Northern Illinois University

Department of Political Science

Spring 2005


POLS 100: American Politics & Government                                Instructor: Halima Kaiser-Khan    

Section 10: MWF 12:00 – 12:50 pm, DU 212                                         E-mail:

Office Hours: M, W 1:00- 2:00 pm                                                        Office: DU 476 

                                                                                                           Phone: (815) 753-1818


Course Objectives:

Most students have some idea of what a democracy means and the institutions that are necessary for the successful establishment of such a system.  However, very few are able to understand and articulate why these institutions were established, the practical considerations surrounding the decisions of the framers, what it takes to sustain a democracy both on the part of the individual citizen and government at large, and what it is that makes the American system unique in a comparative perspective.  For instance, we will ask: Why a system of federalism?  Why separation of powers?  Why checks and balances? With these and other questions informing our discussion, this course will help students apply critical thinking skills to go beyond the “what is” and ask the more important “why?”  Lastly, we will discuss current events and integrate them into the topics covered to gain a better grasp of American institutions and practices.


Required Text and Readings:

Burns, Peltason, et al. Government by the People, Brief Fifth Edition. (Upper Saddle River, N.J:

        Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2004).


The Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, New York Times, and Washington Post are available free online and students will be required to read at least one newspaper for current events discussion.


Additional readings may be assigned either on the web and/or hard copies will be made available at the reserve desk in the library. The instructor will give further information regarding these during the course of the semester.



Scoring Weights:                                                                                      Grading Scale:

Exams 1 and 2: 15% each                                                                         A = 90% and above

Final Exam: 20%                                                                                      B = 80-89%

Journal: 20%                                                                                            C = 70-79%

Attendance and Class participation: 10%                                                    D = 60-69%

In-class presentation: 10%                                                                         F = 59% and below

PoliSim exercises: 10%                                                                              No incompletes allowed


Course Requirements


Exams (300 points total): There will be three examinations over the course of the semester and will be a combination of (very few) multiple choice, short answers, and one or two essays, depending on the material covered, and may include geographic identification.  The final exam will be weighted more because it will be longer, cover more chapters, and may be comprehensive, depending on the performance of the class during the course of the semester.  In order to avoid a cumulative final exam, make sure that you perform well on Exams I and II and actively participate in class discussions.  It is understood that there will be no make-up exams and will only be given if extraordinary circumstances arise.  In such instances, documentation will be required and I reserve the right to change the format of the exam. 


In-class presentation: Certain topics will need a more in-depth understanding.  Students will be required to present a comprehensive overview of the assigned topic for the class and present the material in such a manner as others may take notes.  These topics will be considered to be part of the course and will be included in the exams.  If a student has a particular topic he or she would like to examine and is relevant to the discussion, I will be more than happy to honor the request.


Journal:  “Government and the Media” This journal exercise is designed to help students follow media coverage of the four branches of government: Legislative, Executive, Judicial, and the Bureaucracy.  Requirements for this assignment are as follows: For a minimum grade of “C” each branch should have at least 4 entries no longer than 4-5 sentences covering different channels of media—print , two to three opinion pieces, TV news (including shows like the “Daily Show with Jon Stewart”), one long broadcast piece like “60 Minutes” etc., Internet (only credible ones like Yahoo!, major newspaper websites, “Slate” and the “Onion” are permitted), news magazines (Time, Newsweek etc), Radio (NPR).  For a grade of “B”, each branch should have at least 6 and for a grade of “A” the entries for each branch should be no more than 10.  Each entry should have the following information: place where the news item was found, date, time (if TV/Radio is used), title, presenter/author, nature of piece (an editorial etc.).  After all the entries have been made, the student is required to write a 2 page critique of the manner in which media and government interact.  Make sure your analysis ties in with the nature of your entries.  It is advisable to organize your entries in a logical manner.  You can either do them by nature of the medium, branch, type of coverage, or any other logical manner that you can come up with.  However, please be consistent so the instructor will not have to go back and forth counting the entries up.  Entries will be graded on quality of writing and organization, in addition to the number and variety of entries.  Also, please do not use only one source per medium.  As we all know, we have what are called “conservative,” “liberal,” “right of center,” “left of center,” and other more innocuous names, nature of media.  There needs to be more than one type covered.  This is done to ensure that students read, view, and/or listen to different types of coverage hoping to come up better informed.  I will be happy to look at drafts and offer suggestions.  Journal is due Week 15 of class i.e. April 29.  Students have pretty much the whole semester to work on this, but I advise that you begin after the first exam. 


PoliSim Exercises:   Attached to the textbook is a CD-ROM with simulations for American Government.  Each student is required to answer at least one question from the topics offered, for a total of 4 for the course.  Each answer should be no longer than 2 pages or 500 words (minimum length is 300 words). You have the option of choosing which question you would like to answer so long as each one is from a different topic.  You will notice that there are 5 PoliSim exercises on the assignment schedule.  You do NOT have to do all 5.  I will only count the first four that are turned in and will ignore the fifth.  So, don’t waste your time writing the fifth one in the hopes of extra credit.  Please follow the deadlines.      


Attendance: Attendance is mandatory and will be taken promptly at the start of each class.  All students are expected to be present and seated before attendance is taken.  Late-comers will not be allowed into class unless prior permission has been taken.  It is the duty of the student to inform the instructor before class in the event an absence is necessitated.  More than two unexcused absences will translate into the final grade being lowered by half a grade. 


Class Participation:  It is crucial that students actively participate in class discussions.  Each student is capable of bringing a unique perspective to the subject at hand and in so doing, adds to the enrichment of all in the classroom.  It is for this reason that class participation will be graded.  I am aware that some of you are more hesitant to speak than others and would rather be active listeners.  However, I strongly encourage you to overcome these inhibitions and meet me for guidance.  It was not too long ago that I was sitting where you are now and have felt the same fears.  I know that these fears can be dealt with and participating will not only help in combating your hesitation but will also add to your personal enhancement.  I personally believe that teaching is one of the best ways of learning.  Not only does an educator impart knowledge and skills, he or she also learns from the students.  Let’s make this an enjoyable course for all, try to learn, and have fun. J 


Course Policies:


Classroom Decorum:  Usage of cell-phones and other methods of communication with the outside world are strictly prohibited in the classroom.  Please make sure these instruments are turned off and stored away upon entering the room.  It is strongly advised that you take care of all personal business before the start of the class.  Once you are in the classroom, you are expected to remain in your seat till the end of the class period and be respectful of others present.  Violations of these policies will adversely affect your grade.  Any exceptions will have to be explicitly negotiated, in advance, with the instructor.


Extra Credit:  Without exception, extra credit is not an option.  There are plenty of opportunities to improve your grade with the course requirements and if you find you are having trouble, please seek help early in the semester.  Efforts will be made to give extra help but it is generally assumed that you will be responsible for the work in accordance with the stated deadlines.

Unannounced Quizzes:  The instructor reserves the right to give pop-quizzes if it becomes grossly apparent that the students are not keeping up with reading assignments.  These grades will be averaged into the class participation component.  
Disability: NIU abides by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which mandates reasonable accommodations be provided for qualified students with disabilities. If you have a disability and 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. The CAAR office is located on the 4th floor of the University Health Services building (815-753-1303). I look forward to talking with you soon to learn how I may be helpful in enhancing your academic success in this course.
Academic Dishonesty: Plagiarism, cheating, and other novel forms of academic dishonesty will be dealt with seriously.  The instructor reserves the right to fail the student for the rest of the course in the event these offenses are detected.  Please do not purchase papers online or have others do the writing for you.  It is not at all difficult to detect writing that does not belong to you. 

Definitely do not engage in “academic misconduct,” defined by the NIU Student Judicial Code as the “receipt or transmission of unauthorized aid on assignments or examinations, plagiarism, unauthorized use of examination materials, or other forms of dishonesty in academic matters.”


Withdrawal Policy:  If you choose to stop attending class you, the student, are responsible for withdrawing from the course.  The instructor will not do so for you.  If you stop attending and have not withdrawn, a failing grade will be entered. 


General Advice:   This is not a particularly “hard” course.  Keeping up with the readings, turning in assignments on time, attending class, taking notes, and participating will assure the student of a good grade. It is recommended that students read the chapter before coming to class and pace the assignments according to their schedules.  Do not wait till the last week to cram everything in.  The scoring weights are provided to help you keep track of your grades as they are turned in.  Also, as most other instructors, I do not purport to have all the answers.  I will do my best to answer your questions and I strongly recommend that you challenge the instructor so that everyone may benefit.  Please feel free to ask questions because there are no such things as “dumb” questions.  The best way to learn is by constantly questioning what we are taught and told.  Lastly, do utilize the services provided by the Writing Center to help improve your writing and editing skills.  A well-written paper is among the first steps to success.  


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


Disclaimer:  The instructor reserves the right to change the schedule. Every effort will be made to follow the syllabus.  However, certain topics may demand a longer discussion which will necessitate in modifications to the syllabus.  In such an event, the instructor will provide ample notice about the changes instituted.  However, please read the assigned chapters for the week even if the chapter for the previous is carried over.  


Reading, Exam, and Assignment Schedule:




Week 1: The Establishment of the Union and Origins of the Constitution

January 19—Introduction and Overview of the Syllabus

January 21—Declaration of Independence, Appendix, A-1

                    Burns, Chapter 1 (including the Constitution)                   


Week 2:

January 24—Continue discussion on Chapter 1                  

January 26 & 28—The Federalist Papers, Nos. 10, 51, and 78


Note: The reading load is considerably heavier the first two weeks.  This is necessitated because of the nature of the material covered.  Please make sure you are familiar with the readings because they provide the foundation upon which rest of the course proceeds.




Week 3: American Federalism

January 31—Burns, Chapter 2

February 2 & 4—Burns, Chapter 3 Political Culture and Ideology


Week 4: The American Political Landscape

February 7 & 9—Burns, Chapter 4

February 11—PoliSim Exercise 1 due


Week 5: Political Parties and Interest Groups

February 14, 16, & 18—Burns, Chapter 5


Week 6:

February 21—Finish pending discussion

February 23—Review for Exam I (Chapters 1-5)

February 25—Exam I


Week 7: Public Opinion, Voting, and Elections

February 28—Burns, Chapter 6

March 2 & 4—Burns, Chapter 7: The Media and American Politics




Week 8: Congress: The People’s Branch

March 7, 9, & 11—Burns, Chapter 8

March 11—PoliSim Exercise 2 due


Week 9: Spring Break


Week 10: The Presidency: The Leadership Branch

March 21, 23, & 25 —Burns, Chapter 9


Week 11: Congress and the President

March 28, 30, & April 1—Burns, Chapter 10

April 1—PoliSim Exercise 3 due


Week 12:

April 4—Finish pending discussion

April 6—Review for Exam II (Chapters 6-10)

April 8—Exam II


Week 13: The Federal Bureaucracy: The Real Power

April 11, 13, & 15—Burns, Chapter 11

April 15—PoliSim Exercise 4 due


Week 14: The Judiciary: The Balancing Branch

April 18, 20, & 22—Burns, Chapter 12




Week 15: First Amendment Freedoms

April 25, 27, 29—Burns, Chapter 13


Week 16: Equal Justice under the Law

May 2, 4, 6 —Burns, Chapter 14

May 6—PoliSim Exercise 5 due



Week 17: Finals

Monday, May 9—Noon1:50 pm