American Government & Politics

POLS 100-9, SPRING 2007

T & TH  9:30 - 10:45 a.m., DU 459


Instructor:      Sara Reed

Office:             DuSable Hall 476

Hours:             T & TH  8:00 - 9:00 a.m.,

                        TH  11:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.,

     & by appointment


Phone:             630-776-1906


I.    Course Description

Affecting nearly every part of our lives, the American political system is exciting and complex.  Government often regulates our health and safety, our economic opportunities and our ability to choose how we express ourselves.  Competing interest groups and limited resources create an especially challenging climate for politicians and policymakers as they attempt to resolve pervasive problems such as terrorism, poverty and global warming.  Advances in technology and our changing cultural norms often add to these challenges.


This course aims to demystify the complexities of the American political system by providing a college-level introduction to the foundations, institutions, and processes of American government.  At the beginning of the course, we will discuss key philosophies on the scope and nature of government, followed by an overview of democracy, the Constitution, civil liberties and civil rights.  We will subsequently explore political participation and the mass media.  We will examine American political institutions, such as Congress and the presidency and conclude with an analysis of how public policies shape our lives.  Ultimately, this course provides students with the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of how and why the American political system has evolved into its present state. 


II.  Course Objectives

Upon successful completion of the course you will be able to:

1.  Identify and discuss the major philosophical perspectives on government.

2.  Explain the basic legislative and policymaking processes within the United States.

3.  Understand the importance of key Supreme Court cases within historical and contemporary contexts.

4.  Think critically about presidential power.

5.  Participate in informed debates about civil liberties and/or civil rights issues.

6.  Reflect upon how you may enrich your life through political participation.


III.  Course Requirements

  A.  Textbook

Your textbook is American Government and Politics Today:  The Essentials 2006-2007, by Bardes, Shelley, & Schmidt, 12th ed., Thomson Wadsworth.  The ISBN number is:  0-534-64733-2.  You may purchase this text new or used from the NIU bookstore, the VCB (Village Commons Bookstore) or your favorite on-line bookseller. 








B.  Articles and Cases Summaries

      In addition to reading the assigned textbook chapters, students are required to read supplementary articles and case summaries.  Please refer to the Course Calendar and Supplementary Reading List for details.


C.  Blackboard and NIU E-Mail Accounts

You are required to utilize your Blackboard and NIU e-mail accounts.  Blackboard will be used for making important announcements, giving helpful hints, using interactive study tools and posting grades throughout the semester.  For instructions on getting started, go to:  Student e-mail accounts will be used for communication on an individual basis.  


D.  Attendance and Participation

Attendance and participation are considered to be very important aspects of this course.  As such, you will be evaluated according to the following guidelines:



You will earn one (1) point for each full class period that you attend.  One (1) point will be deducted for each class that you are either partially or fully absent without prior approval from the instructor.  Excused absences for either part or the full class period will be given only with a legitimate excuse such as a documented illness or emergency, jury duty, military service, or participation in required athletic or other university sponsored activities. 



In addition to attendance, students are expected to actively participate in the course.  I will consider individual differences regarding comfort levels with participation; however, please note that little or no participation throughout the course will be reflected in your final grade.


E.  Quizzes

The quizzes serve as an opportunity for you to gauge your progress and understanding of the course material on a regular basis.  In addition, the quizzes are designed to give you an opportunity to earn extra credit points.  Note that it is possible to obtain more than a total of 100 percentage points in the course. 


Administration of Quizzes

There will be a total of twelve (12) quizzes during the semester.  Quizzes will not be cumulative and will be administered at the end of class on Thursdays.  The quizzes will be administered as a closed book/closed notes test, and for most weeks will cover lectures and readings from the Tuesday of the current week and Thursday of the previous week.  Please refer to the Course Schedule for specific dates.  Each quiz will have a total of fifteen (15) questions, one point per question.  However, each quiz will only be scored out of ten points.  Ten correct answers will result in a score of 100%.  Students who receive at least ten of the fifteen questions correct will then have the opportunity to receive one bonus point for each additional question answered correctly.  It is possible, therefore, for someone who receives fifteen out of ten for all quizzes to earn an additional 10% at the end of the semester.  Whereas the quizzes include the opportunity for extra credit, students should note that they are required, not optional.



F.    Issue Paper

 Students will write one (1) issue paper.  Detailed instructions will be

 provided in-class and will be posted on Blackboard.


          G.   Final Exam

 The final exam will be cumulative and will consist of fifty multiple-choice questions.

                 The exam will be administered as a closed book, closed notes test.  All students are

                 required to take the final exam on the assigned day and at the assigned time.

                 Students who have extenuating circumstances, along with a legitimate and documented

                 excuse, should consult with the instructor as soon as possible before the final exam date.


IV.  Course Evaluation

Students will be evaluated based upon the following obligations and grading scale:


Attendance & Participation        20%                                             

Quizzes                                     25%

Issue Paper                                      25%

Final Exam                                 30%

Total:                                        100%


Grading Scale:

A =      90 –      100%

B =       80 –      89%

C =       70 –      79%

D =      60 –      69%

F =       0        59%


Please note that in order to pass the course all required items must be turned in.  A missing quiz, paper or exam will result in an “F” for the course.  A student who has a legitimate, documented excuse will be allowed to make-up an item for full credit.  Students without a legitimate, documented excuse will still be required to make up the missed item(s) in order to pass the course, but will receive a grade no higher than 65% on the make-up assignment(s).


V.  Announcements and Policies


Statement Concerning Students with Disabilities

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.


Department of Political Science Website

Students are encouraged to consult the Department of Political Science web site on a regular basis.  This central source of information will assist students in contacting faculty and staff, reviewing course requirements and syllabi, exploring graduate study and researching career options.  Undergraduates may find this website especially useful for tracking down department events and for accessing important details related to undergraduate programs and activities.  To reach the site, go to




Undergraduate Writing Awards 

The Department of Political Science will recognize, on an annual basis, outstanding 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 of $50.00.  Papers, which can be submitted by students or faculty, must be supplied in triplicate to the department secretary by the end of February.  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.


Classroom Behavior

Please turn off all electronic devices and refrain from side conversations during class.  Because this course will necessarily involve the discussion of controversial issues, students are expected to exhibit mutual respect and tolerance for each other’s opinions.  Likewise, it is expected that students will demonstrate courteous behavior throughout each class period.  Please note that students in violation of this policy may be asked to leave the class and will not be given credit for attendance or assignments due that day.  Repeated violations will result in formal disciplinary action, which may include expulsion from the course.


Cell Phones and Cameras

The use of a cell phone, camera or any other communication device during class-time, a quiz or a test is prohibited.


Cheating & Plagiarism

Cheating and plagiarizing in any form will not be tolerated.  The instructor reserves the right to fail (for an assignment and the course) a student who cheats or plagiarizes.  Students found in violation of this policy will be referred to the appropriate university judicial board for disciplinary action.


Make-up Quizzes

Make-up quizzes will be given for those with a legitimate excuse, such as a documented illness or emergency, jury duty, military service, or participation in required athletic or other university sponsored activities.  Students without a legitimate, documented excuse will also be required to make-up a missed quiz in order to pass the course, but will receive a grade no higher than 65% on the make-up quiz. 


Incomplete Grade Policy

Incompletes are given at the discretion of the instructor and only when it is possible that the completion of the remaining work could result in a passing grade.  Incompletes will only be given in rare circumstances, such as illness, death in the immediate family, or other extreme and unforeseeable circumstances.  The instructor reserves the right to change assignment and examination formats.  An incomplete must be resolved within the appropriate time limit or it will automatically be changed to an F.  The student is responsible for seeing that incompletes are made up before the expiration date.


VI.  Course Calendar

The following schedule is tentative.  Any modification to this schedule will be announced in class.  If you are absent from class, you are responsible for becoming informed about any changes made during your absence.  The syllabus posted on Blackboard will be the most current.  Readings and assignments are due on the calendar date listed.






Assignments Due




Course Overview



The Purpose & Scope of Government

Political Socialization & Culture

Bardes, Ch. 1

Bardes, A4 - A9

(Federalist #s 10 & 51)



  James Q. Wilson,

"American Exceptionalism"*


The Constitution: 

Creation & Ratification

Bardes, Ch. 2

Ch. 2 Appendix (skim)

Quiz #1  (1/18 & 1/23)


Constitutional Principles:


Bardes, Ch. 3



Civil Liberties & The Bill of Rights

Bardes, Ch. 4

Quiz #2  (1/25 & 1/30)


Civil Liberties, Cont.

"The Mount Soledad Cross

  Controversy, "

   San Diego ACLU*


Civil Rights

Bardes, Ch. 5

Quiz #3  (2/1 & 2/6)


Civil Rights

"Albertsons, Inc. v.  Kirkingburg"*


"Timmons v. Twin Cities Area

  New Party"* (1997)


Interest Groups


Bardes, Ch. 7

Quiz #4  (2/8 & 2/13)


Political Parties

Bardes, Ch. 8


Political Parties

Bardes, Ch. 8

Quiz #5  (2/15 & 2/20)


Public Opinion

Bardes, Ch. 6


Public Opinion

Bardes, Ch. 6

Quiz #6  (2/22 & 2/27)



Bardes, Ch. 9


The Media

Jonathan Last, "The Not-So-Swift Mainstream Media"

(ED, pp. 306-310)*

"Bresler, Myrick and Cunningham, "Is Objectivity in Media Desirable

  or Possible," (ED, pp. 311-329)*


Quiz #7  (3/1 & 3/6)


Spring Break - No Class



Spring Break - No Class



Elections & Voting Behavior

V.O. Key, Jr., "A Theory of Critical Elections," (Feb. 1955)*


The Courts


Bardes, Ch. 13

Bardes, A9 - A11 (Federalist #78)

Quiz #8  (3/8 & 3/20)


The Courts

Bardes, Ch. 13



Bardes, Ch. 10

Quiz #9  (3/22 & 3/27)



Bardes, Ch. 10


The Presidency

Bardes, Ch. 11

Quiz #10  (3/29 & 4/3)


The Presidency

Bardes, Ch. 11


The Bureaucracy

Bardes, Ch. 12


Public Administration

Charles Lindblom, "The Science of Muddling Through,"

(ED, pp. 469 - 477)


Economic Policy

Bardes, Ch. 14

Quiz #11  (4/12 & 4/17)


Social Policy

Bardes, Ch. 14


The U.S., Public Policy & The Life Sciences


  Julia Keller (Chicago Tribune)

"Are We Hardwired for War?"

  Frans de Waal (audio interview)

"The Ape and the Sushi Master"

  Quiz #12  (4/19 & 4/24)


The U.S. & Foreign Policy

Bardes, Ch. 15


(Last Day of Class)

Civic Engagement

Final Exam Review

 Robert Putnam,

"Tuning In, Tuning Out:  The

  Strange Disappearance..." *



DuSable 459, 10:00 - 11:50 a.m.


VII.  *Required Supplementary Reading List






"American Exceptionalism," (2006)

  James Q. Wilson

NIU Library:  On-line search



"The Mount Soledad Cross Controversy" 

  The San Diego American

  Civil Liberties Union


"Albertsons, Inc. v. Kirkingburg"

The written summary is required

(podcast is highly recommended)

"Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party"

The written summary is required

(podcast is highly recommended)


"The Not-So-Swift Mainstream Media,"

  Jonathan Last

"Is Objectivity in Media Desirable or

Possible?" Bresler, Myrick and Cunningham

NIU Library Reserve: 

Book - (ED) The Enduring Debate:  Classic & Contemporary Readings in American Politics,

pp. 306 - 329


"A Theory of Critical Elections," (Feb. 1955)

  V.O. Key, Jr.

NIU Library:  JSTOR database


"The Science of Muddling Through,"

  Charles Lindblom

NIU Library Reserve: 

Book - (ED) The Enduring Debate..., pp. 469 - 477


"Are We Hardwired for War?," (2003)

  Julia Keller

"The Ape and the Sushi Master,"

  (May 31, 2001), Frans de Waal

On-line search or NIU Library -

Chicago Tribune, April 18, 2003

Chicago Public Radio (audio interview - May 31, 2001)


"Tuning In, Tuning Out:  The Strange

  Disappearance of Social Capital in America"

NIU Library:  JSTOR  database

Dec. 1995 (Author:  Robert Putnam)