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EST 221. Introduction to American Government (3)
Description of the American political system, its role and functions in society, and the nature of political processes. Examples are drawn from a variety of settings and circumstances, with limited attention to problems involving the natural environment. Fall.

Red states, blue states: Can this really be what American government is about? (Photo. S. Moran)


(Draft 08/26 – subject to change)

EST 221 Introduction to American Government

Class time and location: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11:00 AM -12:20 P.M. in 111 Marshall

Professor: Dr. Sharon Moran TA: Joe Liciandrello

Office/phone: Marshall 113, 470.6690 Office/phone: 607.759.2352

Email: Email:

Office hours: T 1-2 P.M. Hrs:

W. 10-11 A.M, or email for appt.


This class provides an introduction to the American political system: the actors, institutions, and processes that shape the way our country is governed. The main goal of the course is to develop your ability to think about and analyze political phenomena. You will become acquainted with competing theories that try to explain how key events or patterns develop (for example, cultural, institutional, and rational choice theories). Although this is not a course in current events, I do encourage you to stay informed about the news; it’s an election year, so count on it.

By the end of the course, you will understand how the American political system operates, and how it has changed over time. You will also know more about the forces that have shaped the system, in other words, what caused the change. While the specific information you learn in this course may fade over time, the skills you learn will stay with you.

The format of the course varies from session to session so expect a mix of short lectures, guest speakers, films, and group exercises. There may even be some field trips (probably optional). On occasion, we will meet elsewhere, so please check email regularly and listen in class for announcements about changed locations.


This course will enable you to:

  • Identify the key actors and dynamics within American politics, and know the terminology used
  • Develop the ability to think conceptually and analytically
  • Identify the political values inherent in various policy proposals.
  • Discuss politics in a way that could be persuasive to someone who does not already agree with you, i.e. make better arguments
  • Explain why “agents of change” continue to be active in American government
  • Apply your learning to the “conventional wisdom” about American politics


The textbook for course is: We the People, Shorter 6th edition, W.W. Norton and Company, Ginsberg, Benjamin, Theodore J. Lowi, and Margaret Weir. 2007. It is available at the Follett’s Orange Bookstore. The ISBN is 0-393-92956-6. The website is:

Additional readings will also be assigned.


I. Assignments 40%

II. Exams - First exam 20%

Final exam 20%

III. Class Participation 20%

I. Assignments: You will complete at least 10 assignments during the semester, and each one counts for 4% of the grade (40% total).

II. Exams: The exam format will involve a combination of multiple choice and short answer questions. Please submit candidate questions – extra credit for ones I use.

III. Class participation: A detailed sheet describing how class participation is graded follows the syllabus. Half of the participation grade is based on in-class exercises, and the other half is based on in-class discussions. Attendance: You will be expected to attend class regularly, and attendance will be taken periodically. Attendance does not figure directly in calculating grades; nonetheless, missing class will affect your ability to learn the material, participate, do the assignments, and do well on the exams – in short, everything else. If you do miss class for whatever reason, you are responsible for getting the notes, handouts, from another student. Note: The grading formula may be revised if circumstances warrant it.


Much of our class communication will happen through email, and we use the address on file with the Registrar, so check it at least twice daily. Classroom protocol will be discussed the first day and we will agree on some general guidelines. I propose the following: no eating in class unless you brought enough for everyone, and cell phones turned off. All class discussions are premised upon mutual respect. Political ideas of all kinds are up for discussion; ad hominem attacks and degrading other people is off-limits.

Assignments are due on their due dates, at the beginning of class, so do not miss class to finish an assignment. Any assignment submitted late will be penalized at the rate of one full letter grade per day (meaning, for example, A- become B-), and the penalty starts immediately. Exams are given on specified dates only.

Concerning academic dishonesty (a.k.a. cheating) don’t do it; if you find yourself even considering the idea of faking something, it is time to consider a leave of absence from school. Please familiarize yourself with the University’s policy. Not knowing what constitutes cheating is not an acceptable excuse, so if something even seems like it might be cheating, clarify it.


If you have any special needs that you want me to address, contact me as soon as possible. This includes both documented needs (e.g. learning disabilities) as well as something more generic (e.g. shy about talking in groups). The TA and I can only help if you decide to discuss it with one of us; waiting until it has already become a problem misses the point. We aren’t specialists but we are able to steer you toward people who are, so please feel free to discuss those issues with me. I am also willing to adjust my classroom practice to help you learn more effectively.


Note: All readings below are in We the People. Reading should (usually) be done by 1st date listed.

Week 1: T 8/26 and Thurs. 8/28 Introduction and Ch.1 American Political Culture

Organization, overview, expectations, group discussions, agreement on classroom guidelines.

Week 2: T 9/2 and Thurs. 9/4 Ch. 2 The Founding and the Constitution

Week 3: T 9/9 and Thurs. 9/11 Ch. 3 Federalism

Week 4: T 9/16 and Thurs. 9/18 Ch. 4 Civil Liberties

Week 5: T 9/23 and Thurs. 9/25 Ch. 5 Civil Rights

Week 6: T 9/30 NO CLASS (Eid Ul-Fitr) and Thurs. 10/02 Ch. 6 Public Opinion

Week 7: T 10/7 EXAM and Thurs. 10/09 NO CLASS (Yom Kippur)

Week 8: T 10/14 and Thurs. 10/16 Ch. 7 The Media and Ch. 8 Participation and Voting

Week 9: T 10/21 and Thurs. 10/23 Ch. 9 Political Parties

Week 10:T 10/28 and Thurs. 10/30 Ch. 10 Campaigns and Elections

Week 11: T 11/04 and Thurs. 11/06 Ch.11 Groups and Interests

Week 12: T 11/11 and Thurs. 11/13 Ch.12 Congress

Week 13: T 11/18 and Thurs. 11/20 Ch. 13 The Presidency

Week 14: T 11/25 Ch.14 Bureaucracy in a Democracy and Thurs. 11/27 NO CLASS (T-GIVING)

Week 15: T 12/02 Ch. 15 The Federal Courts and Thurs. 12/04 Review Session

DECEMBER 8 – 12 FINAL EXAM PERIOD (our exact date t.b.a.)

Participation Grading Guide*

EST 221 Introduction to American Government





Excellent: leads discussion; offers analysis and comments; always has ideas on theme of the reading; takes care not to dominate; asks probing questions

Clearly has done and prepared questions on virtually all readings; intelligently uses this understanding and these questions in the discussion


Very Good: thoughtful comments and questions for the most part; willing, able and frequent contributor

Has done most readings; provides competent analysis of reading when prompted by others


Good: has basic grasp of key concepts and occasional ideas on the main theme of the reading; arguments are sporadic and at times incomplete or poorly supported; unwilling to ask questions

Displays familiarity with most readings, but tends not to analyze them or to relate them to course material


Somewhat Poor: remarks in class marred by misunderstandings of key concepts; seldom contributes effectively to discussion of the main theme; often digresses in unhelpful ways; sporadic

Actual knowledge of material is outweighed by improvised comments and remarks

0 – 1

Poor: rarely speaks; parrots text or comments of others

Little to no apparent familiarity with assigned material

*Adapted from George Hoberg, University of British Columbia and William D. Coleman, McMaster University.

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