POLS 331: Public Administration

Fall 2009

DU 461

Tuesday/Thursday 9:30-10:45 a.m.


Professor:  Kimberly Nelson, Ph.D.

Office:  211 IASBO Building                                                   Phone: 815-753-6146

Email:  klnelson@niu.edu                                                     Office hours: Tuesday 2:00-3:00

                                                                                                            and by appointment


Goals and objectives of the course:

This course is designed as a broad introduction to public administration.  Public administration differs from many other areas in academia in that it has a strong practical component.  POLS 331 will introduce students to both the theoretical and practical sides of public administration.  Among the topics we will cover this semester are major theories of management, the policy process, and the relationship between politics and administration.

Upon completion of the course, students will have a general understanding of the history and practice of public administration.  Students will also learn basic concepts from the fields of public budgeting, human resources, and strategic management.


Required Texts:

Garvey, Gerald, 1997.  Public Administration: The Profession and Practice (A Case Study Approach). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Balanoff, Howard (ed.), 2007.  Annual Editions: Public Policy and Administration.   Dubuque, IA: McGraw Hill Contemporary Learning Series.


Other readings are available via Blackboard.


Course Requirements:

Attendance and Participation (5% each)                                                                        10%

Midterm examination                                                                                                           20%

Final examination                                                                                                                    20%

Research project                                                                                                                     20%

Case study submissions (3 @ 10% each)                                                                        30%



Format:  All assignments should be typed in 12-point Times New Roman font.  They should be double-spaced with 1-inch margins.  Assignments are due on the date listed on the syllabus, in hard copy format, at the beginning of the class meeting.  In addition, all assignments (except for exam corrections) must be uploaded to SafeAssign via Blackboard (you have until the next class meeting to upload the assignment without penalty).  Assignments not submitted on time in hard copy format and uploaded to Blackboard will not be credited toward your grade.  All late assignments will receive a 1-letter grade deduction per day late.  Please see me as soon as possible if you have questions or concerns about an assignment.




The examinations will be in-class (dates are listed on the schedule).  The exams are not comprehensive.  Exams will have a mixed format which may include, but not be limited to, multiple choice, definitions, short answer, and true/false questions.  Make-up exams will only be given in extreme emergencies and only with prior notice to Professor Nelson.  An unexcused absence on the date of an exam will result in a score of zero for that exam.

Exam grades for the first exam will not be curved.  In lieu of a curve, students will have the opportunity to correct their exam and return the original exam and corrections at the next class meeting.  Corrections should be typed on a separate piece of paper.  For the multiple-choice questions, an explanation as to why the answer is correct is needed.  Students submitting corrected exams will receive up to ½ of the points missed added to the exam grade. No late resubmissions will be accepted.  If you do not attend class the day the exams are handed out (and you do not have an excused absence) you will not have the opportunity to make the corrections.


Research Project

Each student must complete a research project that is due at the end of the semester.  The project consists of both a written and oral component.  A grading rubric is available on Blackboard that explains how the assignment will be evaluated. 


Written portion (8-10 pages):

Using the newspaper, online legitimate news sources, or news magazines (Time, Newsweek, etc.), select a current event related to public administration.  Avoid issues that are solely political or that are primarily the concern of the private sector. 


Determine which unit we are covering this semester most closely fits the issue you have selected   (fitting your issue into a broader topic will help you identify the necessary journal sources).  Find 3-5 academic sources related to this topic (academic sources are peer-reviewed journal articles that we discussed at the beginning of the semester). 


Using the articles and your knowledge of the current event from news accounts, write up a written report with the following sections:

1)      Introduction

a.       Brief description of the event/issue

b.      Why is it important?

c.       Thesis statement

2)      Governments involved—identify which branches of government are or should be concerned with this issue; additionally, describe which levels or government are or should be concerned.  Why?  What departments within those governments should be working on this issue?  Why?

3)      Describe the findings from the academic literature and relate those findings back to the current event.

4)      Conclusion

a.       Sum up your main points


Example:  If you selected the topic of the debate about healthcare reform, you might choose to look at it from the perspective of ethics (one of the units from the class). Ideally, you would try to find academic sources that address ethical issues in healthcare reform, or something close to that.  For example, there are many sources that address accountability issues with privatizing Medicaid and Medicare.

Oral portion of the research project:

The final two class meetings will be dedicated to discussion of the projects.  Each student will describe his or her topic and the perspective chosen to examine it.  You can do this from your seat.  It is less a formal presentation than an informal discussion of the issues raised in the papers.  If multiple students have similar topics, we will try to discuss them all at the same time.


Case Study Analyses

Each student is required to complete three (3) case study analysis projects and submit them for a grade.  Case studies are listed on the syllabus.  The questions at the end of each case are often helpful to complete the assignment.  In paragraph form (3-5 pages), the case analysis should include the following sections:

1)      Clearly and succinctly, describe the problem or issue that is the subject of the case.  Use names to identify key actors in the case.

2)      Identify those problems or issues that should be the priority for resolution.   Do not list all of the issues, only select those that you believe are most significant.

3)      Identify and evaluate 2-3 relevant potential courses of action.  Describe each and state their strengths and weaknesses.

4)      Choose the alternative that you believe is most appropriate and justify your choice.


A case analysis is not a description of the case.  It is a critical analysis of the major issues of concern in the case.  A summary of the case is not sufficient for this assignment.  A grading rubric is available on Blackboard.


If you choose not to turn in a written case analysis in a given week, you must still read the case and be prepared to discuss the questions at the end of the case.


Attendance and Participation:  I will take attendance for every class period.  It is important that you attend class as much as possible.  The case study method depends on adequate student participation and attendance in order to learn the material presented.  Your attendance grade is a percentage of classes attended.  Your participation grade has a baseline equivalent to the percentage of classes you attend.  Students who participate regularly will see an increase in that percentage, students who do not participate regularly will see a decrease.  The maximum score for participation is 100% (5 points of the total class grade).



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


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 primarily 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.


Students with Disabilities: If you are a student with a disability, please meet with me so that I can arrange accommodations.
Class Schedule:

This schedule is subject to change.  Some links may have changed since preparation of this syllabus.




Aug. 25


Understanding case studies

Chapter 1, Garvey

Aug. 27

Writing and researching in public administration

Chapter 1, Writing for the Government (on Blackboard)

Curriculum and Case Notes, Boehrer (on Blackboard)

Hurricane Katrina Case (on Blackboard)

Handout on Blackboard—Researching Academic Sources

Sept. 1

Context of public administration—historical development & basic concepts; public vs. private

Stillman, Chapter 1, The Search for the Scope and Purpose of Public Administration (on Blackboard)

Sept. 3

Chapter 6, Garvey: What’s Public? What’s Private?

Case 5

Sept. 8

Public Institutions and the politics-administration dichotomy

Stillman, Chapter 14 Reading and Case Study (on Blackboard)

Sept. 10

Federalism and intergovernmental relations

Chapter 7, Garvey, Federalism and Intergovernmental Relations

Case 6

Sept. 15

Public Policymaking & Power

Stillman, Chapter 4, The Political Environment, The Case of Administrative Power, Reading and Case Study  (on Blackboard)

Sept. 17

Sept. 22

Organization Theory

Chapter 3, Garvey, Introduction to Organizational Theory

Case 2

Sept. 24

Sept. 29

Organization Behavior--Motivation

Chapter 10, Garvey, Making the Human Connection

Case 9

Review for Midterm

Oct. 1

Oct. 6

Midterm Exam


Oct. 8


Chapter 8, Garvey, Introduction to Ethics

Case 7

ICMA Code of Ethics: http://www.njmma.org/ethics.pdf

Annual Editions, Reading #10 Twelve Obstacles to Ethical Decision Making

Oct. 13

Accountability vs. Discretion

Chapter 4, Garvey, Democratic Accountability vs. Administrative Discretion

Case 3

Return midterm exams on October 13

Dubnick—Accountability & Ethics—on Blackboard

Oct. 15

Oct. 20

Efficiency, compensation, and bargaining

Chapter 5, Garvey,  The Politics of Administrative Choice

Case 4

Oct. 22

Oct. 27

Decision Theory

Chapter 11, Garvey, Modern Decision Theory

Case 10

Oct. 29

Nov. 3


Stillman, Chapter 10, reading and case study (on Blackboard)

Nov. 5

Nov. 10

Personnel/Human Resources Management

Chapter 2, Garvey, Public Personnel Administration

Case 1

Annual Editions, Reading #13 Organizational Culture

Nov. 12





Nov. 17

Social Equity & Current Policy Issues

Garvey, pp. 227-228

Annual Editions, Reading #2 The State of Social Equity in American Public Administration

Annual Editions, Reading #20: Privacy Concerns

Annual Editions, Reading #33: Getting to Yes

Nov. 19

Program Evaluation—Policy Analysis

Chapter 9, Garvey, Formal Policy Analysis

Case 8

Annual Editions, Reading #6 Evidence-Based Management

Nov. 24

Nov. 26

Thanksgiving Break

Dec. 1

Presentation of project findings—research projects due

Dec. 3

Last Class—Review for final exam, finish presentations of projects

Dec. 10

Final Exam  10:00-11:50