POLS 100-6


Introduction to American Government and Politics


spring, 2004


Dr. Barbara Burrell


Meeting time and place:            Tues/Thurs  9:30-10:45   316 Wirtz     


Office address/phone:               416 Zulauf,  753-7050

Main office: 164 SSRI, 148 No. 3rd Street, 753-9657


Office Hours:      Tues. 11:00-12 Noon in 416 Zulauf

                          Weds. 1:00 PM-3:00 PM in 416 Zulauf

                          any other time, call me at my SSRI  office or stop by.


E-mail:              bburrell@niu.edu


Course Objectives:


The title of your main textbook is We the People. The involvement of the people in the political and governmental process of the United States forms the center of this course.  The major questions that we will explore include:


·          What are the variety of ways in which the people can make their will known to public officials?

·          How are the institutions of government structured to facilitate or hinder public opinion being translated into policy?

·          How do governmental officials communicate with the public? Do they lead? Do they follow? Do they manipulate the public?  How responsive are they to the citizens?

·          What are the basic ideas that drive our governing process?


Required Text:


We the People, 4th edition, short edition, Theordore Lowi, Benjamin Ginsburg,  Margaret Weir


In addition, students are required to read the Chicago Tribune on a daily basis. You can read it on-line (Chicagotribune.com), buy it at the Holmes Student Center or at vending machines or read it in the Founders Library or get it is free in some dorms. It will be used in class lectures and in exams.


Enrollment on Blackboard


Students must activate their accounts on the Blackboard system (http://webcourses.niu.edu) at the beginning of the semester. I will be using this site to post Powerpoint presentations, notes, outlines, articles, and grades for the class. You will need your Z-ID and password to log in.  Go to http://www.helpdesk.niu.edu/its/helpdesk/blackboard_support.shtml for Blackboard 6 for Students to answer questions about Z-IDs and passwords. 


Course Schedule


January 13th    Course Introduction


January 15th   The Government and You

Assignment: Bring to class a one page summary of ways in which you interact with the government on a regular basis. (See We the People, chapter 1.)  These interactions can be with the local, state, and national government.  Cite the levels of government and agency/units that conduct these activities and what the interaction is.  Your summary must be typed.

Bring one example from the Chicago Tribune of a report of some governmental activity.

Grade: Up to five extra points


Reading Assignments:

We the People, Chapter 1 American Political Culture


January 19thIowa Caucuses


January 20th, Elections and Voting

We the People, Chapter 10

Assignment:  Examine the U.S. Constitution, what does it say about elections and voting? Bring to class a listing of what it says.

Grade: Up to five extra points


President Bush’s State of the Union address

Reading: “The Making of the Speech,” D.T. Max, New York Times Magazine, October 7, 2001, p32+.  Available on Blackboard, or through Lexis-Nexis, Academic Universe, New York Times


January 27th, Guest Speaker, John Peters, President of Northern Illinois University


January 29 - Public Opinion

We the People, Chapter 6


February 3

1. Bring to class a public opinion poll in which you have determined what the questions were that were asked, whom they were asked of, and what the reported results of the poll were. You can find current polls in many places, such as www.gallup.com, www.pollingreport.com, www.cbsnews.com, www.people-press.org.  Write a summary of the poll to be turned in in class.

Grade: Up to five extra points.


February 10,   Political Participation

We the People, Chapter 8

Report on some political activity in which you have found the American citizens engaged. Use the news media to find a reference to this activity. Whose is involved? What type of activity are they engaged in, and what is the issue that they are concerned about. Turn in a one page summary of the activity in class.

Grade: Up to five extra points. 


February 12 First examination


February  17  The Constitution

We the People, Chapters  2, 4, 5


February 19 – DVD, “4 Little Girls” – The Civil Rights Movement


February  26  Political Parties

We the People, Chapter 9

Find the Democratic or Republican Party on the web (either local, state and national). What is the party about? What do you learn about the party? Write a one page summary and include the home page of the party.

Grade: Up to five extra points


Term Paper Checkpoint – Turn in an outline of your paper with a list of materials you have collected to date.


March 7-13 Spring Break


March 16 – Illinois Primary


March 16,  Interest Groups

We the People, Chapter 11, Federalist Papers 10, 51 (pages A21-25 in We the People)


Find an interest group on the web. What is the interest group, what activities are they involved in and what are their concerns? How can one get involved in this interest group?  Write a one page summary on what you have learned about this groups and include a copy of the home page of the interest group.

Grade: Up to five extra points

March 23 - Second examination          


March  25   Women’s History Month lecture


March 30 Congress

We the People, Chapter 12

Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy, Senator Edmund Ross chapter, on electronic reserve.

You have three representatives in the U.S. Congress. Who are they? Describe their backgrounds. Describe their districts. What committees do they serve on in Congress? Do any of them serve in leadership positions? Are any of them involved in special issues?  Write a one-two page summary answering these questions to be turned in in class.


Term Paper Checkpoint – Turn in a list of materials you have gathered to date and a rough draft of your paper.


April 8  The Presidency and the Executive Branch

We the People, Chapter 13, 14


April 20 The Judiciary

We the People, Chapter 15

Alex Kotlowitz, “In the Face of Death,” New York Times Magazine, July 6, 2003, 32+  


Final Examination

Thursday, May 6, 10-11:50 AM, 316 Wirtz


I reserve the right to give you additional readings. They would only be short pieces such as an editorial from a newspaper or other short news article.




Students are expected to be engaged in this class. By engagement, I mean that students will attend class on a regular basis (see below), be prepared to participate in class discussions and respond to my questions. Participation means that students demonstrate that they are trying to understand the arguments being made both in the readings and in discussions, by asking questions or making comments which show problems with the arguments. Merely talking does not fulfill the expectation set for meaningful participation. The kind of participation expected is one which shows that you are trying to understand what the whole picture looks like, what each part looks like and how the parts fit into that whole and that you have done class readings.


 I will randomly call on students to respond to my questions and to engage in discussion in addition to using volunteers.  Being prepared means having done the class readings, reading the Chicago Tribune on a daily basis (and other media that you choose) and to have thought about the topic under discussion.  Occasionally I will have you get into small groups to exchange ideas on a topic for part of a class session.


In our class discussions, we will respect each others’ ideas. You should feel free to challenge each other and me.  We will not be spending our time discussing our own opinions on issues or public figures but rather debate and discuss principles and structures about how a democratic system can and should work. For example, we will discuss whether the Electoral College system should be maintained or abolished, or consider the strengths and weaknesses of a two-party system. We will not debate the merits of such issues as the death penalty, gun control, or abortion.


See Blackboard, Course Information for a list of Do's and Don'ts for the Class. You are responsible for reading this list.   




Attendance in class is mandatory. I will take attendance each class. 


If you miss more than one-half of the classes you will not get an A in the course no matter how well you do in your exams and papers.


1. Class attendance:            30 points (one point for each day)

            2. Exam 1 – February 12     40 points

            3. Exam 2 – March 23        40 points

            4. Paper –   April 22           40 points

5. Final Examination          50 points  Thursday, May 6,  10-11:50 AM,  316 Wirtz

    Total points                     200          


6. Extra credits                   35 points (maximum).


            A = 180-200 points

            B = 160-179 points

            C = 140-159 points

            D = 120-139 points


Make-up exams. Make-up exams will be given only for reasons of significant illness, personal tragedy or other similarly extraordinary circumstances. There are no exceptions. Students must document evidence of the extraordinary circumstance. The format of the make-up exam may differ from that of the regular class exam.  


Term Paper

Keep a journal on the presidential and U.S. Illinois senate races during this term. Who are the candidates? What are the issues of the campaigns?   The journal should include daily happenings as the primary elections proceed. Your paper should include material on campaign events, primary results, issues of the campaigns, party activities, public opinion polls, money raised, and news analyses.

The paper should conclude with your own reflections on the electoral process. You might consider, for example, the extent to which the campaigns engage the public and how informed the people can become if they follow the campaigns. How do our elections seem to promote or detract from the development of democratic citizens?

There will be two checkpoints or milestones as listed in the course outline at which point you will be require to submit your journals to that point for my review.  These checkpoints will encourage to work on your project throughout the term, receive feedback and lessen any ambiguities you might have about the project. The term paper must be at least 10 pages in length, doubled spaced with a font no greater than 12 point and margins no more than one inch.. All materials used in the paper must be properly documented. Correct grammar and sentence structure will be weighed in grading. No matter how profound and extensive your presentation is, if you have not used good grammar and sentence structure, you will not get an A.


Because I believe good grammar and sentence structure are extremely important, I urge each of you to visit the Writing Center, Stevens Hall, South Tower B, lower level with a draft of your paper. If you bring documentation that you have worked with the Writing Center I will give you extra points on your paper.


Plagiarism Statement: "The attempt of any student to present as his or her own work that which he or she has not produced is regarded by the faculty and administration as a serious offense. Students are considered to have cheated if they copy the work of another during an examination or turn in a paper or an assignment written, in whole or in part, by someone else. Students are guilty of plagiarism, intentional or not, if they copy material from books, magazines, or other sources or if they paraphrase ideas from such sources without 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." Northern Illinois University Undergraduate Catalog.

Statement Concerning 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 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, researching 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.