POLS 220: Introduction Public Policy

Fall 2009

DuSable Hall 246 

Professor:                   Fred Mayhew

Class Times:               Tuesday & Thursday, 11:00 AM – 12:15 PM

Office Hours:             Tuesday 1:00-2:00, Wednesday 10:00-11:00, and by appointment

Office:                                    203 IASBO Building

Email:                         fmayhew@niu.edu

Office Phone:             (815) 753-6147 



Course Description

The first section of this course introduces students to the policy process in the United States.  Major actors and institutions within the policy process will be identified and examined.  Students will gain an understanding of how and why certain issues or problems reach the public agenda while others do not.  Students will also be introduced to various models of the policy process that seek to explain or predict the ways in which policy decisions are made.  The second section of the course will focus on major policy issues such as healthcare, education, and the environment.  By examining these issues in depth, and armed with the knowledge obtained in the first section of the course, students will see firsthand the complexity of creating public policy.       


Course Objectives

By the end of the semester,

 Students should have a basic understanding of:

Students should be able to:


Course Texts


Birkland, Thomas. 2005.  An Introduction to the Policy Process: Theories, Concepts, and Models of Public Policy Making.  2nd edition.  New York: M.E. Sharpe


Congressional Quarterly Researcher (2009). Issues For Debate In American Public Policy. 9th edition, Washington, D.C.






Letter grades will be based on a 100 percent scale


A = 90-100; B = 80-89; C = 70-79; D = 60 – 69; below 60 = F


Course Requirements

Midterm                                  20%

Final                                        30%

Policy Paper                            20%

Presentation                            10%

Reading “notes”                      10%

Participation                            10% 



Exams will include multiple choice and short answer questions.  The final exam will be cumulative.      


Policy Paper:

The paper will examine a policy issue that is covered in class.  The student will analyze a policy proposal, appraise the proposal and give their opinions on the issue.  Paper will be between 5-7 pages in length. 



Students will be assigned to groups in the first month of the class.  Each group will be given a policy issue (covered in second section of course) and prepare a presentation either supporting or opposing a specific policy proposal.  More information on the paper and presentation will be available on Blackboard.              


Reading Notes:

For every class that has a reading assignment students are required to complete a short writing assignment.  Students will identify three things from the reading that they either found interesting or did not understand.  They will then summarize these items in 2-5 sentences.  Reading notes can be hand-written or typed (your preference) and will be randomly collected 5 times throughout the semester.  Each assignment will be graded pass/fail and will account for 2% of your overall grade, for a total of 10%.    


Attendance and Participation:

It is expected that students will attend all class sessions.  However, it is understood that life sometimes intervenes, in which case I request that you notify me of the reason for your absence (beforehand if possible).  Participation accounts for 10% of your final grade – participation is not attained through your mere presence.     


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 a paper written in whole or in part by another; a paper copied word-for-word or with only minor changes from another source; a paper copied in part from one or more sources without proper identification and acknowledgment of the sources; a paper that is merely a paraphrase of one or more sources, using ideas and/or logic without credit even though the actual words may be changed; and a paper that quotes, summarizes or paraphrases, or cuts and pastes words, phrases, or images from an Internet source without identification and the address of the web site.  For more information on plagiarism visit: http://polisci.niu.edu/polisci/audience/plagiarism.shtml


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 an impact on their course work must register with the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR) on the fourth floor of the Health Services Building (753-1303). CAAR will assist students in making appropriate instructional and/or examination 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.


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, research career options, tracking department events, and accessing important details related to undergraduate programs and activities.  To reach the site, go to http://polisci.niu.edu


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 the end of March.  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.






Class Schedule  

(Class schedule is subject to change)

*All readings that are not from one of our two texts will be available on Blackboard


Section I: Understanding Public Policy and the Policy Process


August 25: Introduction

Review syllabus, course objectives and expectations


August 27: Public Policy in the Context of Lasting Political Questions

What is the role of political culture on public policy? How has American ideology affected the evolution and role of government in society?


Gosling, “Eduring Political Questions and Public Policy” p.1-20 in Understanding, Informing, and Appraising Public Policy


September 1: Studying Public Policy

What is public policy? How do we study policy?     


Birkland, Chapter 1


September 3: Policy Types

How do we define “policy”?  What are the different types of policy?


Birkland, Chapter 6


September 8: Historical Context of the American Policy Environment

How do structural elements of American government influence the policy process?  How do changes in politics influence public policy?         


            Birkland, Chapter 2


September 10: States and Policy Making

How does the policy process differ at the state level? How does state policy making impact the federal policy process?          


Gosling, “Comparing Federal and State Policy Making” p.52-71 in Understanding, Informing, and Appraising Public Policy


September 15: Official Actors in the Policy Process

What are “institutions” and what role do they play in the policy process?   


            Birkland, Chapter 3   


September 17: Unofficial Actors in the Policy Process

Who are the players in the policy process who exist outside of Constitution and the law?  What role do these “unofficial” actors play in the creation of public policy?


            Birkland, Chapter 4


September 22: Agenda Setting

How do certain issues come to the attention of governmental decision makers?  Why are some issues addressed by government and others fade into the background?   


            Birkland, Chapter 5


September 24: Policy Design

How does an issue move from an idea (on the agenda) to a policy that can be acted on?


            Birkland, Chapter 7


September 29: Policy Implementation

What happens to after a policy is enacted?  What do we know about implementing programs and policies that will increase the likelihood of success?


            Birkland, chapter 8


October 1: Models of the Policy Process

What models exist that can help explain how the policy process works?  What are the strengths and weaknesses of these models?


Birkland, Chapter 9


October 6: Review & Catch Up


October 8: EXAM I



Section II: Surveying Major Policy Debates

Each week we will examine a relevant policy issue.  On the second day of the week two groups will present opposing views on the issue.         



October 13 & 15: Health Care


CQ, Universal Coverage p.49-70


October 20 & 22: Business and the economy


CQ, Mortgage Crisis p.271-290


October 27 & 29: Social Policy


            CQ, Domestic Poverty p.99-118



November 3 & 5: Education


            CQ, Student Aid p.25-44


November 10 & 12: Energy and the Environment


            CQ, Buying Green p.171-190


November 17 & 19: Security and Foreign Policy


            CQ, Immigration Debate p.319-339  


November 24: Review & Catch Up


November 26: NO CLASS – Thanksgiving Break


December 1 & 3: Civil Rights and Justice


            CQ, Hate Speech p.247-267  






Tuesday December 8: 10-11:50 AM