Political Science Course Syllabus


General Information


Spring 2009 Semester

Pols 100: Introduction to American Government and Politics

Section 2, MWF 12-12:50

Dusable 461


Instructor: Paul Vasholz Jr.

Office: Dusable 476 (Pols TA office)

Office hours: M 1-3; W 10:45-11:45; or by appointment

Contact info: pvasholz@niu.edu

Department website: polisci.niu.edu


Required Textbook: Jillison, Cal.  American Government: Political Change and Institutional Development, 4th Edition.  New York: Routledge, 2008.


The textbook should be available at the campus bookstore in the student union.  It is also available on amazon.com and other online retailers.


There will be additional readings assigned that can be accessed via the Internet.  Links are included here and will be posted on Blackboard.  You can access Blackboard by going to http://www.niu.edu/students.shtml


Course Goal


The goal of this class is for you to improve your understanding of the American republic.  We will look at the process by which the American state functions and examine the theories underlying that process.  By the end of the semester, it is hoped that you will be able to look at politics in a more analytical manner.




Attendance is not required, but it is strongly encouraged.  You are much more likely to do well if you attend class. 


You must attend class on the day of the tests if you wish to take them, unless you have a very reasonable excuse for your absence.  If you are not able to make it, you must let me know before the start of class that day.


If I am unable to attend class, I will do my best to send out an email the night before. 


Classroom Procedures and Decorum


This class will consist of lectures and discussion.  Except for the first week, Mondays and Wednesday will be lecture sessions and Friday will be a discussion session.  Please ask questions if there is something you do not understand during the lectures.  Let me know if I am going over things too quickly or talking too softly.  Please be prepared to discuss the readings during the discussion sessions.  This will make the class much more interesting and enjoyable for everyone.


Please come on time.

Please do not use cell phones or other electronic devices during class unless it is to take notes.

Please turn off your cell phone or set it to vibrate

Please be respectful to the instructor and the other students in the class, even if you disagree with them.

Please do not talk during class unless asked to.

Please do not cheat during the exams.  If you are caught you will receive 0 points for that exam.

Please do not sleep in class. 

Please do not read non-class related materials such as magazines or newspapers in class.

Please read the assigned material, especially the readings assigned for the discussion sessions. 

Please do not be afraid to participate.   


Remember, you are not required to be here.  If you cannot abide by these rules, you will be asked not to be.


Academic Dishonesty


The University considers you to have committed plagiarism if you: "copy material from books, magazines, or other sources without identifying and acknowledging those sources or if they paraphrase ideas from such sources without 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" (Undergraduate Catalog).


Do not do this.  I have found the University of Wisconsin's writing center website to be very helpful when I've needed to know how to cite a source in a particular format.  A link to their website is included here (http://www.wisc.edu/writing/Handbook/Documentation.html) and on Blackboard.


Please use the MLA format when citing sources in this class.


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 an impact on their coursework must register with the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR) on the fourth floor of the Health Services  Building (753-1303). CAAR will assist students in making appropriate instructional and/or examination 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.


Graded Assignments


There will be three tests in this class.  Each will count for 20 percent of your grade. 


The remaining 40 percent will be determined by the average of the five writing assignments you will hand in.  On most Fridays during the semester, there will be a reading assigned for discussion.  You are asked to write a one page response to the reading on five of these occasions.  These papers should have 1 inch margins and use Times New Roman 12 point font.  Papers longer than one page will receive a reduced grade for their length.


It is your choice which weeks you write a response paper.  If you do poorly on one of your papers, you have the option of writing an additional paper to substitute for that low score.  In fact, you could write a paper for all of the discussions, with your top five scores being averaged.  On occasion you will also be asked to present your paper during the discussion of the reading to help facilitate that discussion.


Late papers will not be accepted in most cases.  If you find yourself unable to attend class, but have already written a paper for that day, I will accept it if you email it to me before the start of class.


These papers should consist of three paragraphs.  The first should ask a question you have about the reading.  You should explain why you think this question is interesting and why it is a relevant question.


In the second paragraph you should attempt to answer your question, primarily using examples from the text as your evidence. 


In the third paragraph you should pose a question for further study, on the basis of what you have concluded in your second paragraph.


I will be happy to explain my expectations regarding these papers further during my office hours.  I will also post an example of how these papers should be formatted in the documents section of Blackboard.  You should be quoting from the text to write these papers.  Please be sure to do so properly.   


These papers will be collected at the end of the class they are discussed.  I will do my best to return them before the next discussion.  I recommend writing at least a couple of these papers at the beginning of the semester, so you can get a better idea of what I expect.


Grading Scale


A: 100-90

B: 89-80

C: 79-70

D: 69-60

F: 59 or below




Schedule may be revised during the course of the semester.





Introduction to Class


Amer. Gov. Chapter One


Amer. Gov. Chapter 1-2, read Declaration of Independence, textbook, appendix A


Martin Luther King Day, no class


Amer. Gov. Chapter Two, read U.S. Constitution, textbook, appendix C


Discussion, John Locke, Second Treatise on Government, Chapters 9 & 19, par. 221-230




Amer. Gov. Chapter Three


Amer. Gov. Chapter Three


Discussion, read Federalist #51, textbook, pg. 468-71


Amer. Gov. Chapter Five


Amer. Gov. Chapter Five


Amer. Gov. Chapter Seven


Amer. Gov. Chapter Seven, review for exam


Class Canceled


1st Exam


Amer. Gov. Chapter Four


Amer. Gov. Chapter Four


Discussion, Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. II, Sec. 2, Chapter 1,


Sec. 4, Chapters 1-3




Amer. Gov. Chapter Six


Amer. Gov. Chapter Six


Discussion, read Federalist #10, textbook, pg. 465-68


Amer. Gov. Chapter Eight


Amer. Gov. Chapter Eight


Discussion, read Federalist #68




and Jack Rakove, "The Accidental Electors"




Spring Break starts


Amer. Gov. Chapter Ten


Amer. Gov. Chapter Ten


Discussion, read Donald R. Wolfensberger, “The Return of the Imperial Presidency?”




and Harvey Mansfield, "The Case for the Strong Executive"




Amer. Gov. Chapter Eleven


Amer. Gov. Chapter Eleven, review for exam


2nd Exam


Amer. Gov. Chapter Nine


Amer. Gov. Chapter Nine


Discussion, read John Hibbing, "How to Make Congress More Popular" pg. 219-23, 239-41




and Federalist #57




Amer. Gov. Chapter Twelve


Amer. Gov. Chapter Twelve


Discussion, read Federalist #78, textbook, pg. 471-474


Amer. Gov. Chapter Thirteen


Amer. Gov. Chapter Thirteen


Discussion, read Supreme Court Case, Engel V. Vitale, opinions of Justice Black & Stewart




Amer. Gov. Chapter Fourteen


Amer. Gov. Chapter Fifteen


Discussion, TBD


Amer. Gov. Chapter Fifteen


Review for exam


University Reading Day, no classes


Final Exam, 12-1:50pm