Introduction to American Government and Politics Syllabus

Northern Illinois University

DeKalb, IL 60115

(815) 753-1011,


Course Title:  Introduction to American Government and Politics

Course Number: POLS 100, Section 8

Class Location: DuSable Building, Room 459

Semester: Spring, 2007


I. Faculty Information

            a. Instructor:  Geoff Rogal (

            b. Office Location: DuSable 476

            c. Office Hours:          Tuesday: 4:00-5:00 p.m.

Wednesday: 1:00-3:00 p.m.

Also, By Appointment

            d. Mailbox Location: Zulauf 415, Outside of Departmental Office

e. Department Phone #: (815) 753-1011 (to leave a message)


II. Course Identification:

            a. Credit Hours: 3

            b. Total Credit Hours: 3

            c. Days and Hours Course Meets: Wednesday from 6:30-9:10 p.m.

            d. Prerequisite: None

            e. Corequisite: None

            f. Course Description:

Within this course we will explore basic principles of the constitution, and the structure and functions of the federal government including Congress, the Presidency, the federal court system and bureaucracy.  The roles of political parties, pressure groups and public opinion in America are also examined. Special attention is given to English and American political philosophy and theory. 


III. Textbooks/Reading List:

            a. Required

Jillson, Calvin.  2005.  American Government.  Third Edition. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth.           

Additional handouts and required readings listed below may be accessed via web addresses, Blackboard or through NIU’s electronic library.  It is your responsibility to read these articles before attending class.


            b. Highly Recommended

Jillson, Calvin. 2005. Study Guide for American Government.  Third Edition. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth.


IV. Program/Course Goals or Major Purposes:

            a. To think critically

            b. To understand the ideas and values which influence, shape, change and govern 

the democratic process in the United States of America.

            c. To understand and evaluate the United States' governing authority through a                 process of checks and balances.

            d. To illustrate the function of a republic as related to other forms of                                   governing political systems.

            e. To better understand the United States Constitution.

V. Course End Competencies:

At the end of the course, you will be expected to know the following:

a. The concepts of freedom, order and equality; and why democracy is the basis for the United States.

b. The tenets of popular democracy, elite democracy and pluralism in relation to a system of participatory democracy.

            c. The origins and evolution of American federalism.

            d. The role of the two party system in America.

e. The role and organization of Congress, the Presidency, and the federal court system.

f. The effect and power of PAC's, special interest groups and the federal bureaucracy in the American political process.

            g. Specific Supreme Court cases and their impact upon civil rights and civil                        liberties, economic policies, foreign policies and interest groups.

            h. How public opinion is shaped, manipulated and measured in our system of                     government.

            i. Voting behavior and some explanations for how and why people vote.    

            j. The (mis)use of campaign finance laws during primaries and general elections.

h. The origins of fundamental theories which influenced the Framers of the American Constitution and Bill of Rights.


VI. Classroom Policies/Procedures, i.e. The Rules of the Game

a. Any student who fails to complete the following assignments will not receive a      

satisfactory grade for this course.

            b. Withdrawal Policy:

A student who does not withdraw from a course by the designated withdraw date may receive a grade of ‘F', depending on course progress and\or course attendance, which will become a part of the student's permanent record.  Please note the withdraw date at


            c. Final Exam Dates:

                        Final Exam: Wednesday 5/9/07 from 6:00-7:50 p.m. in DuSable 459


            d. Turn off cell phones, pagers and Blackberries before the start of all classes.  

            e. Be considerate of your classmates.


f. Attendance Policy:

Given the class meets once a week, it is imperative that you attend class! However, I understand a class may be missed, skipped or “blown off”.  So, I will allow two absences before your final course grade will be effected.  Upon reaching three (3) absences, your final course grade will be deducted one letter grade (examples: A to B; B to C; C to D or D to F).   


Once again, please attend class.  The examination will consist of lecture materials, and information absorbed, comprehended and otherwise discerned from assigned readings.  If a class is missed, ask a fellow student for the lecture notes.  It is your responsibility to acquire the missed class material.  You might have to wash his\her car, but the reward of increased knowledge and understanding is worth it!!!


g. Cheating, Plagiarism and Student Conduct:

                        If found cheating on an exam, the student(s) will receive a grade of zero for                       that exam.  If plagiarism occurs, the student(s) will also receive a                                               zero for that paper, activity or project.  Each student is responsible                                       for adhering to the code of Student Conduct as stated in the                                                       NIU Undergraduate Student Catalogue.


VII. Grading Policies/Procedures:

a.       Each examination (mid-term and final) is worth 20% of your final grade.  You will be tested on the required readings and class lecture material.  There will be two (2) examinations comprising 40% of your final grade. 

b.      Also, I will assign three (3) short papers (2-3 pages in length, double spaced, spell-checked and typed).  20% of your final grade will be based upon the quality (spelling, grammar, sentence structure, organization) of your papers.

c.       The remaining 40% of your final grade will be based upon your quiz scores covering the required readings for that week (1 per week, 15 questions), attendance and participation during class.  The quizzes will be administered at the end of each class to ensure students keep up with the readings and attend class.  I will drop your two lowest quiz grades.  Please arrive to class on time, prepared and awake.  I will calculate individual examinations, papers and the final grade based upon percentages.  Thus, the grading scale will be as follows:


                                    90%-100%      =A

                                    80%-89%        =B

                                    70%-79%        =C

                                    60%-69%        =D

                                    59% or below  =F


            d. No extra credit will be awarded.

e. No late papers will be accepted.

f. Make-up exams and incompletes will be allowed only with the prior approval of the instructor. 

VIII. Students With Disabilities:

NIU abides by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which mandates reasonable accommodations for qualified students with disabilities.  If you have a disability and may require some type of instructional and/or examination accommodation, please tell me early in the semester so I can help you attain the needed assistance.  You will need to register with the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR), the designated office on campus to provide services for students with disabilities.  The CAAR office is located on the 4th Floor of the University Health Services Building (telephone #: 753-1303). 


IX. Course Schedule/Calendar:

 Fall 2006 Semester Course Outline and Required Reading Assignments

(Assigned Readings and Examinations May Change At the Discretion of Instructor)


                                                            Part I: Foundations

First Week

Wednesday, 1/17/2007                       Introductions, Distribute Syllabi

                                                            Introduction to Political Science       

Elite Democracy/Popular Dem. Handout (Blackboard)

The Political Spectrum (Blackboard)


Second Week

Wednesday, 1/24/07                           Chapter 1:  The Origins of American Political Principles (A brief history of democracy)

Chapter 2:  The Revolution & the Constitution

Declaration of Independence, Appendix A, pages 441-43 in textbook

                                                            The Articles of Confederation (Blackboard)

Debate of the Constitutional Convention (Blackboard)

                                                            Quiz #1: Chapter 2


Writing Assignment #1:  Due at the beginning of class, Wednesday, January 31, 2007


First, read Pro and Con: Do We Need a Bill of Rights? The Federalists’ Dilemma located on page 43 in the textbook.


Next, in a 2-3 page, typed, double-spaced, coherent paper address the following questions:

a.       What rights are protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution?

b.      Briefly describe why the Federalists opposed this amendment; and anti-Federalists supported the amendment.  What are their respective positions?

c.       Finally, take a stand.  Do these argument(s) merit consideration by contemporary readers?  What do you think?  Which argument makes better sense to you?  Support your position.  


Third Week

Wednesday, 1/31/07                           Paper #1 Due

Chapter 3: Federalism and American Political Development                                              

                                                            Grants and General Revenue Sharing (Blackboard)

                                                            Supreme Court case: Gonzales v Raich (2005)

Go to and search for: Gonzales v. Raich (2005).  Compare and contrast the opposing interpretations of Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce (Article I, Sec. 8 of the US Constitution).

Quiz #2: Chapter 3


Fourth Week

Wednesday, 2/7/07                             Chapter 4: Political Socialization and Public Opinion

Be prepared to discuss Pro and Con: Knowledge, Ignorance and the Democratic Process, on page 90 in textbook.

In class DVD: America in Black and White

Quiz #3: Chapter 4


Part II: American Political Culture

Fifth Week

Wednesday, 2/14/07                           Chapter 5: The Mass Media and the Political Agenda

Article: On the Bias (July/Aug. 2002) (Blackboard)

Access the website for more information on the mass media

Article: Joseph Cappella and Kathleen Hall Jamieson, News Frames, Political Cynicism and Media Cynicism, (       

                                                            Quiz #4: Chapter 5


Sixth Week

Wednesday, 2/21/07                           Chapter 6: Interest Groups and Social Movements

                                                            James Madison, Federalist #10: The Union as Safeguard against Domestic Faction and Insurrection, pages 462-65, Appendix D in textbook

                                                            Quiz #5: Chapter 6






Writing Assignment #2:  Due at the beginning of class, Wednesday, February 28, 2007


First, access website: and click on ‘IDEALOG’

Read the first section of the program explaining ideologies

Next, take the 20 question survey and answer the questions by clicking the button corresponding to your answer.

Finally, write (type) a 2 page paper explaining to which ideological category you belong based upon your answers.  Does this surprise you?  Why or why not??


Seventh Week                                   

Wednesday, 2/28/07                           Paper #2 Due

Chapter 7: Political Parties               

Article: V.O. Key, A Theory of Critical Elections, Journal of Politics (1955), pgs. 3-11. (

Quiz #6: Chapter 7

Eighth Week

Wednesday, 3/7/07                             Midterm Examination: Chapters 1-7 plus supplemental readings and class lectures


March 10-18, 2007                            Spring Break, NO CLASS!!!


Ninth Week                                        Chapter 8: Voting, Campaigns and Elections

Wednesday, 3/21/07                           Access website: .  Be prepared to discuss the pros and cons of the Supreme Court cases: Buckley v Valeo (1976) and McConnell v FEC (2003).  See pages 212-13 in textbook.

Do we need campaign finance?  Why or why not?

In class DVD: Air Wars

Quiz #7: Chapter 8


Part III: Institutions


Tenth Week

Wednesday, 3/28/07                           Chapter 9: Congress: Lawmaking and Domestic Representation

Article: Pork, A Microcosm of the Overspending Problem (Blackboard)

                                                            How a Bill Becomes a Law, p. 237

                                                            Quiz #8: Chapter 9                           







Eleventh Week

Wednesday, 4/4/07                             Chapter 10: The President: Governing in Uncertain Times  

                                                            Article: The Electoral College (Blackboard)

Article: Who Picks the President? (Blackboard)

James Madison, Federalist #51: The Structure of the Government Must Furnish the Proper Checks and Balances Between the Different Departments, pgs. 466-68, Appendix D in textbook.

Quiz #9: Chapter 10


Twelfth Week

Wednesday, 4/11/07                           Chapter 11: Bureaucracy: Redesigning Government  

                                                            Article: Mark P. Petracca, Predisposed to Oppose: Political Scientists and Term Limit, Polity (1992), Vol. 24, No. 4, pgs. 657-72 (

                                                            Quiz #10: Chapter 11           


Writing Assignment #3: Due at the beginning of class on Wednesday, April, 18, 2007


First, go to the website and access The Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents.  The website is published by the Office of the Federal Register and contains statements, messages and other presidential materials released by the White House during the preceding week.   


Second, once at the website, click browse to access the years. Third, pick one year. 


Fourth, choose one month of the year and look at the table of contents for each week.


Finally, write (type) a 2-3 page paper addressing the following questions:


  1. How do the activities listed illustrate the many roles that the president plays?
  2. Given the information you found on the website, provide examples for each presidential power (Remember: What are the powers of the President?). 
  3. What issue(s) seem to dominate the President’s attention?  In your opinion, what may be some reasons for the President to address these issues?


Thirteenth Week                                          

Wednesday, 4/18/07                           Paper #3 Due

Chapter 12: The Federal Courts: Activism versus Restraint

                                                            Alexander Hamilton, Federalist #78: The Judiciary Department, pgs. 468-472, Appendix D in textbook

                                                            Quiz #11: Chapter 12


                                                            Part IV: Domestic and International Policy


Fourteenth Week                                         

Wednesday, 4/25/07                           Chapter 13: Civil Liberties and Civil Rights: Balance or Conflict

                                                            The Bill of Rights (Blackboard)

                                                            Quiz #12: Chapter 13





Fifteenth Week

Wednesday, 5/2/07                             Chapter 15: America’s Place in a Dangerous World

                                                            In class DVD: Illegal Immigration

Discussion: What is the Bush Doctrine?

Access the website and read the articles by Benjamin Barber, Jihad vs. McWorld and Jihad vs. McWorld Revisited. 


Sixteenth Week

Wednesday, 5/9/07                             Note: Final Examination will begin at 6:00 p.m. in DuSable 459.


Final Examination: Chapters 8-13, and 15 plus supplemental readings and class lectures


Final Grades Submitted. 


You may pick-up your final examination with your final course grade at the Political Science Office, Zulauf 415.