Political Science 100: American Government and Politics

Spring 2006, Section 10

DuSable 246, Tuesday, 6:00-8:40

Instructor Suzanne Kray

Office: DuSable 476

Phone: 753-1818

Email: sue@uicalumni.org

Office Hours: Monday, 7-8 pm

Tuesday, 3-5 pm

Or by appointment

"I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education."

Thomas Jefferson


American Government and Politics is a course designed to offer the college student an introduction to the American political system. This class is structured to inform the student how the American form of democracy accomplishes the intricate task of maintaining order while at the same time preserving liberty. Among the topics to be covered are the historical developments of American politics, federalism, institutions (congress, the courts, the president), political participation (voting, interest groups, parties), and public opinion. Further, it aims to develop skills and abilities in analyzing and evaluating issues and public policies in American politics.

Required Text


  • American Government: Continuity and Change (Alternate 2006 Edition). Karen OConnor and Larry J. Sabato. Pearson Longman, 2006.
  • Additional readings will be required on occasion and will either be distributed to you or available online. NIU students have access to the Internet from campus computers; if anyone does not have access to the Internet, it is the students responsibility to inform me of this prior to assignment dates.


Course Requirements and Expectations



The political landscape is fraught with controversial issues. With this in mind, discussions in this class can become heated. It is expected that each student will act and speak with respect for fellow students and the instructor. Should any student behave in an inappropriate manner, s/he will be asked to leave for the remainder of the session and further Departmental or University sanctions will be applied as the case warrants.

The use of electronic devices during class is not allowed. All cell phones and pagers must be turned off for the duration of class unless otherwise authorized by the instructor.


Attendance during each class is expected and will be taken at the beginning of each class period. Should any student need to be absent from class, please make arrangements with the instructor prior to the day to be missed. All absences must be accompanied by documentation to provide the validity of the absence (such as a doctors note for a medical excuse). Without proper documentation, the absence will be considered unexcused and will affect the final grade of the student.

Five percent (50 points) of the final grade will be derived from attendance. Frequent occasions of tardiness will also be considered when determining attendance grades; should any student not be able to arrive for class on time every week due to work, please notify the instructor immediately.


Participation is an important element to any class and as such students are expected to offer meaningful participation to each class. Participation involves taking this course seriously, reading the assigned texts, posing questions to the readings assigned, initiating a discussion of the material in reference to current events, and the like. Each form of participation is intended to enable the student to achieve a better understanding of the material.

Participation will make up five percent (50 points) of the final grade. Should it become apparent though discussion that students have not done the assigned readings, the instructor reserves the right to administer pop-quizzes, which will replace that days participation grade.


There will be three exams administered throughout the course. Each exam is worth twenty percent of the final grade (200 points); the exams taken together are then worth sixty percent of the final grade (600 points).

Each exam will be handed out at the end of class and will be due at the beginning of the following class, as indicated in the course outline. The exams are not comprehensive, and will consist of short answer and essay questions. The third exam will be due in person in class during finals week, but there is no class that day. Exams must be typed with 12-point font, double-spaced, and one-inch margins; length requirements will be indicated on the exam. Points will be taken off for spelling and grammar mistakes. Cheating on exams will be dealt with serious consequence.

Students must be present in class to receive take-home exams. Exams will be administered outside of class only in cases where absence has been documented. Students must be present in class to turn in exams with the same requirements for documentation applying. Exams can be e-mailed to the instructor only in cases of absence; otherwise exams must be submitted in hard copies on the due date.

Written Assignments:

There will be three written assignments throughout the course and are each worth ten percent (100 points) of your grade. The topics are listed in the course outline, along with due dates. The same requirements apply for written assignments as for exams, i.e., typed with 12-point font, double-spaced, and one-inch margins. Points will be taken off for spelling and grammar mistakes. Each paper must be 1200 words in length (approximately 4 pages) and must include a title and word count at the heading of the paper.

Extra Credit:

Extra credit will be offered to any student who wishes to partake in extra work. Extra credit assignments can take the form of an additional paper or a class presentation. All topics must be approved by the instructor and must be completed by April 18th; there will be no exceptions. Extra work will be worth a maximum of 25 points.

Papers and presentations should be related to a topic covered in class but should also extend beyond the class material and cannot be similar to any of the assignments listed in the syllabus. Papers should be at least 1000 words (with word count indicated) and presentations should be 10 minutes in length. There is only one opportunity for extra credit for each student, i.e., complete either one presentation or one paper.

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 Website:

Undergraduate students strongly are encouraged to consult the Department of Political Science website 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 this site, go to http://polisci.niu.edu



Course grades will be based on the following criteria:


60% Exams 1-3 (200 points each)

30% Assignments 1-3 (100 points each)

5% Attendance (50 points)

5% Participation (50 points) .

100% Total score (1000 points)


Grades of incomplete will only be offered in cases of extreme circumstances and must be discussed with the instructor before being granted.

Course Outline


Section I: Foundations of Government

 1: January 17 Introductions (to one another and to politics)

      Reading: AG: pp. 3-21


2: January 24 Ideology and Attitude

      AG: pp. 22-31, 419, 442-455

      Also, skim the websites listed at the end of the chapter to research ideology in practice (this information will also be necessary for your first assignment).

      Written Assignment: The American political system is strongly influenced by the ideological positions of those active in the system. To begin this assignment, go to http://people-press.org/fit/ to identify your ideological stance; then, visit the websites listed above for each ideology (or other websites of preference). In 1200 words, (1) describe the importance of ideology specifically to the American political system, (2) describe the major ideologies present in the American system (indicating important issues, recent activity, etc.), and (3) describe the ideology you were identified as associating with and why, with policy examples, you were identified this way (it is not necessary that you agree with your placement, but if you do not, please explain why you feel this way). This assignment is due February 7th (review assignment guidelines above).


3: January 31 Origins of the Constitution

      AG: pp. 33-67 and 68-80

      Declaration of Independence: AG pp. 611-612

      Federalist #10: AG pp. 613-615


4: February 7 Principles of the Constitution

      AG: pp. 95-123, 127-139, review pp. 49-54

      U.S. v. Lopez (1995). Available at http://www.supremelaw.org/decs/lopez/lopez.htm

      Federalist #51: AG pp. 616-617

      Assignment 1 due at the beginning of class


5: February 14 Civil Liberties

      AG: pp. 157-195

      Bill of Rights: pp. 81-85

      Engel v. Vitale (1962). Available at http://laws.findlaw.com/us/370/421.html


6: February 21 Civil Rights

      AG: pp. 197-235 and 85-93

      Exam 1 distributed


Section II: Institutions of Government

7: February 28 Congress

      Exam 1 due at the beginning of class

      AG: pp. 237-275


8: March 7 The Presidency

      AG: pp. 277-311

      Federalist #68: http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/federal/fed68.htm

      Written Assignment: To begin this assignment, go to http://www.house.gov/ to locate and research your House representative (this website will link you to your representatives personal web page). Answer the following questions in 1200 words: Where is the district located, how long has s/he been in office, on which committees does s/he serve, what function does this committee have, on what previous committees has s/he served, how do these committees enable the congressperson to represent his/her district, which other committees might also help to represent this district? This assignment is due March 21st (review assignment guidelines above).


9: March 14 No Class


10: March 21 The Federal Bureaucracy

      AG: pp. 313-341


11: March 28 The Judiciary

      Assignment 2 due at the beginning of class

      AG: 343-383

      Marbury v. Madison at http://usinfo.state.gov/usa/infousa/facts/democrac/9.htm

      Exam 2 handed out


Section III: Political Behavior

 12: April 4 Public Opinion

      Exam 2 due at the beginning of class

      AG: pp. 385-415

      Review AG: pp. 442-455


13. April 11 The Campaign Process

      AG: pp. 509-545

      Written Assignment: In 1200 words, describe how the campaign process is influenced by various aspects of the political process (such as the Electoral College, political parties, etc.) and outside entities (such as interest groups, the media, public opinion, etc.). This assignment is due April 25th (review assignment guidelines above).


14: April 18 Voting and Elections

      AG: pp. 459-507 and 139-142

      Also read: V.O. Key. A Theory of Critical Elections in Journal of Politics (1955), pp. 3-11. This article is available online through www.jstor.org


15: April 25 The Media

      Assignment 3 due at the beginning of class

      AG: pp. 547-579


16: May 2 Interest Groups

      AG: pp. 581-609

      Review the website of at least one interest group of preference and be prepared to discuss

      Exam 3 handed out


17: May 9

      Exam 3 due