Department of Political Science

POLS 100: American Government and Politics

Spring 2004

Instructor: Jennifer S. Guon


Section 8                                                                                               Office: DuSable 461

Course Meeting Time: TTh 3:30-4:45                                                      Office Hours: W 11-1 & by appt.

Course Meeting Place: DuSable 246                                                       Phone: 753-1818


Did you, too, O friend, suppose democracy was only for elections, for politics, and for a party name?  I say democracy is only of use there that it may pass on and come to its flower and fruit in manners, in the highest forms of interaction between [people], and their beliefs -- in religion, literature, colleges and schools -- democracy in all public and private life....

-Walt Whitman



As Whitman suggests above, the American political system cannot be thought of as an isolated entity from ones private life.  In a democracy, actions of society affect each individual in both public and private life.  The American political system demands that its citizens be informed and knowledgeable on issues concerning government, since the people are the government in the United States.  With this in mind, the main objectives of this course are to gain knowledge of: Constitutional fruition and principles, policy-making institutions, the political process, rights and liberties, and various national policies of the American government.  We will also have the opportunity this semester to become particularly involved in the political process, as this is a Presidential election year.  By the end of the semester, students should also have acquired critical thinking and analytical skills important to becoming part of the political process. 




All students are expected to have full access to a copy of the following text.  It is available in both bookstores on campus.

1.)    Bruce Miroff, Raymond Seidelman and Todd Swanstrom, The Democratic Debate: An Introduction to American Politics, 3rd Edition, Houghton Mifflin Co., 2002.

2.)    The New York Times, Washington Post, or Chicago Tribune are available for free online and are necessary for Thursday current events participation.

3.)    Occasional online readings and handouts given in class.  




Final grades will be based on a student’s performance in the following three areas:


1.)    Midterm Exam           25%


2.)    Final Exam                  25%

Specifics of the exam will be covered in class closer to the time of the exam.  Note that the exam will cover both the lecture and the textbook.  The final exam will not be cumulative. 


3.)    Essay Rough Draft      10%


4.)    Final Essay                  30%

Detailed requirements for the essay will be handed out the second week of class. 


5.)    Participation                10%

Participation will be determined by two key components: Regular participation throughout the lectures and presentation of a current events article at the beginning of class every Thursday.  For approximately 20 minutes every Thursday, students will have the opportunity to present and comment on an American political event of their choice.  Note that the article must be from New York Times, Washington Post, or Chicago Tribune to receive participation credit for that article. 


Grading Scale

100 – 90           A

89 – 80             B

79 – 70             C

69 - 60              D

59 and Below    F




March 4- Midterm exam

March 25- Draft of final paper due

April 15- Class cancelled

April 22-Final paper due

Week of May 2- Final exam specifics TBA




Week of 11 January: Introduction and Groundwork for the Democratic Debate

Readings: MSS, Chapter 1.                                                           

-The Constitution (MSS A-3) in preparation for next week. 


Week of 18 January: The Founding and the Constitution

Readings: MSS, Chapter 2.

-James Madison’s Federalist 51 (MSS, A-16 through A-18) and Federalist 10 (MSS, A-12 through A-16).


Week of 25 January: Public Opinion and Political Culture

Readings: MSS, Chapter 4.

In addition: Go to and run the IDEALOG test.  Come prepared to discuss the four different ideological categories.


Week of 1 February: Political Participation

Readings: MSS, Chapter 5.  

-Stephen E. Bennett, “Why Young Americans Hate Politics, and What We Should Do about It,” Political Science and Politics (1997).  This article can be found at  (If off-campus, you must sign into the NIU library to access JSTOR.)  


Week of 8 February: The Media and Democracy

Readings: MSS, Chapter 6.


Week of 15 February: Political Parties

Readings: MSS, Chapter 7.


Week of 22 February: Campaigns and Interest Groups

Readings: MSS, Chapters 8 and 9.


Week of 29 February: MIDTERM EXAM.

-Midterm review March 2.

-Midterm exam March 4.


Week of 7 March: SPRING BREAK.


Week of 14 March: Mass-Movement Politics

Readings: MSS, Chapter 10.


Week of 21 March: Congress


Readings: MSS, Chapter 11.

-Article I of the Constitution.


Week of 28 March: The Executive Branch

Readings: MSS, Chapter 12.

-Article II of the Constitution.  


Week of 4 April: The Judiciary

Readings: MSS, Chapter 14.

-Article III of the Constitution.


Week of 11 April: Federalism

Readings: MSS, Chapter 15.

Class cancelled April 15th


Week of 18 April: Civil Rights and Civil Liberties


Readings: MSS, Chapter 16.

-Additional readings regarding civil rights and liberties will be assigned in class. 


Week of 25 April: Discussion of Final Papers and Final Exam review. 

-Final paper discussion April 27

-Final exam review April 29


Week of 2 May: FINAL EXAM





1. Attendance: Attendance at each class meeting is both expected and required.  Attendance is defined as “being present when attendance is taken at the beginning of each class and remaining until class is dismissed.”  Please do not come late to class, as this is both discourteous and disruptive.  Students who come to class after attendance has been taken will be considered absent.  If there are special circumstances regarding this matter, please discuss them with the instructor as soon as possible.  Students with extended absences due to illness should notify the instructor as promptly as possible during the absence and produce appropriate documentation indicating the nature and duration of the illness.  This note should be provided to the instructor at the first class upon returning.  The student’s final grade will be reduced half a letter grade for each absence over 5.


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 and a course grade of "F" as opposed to an incomplete.

3. 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 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.

4. Late Assignments: An assignment submitted after the due date will be penalized by a deduction of ten points or one letter grade per day (including weekends.)  Since students will have had several weeks to complete their work, this standard will be waived only in extraordinary circumstances.

5. Submitting Written Work: Assignments should be handed-in to me personally or given to a department secretary to be time-stamped.  Assignments placed in my mailbox or sent with a friend tend to disappear at times.  If a student selects one of these modes of delivery, he or she does so at their own risk.

6. Extra Credit: Without exception, extra credit is not available in this course.  There are enough opportunities to do well without the need for extra work.

7. 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.

8. Classroom Etiquette: Students are to arrive at class on time (see attendance policy above.)  Cell phones, pagers, or any electronic devices that make noise must be turned off during class unless the instructor has been notified beforehand of a special circumstance (e.g., sick family member, pregnant wife, special childcare situation, etc.).  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, particularly in a small room.  Overall, classroom dialogue and behavior should always be courteous, respectful of others, and consistent with the expectations set forth by the university.

9. 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.

10. 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.  In short, students are advised to do their own work and learn the rules for proper quoting, paraphrasing, and footnoting.

11. 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 apprehensive about talking in class, or feel closed out of the discussion for another reason, please speak with me.  There are some things I can suggest that may be helpful.  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.

12. Unannounced Quizzes: The instructor reserves the right to conduct pop quizzes if it becomes grossly apparent through class discussions that students are not completing the assigned readings on a regular basis.  If such quizzes are administered, they will be averaged and used to raise or lower a student’s final course grade by a half a letter grade.  Whether a particular student’s grade is adjusted positively or negatively will be dependent on a class average.  It will not be done capriciously.




1. Your Agreement: This syllabus is to act as a contract that you implicitly consent to when enrolled in this class: it specifies what can be expected from the course, as well as the obligations of each student in preparing for and attending class.  Portions of the syllabus may change with prior warning from the instructor, and all changes will be announced in class.


2. 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.


3. 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


I want to express that I immensely enjoy teaching and discussing Political Science.  If you have questions that we did not answer in class, or if you want to explore an idea, I strongly encourage you to attend my office hours or make an appointment to see me.  I look forward to an exciting and interesting semester in this election year.