Northern Illinois University

The Department of Political Science


POLS 220 - Introduction to Public Policy – Spring, 2009

DU 459- (Monday/Wednesday/Friday 9:00 - 9:50 am)


Instructor:  James O. Bagaka                                     Office Hours: Mon 10:00 - 11:30 a.m.

E-mail:                                          Wed 10:00 -11:30 am - By Appointment

Office:  Zulauf 114


Introduction and Overview

This is an introductory course to the public policy process in the United States. An important component of the course is to understand what “public policy” means.   After understanding what public policy means, we will then consider why some problems reach the public agenda, why some solutions are adopted and others rejected or ignored and why some policies appear to succeed while others fail. We will largely examine policy making at the national level, but we will also look at examples from state and local governments. Of particular interest, will be the interactions of various levels of government in resolving issues like; healthcare, energy, education, taxes, the environment (global warming), immigration among others. Although we all have an interest in making “good” policies, seldom do we agree on what “good” policies entail. In this regard, as you will learn in this course, policy making is a complex and interesting process than what your favorite TV or newspaper anchor would have you believe. Thus, this course will help you understand how and why governments and citizens make the decisions that can affect, positively or negatively, your life.

This course is divided into two parts. In part I, we will explore the theories of public policy, institutional structures that affect and implement public policy and the actors (official and nonofficial) that initiate and agitate for policy change. The goal of this first section is to give you the tools required to understand and analyze policy. Part II will entail a survey of current policy issues at the federal and state government levels.

Course Goals

·         Understand what is meant by “public policy” and the place of value judgments;

·         Understand the politics of policy making and examine the level of government best suited to resolve key policy issues;

·         Equip you with the tools to intelligently analyze policies, be able to weave out weaknesses and strengths in partisan or news media depictions of policy issues;

·         Apply your knowledge of the policy process to an issue in your community.

This course is also designed to improve your academic skills and knowledge areas in the following ways:

Oral Communication

Class discussions on the assigned readings and paper discussions.

Written Communication

Assigned papers and homework

Analytical Thinking

Final Paper – A Policy Issue


Course Policies and Procedures

Student Responsibilities

In recent semesters I have noticed a number of students failing to meet their academic obligations. Recurring problems include absconding classes (and then asking “did I miss anything”), talking on cell phones, text messaging friends, arriving late, leaving early , reading newspapers among other misconducts. Apart from being irritating, such actions negatively affect the learning environment. Surprisingly, the same students who engage in these malpractices are the first one to complain about the grading scheme with the now familiar excuse, “I really need a B or A to get to nursing/law school”. Although only a few students meet this description, my recent experience shows that the number is on the rise. Thus, I generally expect your academic responsibility to be your highest priority. Kindly, desist from the above negative behaviors. The point I want you get is this: attend class regularly, do the readings and you will excel; fail to do your part and your grades will be poor.


Attend Class: Since this is a college level course, regular class attendance is assumed. Students who fail to attend the lectures and our Friday discussions will miss important information and will consequently receive lower grades. Attendance and participation will be noted regularly and will constitute 5% of your final grade. Those arriving late (More than 10 Minutes) or leaving early (without my informed consent) will be counted as absent. If you arrive late, please take a seat at the back of the class to avoid distractions.

You are allowed three unexcused absences from lectures after which you will start losing your 5% of the attendance points. More than ten (10) total unexcused absences from lectures – the three you are allowed plus seven more – will result in a failing grade regardless of whether you have done all the assignments. If you miss class for a legitimate reason, you must provide documentation. If there is a snowstorm and the university remains open, the class will be held as scheduled.


Discussion Section: I have created a discussion section on Blackboard to facilitate and extend our class discussions beyond the 50 minutes assigned for the class for the three days we meet. The goal of this section is to enable you to post news media articles of relevance to our class discussions. Articles that support, negate or even challenge our class discussions are highly encouraged. Your duty therefore is not to simply copy and paste articles on blackboard, but rather to introduce your article and state why you posted it – simply, why should we care about it? The goal here is to spur debate. Discussions on blackboard will constitute 10% of your final grade. For you to earn all the points in this section, you MUST post at least two articles and four responses. Two of your responses MUST directly address issues raised by your classmates on the articles you posted. Simply, answer back your critics. Two other responses are to be your reactions to any two articles posted by any one of your classmates. I will keep track of those participating in these discussions and award points accordingly.

NOTE: Article postings and responses MUST be current (No older than two weeks) after being posted by your classmates. Comments or responses to articles posted after two weeks will be read but will NOT earn you any point(s). Please DO NOT wait until the end of the semester to post your articles on blackboard or react to your colleagues’ posited articles.


Written Assignments: You will be required to write TWO papers in this course. The first paper is based on an article by Anthony Downs (1972) “Up and Down With Ecology: Issue-Attention Cycle.” Your task will be to read, understand and extrapolate the ideas of the author to your state’s response to I-35 Bridge collapse in Minneapolis, MN in 2007. Each one of you will be assigned a state and will be expected to write a paper addressing the following topics: introduce your state – tell us one or two things about your assigned state (1 point); analyze the pre-problem stage (2 points); explain the alarmed discovery and euphoric enthusiasm stage (2 points); projected costs for bridge repairs (2 points) the gradual decline of public interest (2 points) and the pos-problem stage (2 points). Then write your conclusion (1 point). Total points = 10.

Length – 2-3 pages long, double spaced, Font = 12 (Times New Roman). Due Date: 6th February, 2008.

The second/final paper requires you to identify a policy issue of interest to you for analysis. Such issue should not be limited to the national level only but may include policy issues at the state or local levels. I strongly suggest you limit issue choice to the state and local policy arena. You MUST CONSULT WITH ME before choosing your policy issue.

Your Task: identify an  issue and state why it is of interest to you (2 points); identify actors involved - official and unofficial (2 points); state their opposing arguments (2 points); identify the governmental structures that currently deal with the issue (2 points); make an argument about your likes and dislikes of the current policy: if you like the current policy, state why it should not be changed; if you do not like it, state why it should be changed (3 points); and conclusion – state which level(s) of government should address/deal with that policy issue - why in your opinion (2 points).  Citation & format (2 points)Total points = 15.  Length: 4 – 6 pages long. Due Date: 20th April @ 9:00 am.

Format – Font 12 (Times New Roman) & double spaced.


Reminder: I do NOT and will not accept/grade late papers unless you have a verifiable reason. All written papers must be submitted in hard copies in class and in person. You must also post your final papers on blackboard on the discussion section so that your classmates can have access to it. No excuses will be entertained for not doing your work, including but not limited to job obligations, family problems, your workload in other courses, computer crashes, car problems, printer malfunctions, boy/girl friend wrangles etc.


NOTE: Towards the end of the semester, we will spare our last three classes to review your final paper. Each student will be given a chance to present his/her policy paper. These presentations will be part of your participation and attendance grade. Everybody MUST participate in these presentations.


Readings: Since this is a university course, you are expected to read, discuss and engage with the course material. Not everything covered in the books will be discussed in lectures, but I will expect you to read all assigned readings including book chapters, journal articles and any other readings that I will deem necessary. Lectures are meant to enrich the material covered in books not simply to reread it.


Friday’s Discussions: All Fridays will be used for class (group) discussions. Each Friday, the class will be divided into groups (about eight) and each will be given a task/issue to which they will make arguments either for or against or both. Before the end of the class each group will be required to report back their findings to the class. Be aware that in such discussions you will have to entertain opposing views from the ones you hold dear. Although you are entitled to your opinion (which I encourage), the challenge in these discussions is for you to learn to respect and listen other people’s opinion. Disparaging and disrespectful language is highly discouraged and may lower your participation grade. Simply, be civil.


Academic Integrity

 Students are required to adhere to NIU’s code of student conduct for academic integrity.  Violations will result in a failed grade on the assignment and possibly the class.  You are expected to ensure that all assignments submitted for a grade reflect substantially your own work, that work submitted under your name is substantially original, and that you have understood and learned the competencies in each assignment and not relied solely on the knowledge of others.  Students whose work is substantially plagiarized from others will receive a ‘0’ on that assignment or exam.  If you are unclear of what actions constitute plagiarism, please see me.


Instructor’s Responsibilities

Having spelt out your expectations in this class, you are also entitled to know your expectations of me. In exchange of your attention and cooperation in class, you can expect me to

Create an open and stimulating environment for free exchange of ideas and for questioning the underlying assumptions. I also support and encourage students to challenge my arguments since I hold no monopoly to “truth”.


Support your right to appeal any grading decision or decision not to give a make-up exam. Your appeal must be made in writing or via e-mail no later than 24 hours after the test or written paper assignment is returned.


Be prompt, prepared and respectful of all view points. This is not to imply that you and I are to uncritically accept every argument. Our mutual goal is to critically examine issues based on available evidence on important issues. I concede that there exists a difference between analysis and personal or ideological attacks and I hope as the semester progresses this will be clear. Please do not allow my ideology or your classmates’ ideological leanings prevent you from speaking your mind.


Additional readings – make them available, accessible and on time.


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 disability-related needs during the first two weeks of the semester".




There will be one midterm exam and a final exam. The midterm exam will consist of multiple-choice, true-false and short questions answered in writing. The final exam will take a structured format with limited accommodations for class notes. You will be required to answer only one question out of four.  Make-up exams will ONLY be given in extreme emergencies and only with prior notice to the instructor.  An unexcused absence on the date of an exam will result in a score of zero for that test.


Midterm                                                                                                                                      40%

Paper One                                                                                                                                  10%

Paper Two                                                                                                                                  15%

Final                                                                                                                                 20%

Blackboard Discussions                                                                                                         10%

Class Participation & Attendance                                                                                        5%

Total                                                                                                                                           100%



 Grading Scale


“A” = 88 – 100

“B” = 76 - 87

“C” = 76 – 63

“D” = 62 – 51

“F” = 0 – 50.


Extra Credit??? None. Sorry!

Books and Other Readings

In addition to the assigned books, you will be required to do additional reading(s) of journal articles, other book chapters and news paper articles (from your classmates) posted on blackboard. All additional readings will be posted on blackboard under “Course Documents”.

Two books are required for this course and are available at the University Book Store. You are free to order these books online from, Borders or Barnes and Nobles.


Congressional Quarterly Researcher (2009). Issues For Debate In American Public Policy. 9th (eds). Washington, D.C.


James Gosling, (2004). Understanding, Informing and Appraising Public Policy.  Pearson/Longman, New York.


Current Events


Since I’ll be using current events to provide examples of real issues in public policy, you are expected to be familiar with major current issues. Your postings on blackboard will thus be drawn from major front page or front section stories in the Chicago Tribune, New York Times or the Washington Post.  Our University library subscribes to the Chicago Tribune and is readily available online.





WK                    Day             Date              Lecture Topic                                                                     Readings

1                   Mon          12- Jan              No Class


Wed        14- Jan               Introductions  & Course Policies


Fri             16- Jan             Defining & Classifying Public Policy               Cochran et al, Ch. 1 pp. 1-6

                                                                                                                         Gosling, Ch. 5 pp.74-74.


2                    Mon         19 - Jan              No Class


Wed        21 - Jan              Models of Policy Making

                                           and Value Judgments                                       Gupta, Ch.1 pp. 1-5 & pp. 11-16


Fri          23 - Jan               Context & Instruments of Public Policy        Cochran et al., Ch.1 pp. 11-20

                                                                                                                        Peters, Intro, pp. 6-14 

3                   Mon       26-Jan            Fragmented Gov’t & Policy Making                Gosling, pp. 23-36; & pp. 108-116

                                                                                                                     Cochran et al., Ch.2  pp.25-40


Wed       28-Jan           States & Policy Process                                     Gosling, Ch.4 pp.54-71       


Fri          30-Jan           Group Discussion (Gupta, pp.15)                     NY Times, September 15, 2000


4                   Mon      0 2-Feb           Conceptual Frameworks of                             Gosling, Ch.6 pp.93-97

                                       Studying Public Policy                                     Birkland, Ch.1 pp.6-8;

                                                                                                          In Shafritz, et al., (Kingdon), pp.148-159

                                                                                                          Downs, A. (1972) 38-50


Wed       04-Feb           Policy Process  & Agenda Setting          Gosling, Ch.3, pp.39-44

                                                                                                           Birkland, Ch.1 pp.1-5


Fri          06-Feb           Group Discussion                                     Issue: MN I-35 Bridge Collapse


                        Assignment # 1 Due @ 9:00 AM


5                   Mon       09-Feb          Problem Definition                                    Gosling, Ch.5, pp. 75-76

                                                                                                          Stone, Ch.8 pp. 137 -145 & 188-197

                                                                                                          Kingdon, pp. 108-119


Wed       11-Feb         Agenda Types &Policy Models               Gupta, Ch.3, pp. 49- 53

                                                                                                          Shafritz, (Cobb & Elder) pp. 128-136


Fri          13-Feb          Group Discussion                                      Gupta, pp. 54. “School Safety Case”.


6                   Mon       16-Feb         Policy Actors (Official)                               Kingdon, Ch.2, pp. 23- 47


Wed       18-Feb         Outside (unofficial) Actors                      Kingdon, Ch. 3, pp 48-74


Fri          20-Feb         Group Discussion    -   Issue: “Snail Darter” In Gupta, pp. 89.




7                   Mon        23-Feb       Windows of Opportunity, National          Gosling, Ch.3, pp.46-50

                                   Mood & Policy Entrepreneurs


Wed        25-Feb      Midterm Review


Fri        27 - Feb       MIDTERM EXAM






8                    Mon        02-Mar    EDUCATION – No Child Left Behind                CQ., pp. 1-20


Wed        04-Mar    Student Aid                                                          CQ., pp.25-44    


Fri           06-Mar    Group Discussion    - Issue “An ‘A’ For Everybody” – Chicago Tribune



                                           Spring Break!!!!!


10                Mon        16-Mar    HEALTH: Universal Coverage                             CQ., pp. 49-69


Wed       18-Mar      Fighting Superbugs                                               CQ., pp. 75-94


Fri          20-Mar    Group Discussion - Issue: “Should Gov’t Allow Drug Companies To Bring New  

                                                                                Antibiotics To Market?”

                                                                                                                  CQ., pp. 80-83


11               Mon       23-Mar     ECONOMY: Mortgage Crisis                             CQ., pp. 271-290


Wed       25-Mar     Aging Infrastructure                                          CQ., pp. 295- 314


Fri          27-Mar     Group Discussion – Issue: “Should Taxes Be Increased To Fix Our Infrastructure?

                                                                                                             CQ., pp. 300-302


12                 Mon       30-Apr    SOCIAL: Gun Violence                                    CQ., pp. 123-143                 


Wed       01-Apr    Domestic Poverty                                          CQ., pp. 99-118


Fri          03-Apr    Group Discussion   - Issue: “Should Guns be Allowed in College Campuses?                                                                                                                            


                                                                                                     CQ., pp. 134-139.


13                Mon      06 -Apr    HOMELAND & FOREIGN POLICY:  Illegal Immigration            CQ.,  pp. 319-338


Wed       08-Apr     Cost of Iraq War                                                                           CQ.,  pp. 367-384



Fri          10-Apr     Group Discussion   -   Issue: “How Should We Deal With Iran?”

                                                                                                                                         CQ., pp. 343-362



14                 Mon       13-Apr     ENVIRONMENT:     The Oil Jitters                                                     CQ.,  pp. 147-166


Wed       15-Apr     Mass Transit Boom                                                                             CQ.,  pp. 195-213


Fri          17-Apr      Group Discussion   -   Issue “Going Green. Should Government Require Green   


                                                                       Purchases?                                               CQ., pp. 171-187          


15                Mon       20-Apr      JUSTICE: Death Penalty  (FINAL PAPER DUE)                       CQ., pp. 243-262



Wed       22-Apr     Hate Speech


Fri         24-Apr        Final Paper Presentations


16                Mon      27-Apr       Final Paper Presentations


Wed      29-Apr       Final Paper Presentations


Fri        01-May        Review of Final Exam


17             Mon  06-May       FINALS


                                                         Good Luck!!!