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

                     2. Briefly describe why the Federalists opposed this amendment and anti-Federalists

                         supported the amendment.  What are their respective positions?

                     3. 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.


                ii) Writing Assignment #2: Due IN CLASS, Monday, October 19

                     First, access the website <www.uspolitics.org> and click on ‘IDEALOG.’  Read the 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, type a 2-3 page paper

                     explaining the ideological category to which you belong, based on your answers.  Does this

                     surprise you?  Why or why not?


                iii) Writing Assignment #3: Due IN CLASS, Monday, November 16

                     Go to the website <www.gpoaccess.gov/wcomp/index.html> and access The Weekly

                     Compilation of Presidential Documents.  The website it 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.  Once at the website, click ‘browse’ to access the

                     years and choose one year.  Choose one month of the year and look at the Table of Contents

                     for each week.  Finally, 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?


C. The remaining 10% of your final grade will consist of attendance and class participation.  Participation requires more than attendance, it requires active engagement in the class discussion.  Students are to do the assigned readings before the relevant class period and to come to class prepared to discuss them.  Class will be conducted with the assumption that students have done the reading and been to previous sessions.  The class format will consist of lectures and discussions.  Students will have ample opportunity to participate in making the course interesting and relevant, and comments and questions on readings, lectures, and current events are welcome and encouraged.  For this format to work students need to come to class and come to class prepared.  This portion of your grade is designed to reward students who do that.


Grading Scale:

                A = 90%-100%                    D = 60%-69%

                B = 80%-89%                      F = 59% or below

                C = 70%-79%


Proposed Class Schedule:

(*Assigned Readings and Exams may change at the discretion of the Instructor*)


Week 1                                 Course Introduction and Foundations


Monday, 08/24                                 Introduction, Distribute Syllabi

Wednesday, 08/26                          Chapter 1: The Origins of American Political Principles

Friday, 08/28                                      Chapter 1, cont.


Week 2

Monday, 08/31                                 Chapter 2: The Revolution and the Constitution

Wednesday, 09/02                          Chapter 2, cont.

Friday, 09/04                                      Declaration of Independence, Appendix A (p. 463-5);

                                                                John Roche, The Founding Fathers: A Reform Caucus in Action, Intro

                                                                and Parts 2-4, p. 799-800, 803-811

                                                                (Posted on Blackboard under Course Documents)


Week 3

Monday, 09/07                                 NO CLASSES!

Wednesday, 09/09                          Chapter 3: Federalism and American Political Development

                                                                PAPER #1 DUE at the beginning of class

Friday, 09/11                                      Chapter 3, cont.


Week 4

Monday, 09/14                                 Supreme Court Case: Gonzales v. Raich (2005)

                                                                (Posted on Blackboard under Course Documents)

Wednesday, 09/16                          Chapter 4: Political Socialization and Public Opinion

Friday, 09/18                                      Chapter 4, cont.


Week 5

Monday, 09/21                                 Review for Exam, Catch up day

Wednesday, 09/23                          EXAM I


                                                American Political Culture


Friday, 09/25                                      Chapter 5: Mass Media and the Political Agenda


Week 6

Monday, 09/28                                 Chapter 5, cont.

Wednesday, 09/30                          Madison, Federalist #10, Appendix D, p. 484-487

Friday, 10/02                                      Chapter 6: Interest Group and Social Movements


Week 7

Monday, 10/05                                 Chapter 6, cont.

Wednesday, 10/07                          Catch-up day

Friday, 10/09                                      Chapter 7: Political Parties


Week 8

Monday, 10/12                                 Chapter 7, cont.

Wednesday, 10/14                          Chapter 7, cont.

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


Week 9                                 Institutions


Monday, 10/19                                 Chapter 8, cont.

                                                                PAPER #2 DUE at beginning of class

Wednesday, 10/21                          Chapter 8, cont.; Supreme Court Case: Buckley v. Valeo (1976) and

                                                                McConnell v. FEC (2003) (Posted under Course Documents)


Friday, 10/23                                      EXAM II


Week 10

Monday, 10/26                                 Chapter 9: Congress, Lawmaking and Domestic Representation

Wednesday, 10/28                          Chapter 9, cont.

Friday, 10/30                                      John Hibbing, How to Make Congress More Popular, p. 219-23, 239-41

                                                                (Posted on Blackboard under Course Documents)


Week 11

Monday, 11/02                                 Chapter 10: The President: Governing in Uncertain Times

Wednesday, 11/04                          Chapter 10, cont.

Friday, 11/06                                      Chapter 10, cont.


Week 12

Monday, 11/09                                 Wolfensberger, The Return of the Imperial Presidency?

                                                                (Posted on Blackboard under Course Documents)

Wednesday, 11/11                          Chapter 11: Bureaucracy: Redesigning Government

Friday, 11/13                                      NO CLASS: Instructor at Professional Conference


Week 13

Monday, 11/16                                 Chapter 12: The Federal Courts

                                                                PAPER #3 DUE at the beginning of class

Wednesday, 11/18                          Chapter 12, cont.

Friday, 11/20                                      Chapter 13: Civil Liberties and Civil Rights


Week 14

Monday, 11/23                                 Chapter 13, cont.

Wednesday, 11/25                          THANKSGIVING BREAK!

Friday, 11/27                                      THANKSGIVING BREAK!


Week 15

Monday, 11/30                                 Chapter 13, cont.

Wednesday, 12/02                          Supreme Court Case: Engel v. Vitale, Opinions of Justice Black and                                                                          Stewart  (Posted under Course Documents)

Friday, 12/04                                      Review for Final, Catch-up day!


MONDAY, 12/07: FINAL EXAM, 12-1:50, Dusable 459

Students with Disabilities: NIU abides by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 regarding provision of reasonable accommodations for students with documented disabilities. Moreover, your academic success is of importance to me. If you have a disability that may have a negative impact on your performance in this course and you 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. CAAR is located on the 4th floor of the University Health Services building (753-1303). I look forward to talking with you to learn how I may be helpful in enhancing your academic success in this course.

Academic Dishonesty and Plagiarism: No paper (or other written assignment or exam) submitted for another course or written by another person will be accepted.  Plagiarism - presenting the thoughts or words of others as if they were your own - will not be tolerated.  You must credit all of the sources from which you obtain data, information, ideas, or language with a full and accurate citation (and quotation marks, when appropriate).  Plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty can result in an automatic "F" for the course and even expulsion from the University (see the Student Judicial Code). Criteria for these offenses are described in the Student Judicial Code and the Undergraduate Catalog. 

Claiming ignorance of how to cite properly is NOT an excuse: if you do not know proper citation, check with the instructor prior to handing in the first assignment, or access this link on the Political Science webpage: <http://polisci.niu.edu/polisci/audience/plagiarism.shtml>

Website: Undergraduates are strongly encouraged to consult the Department of Political Science website 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, researching career options, tracking department events, and accessing important details related to undergraduate programs and activities. To reach the site, go to http://www.polisci.niu.edu/index.html