Marymount University

  2807 North Glebe Road  Arlington, Virginia  22207-4299      (703) 284-1560        FAX (703) 284-3859


                School  of Arts and Sciences





 Course Number

POL 104 A1

Course Title

Introduction to American Government

 Fall Semester


 Spring Semester


Summer Semester




Name of Instructor

William Miller


Meeting Day, Time, and Room Number

Monday, Wednesday, Thursday or TBA, 6:00-9:00pm,  Gailhac 1018


Final Exam Day, Time, and Room Number

ONLY: Thursday June 18, 6:00pm, Gailhac 1018


Office Hours, Location, Phone

One half hour before and after each class in classroom or Rowley G206; 284-1687

 E-mail & Webpage (email is a better way to reach me than by telephone!)

 E-mail:; Website:

 I do not use Blackboard!




Academic Integrity

By accepting this syllabus, you pledge to uphold the principles of Academic Integrity expressed by the Marymount University Community. You agree to observe these principles yourself and to defend them against abuse by others.

Special Needs and Accommodations

Please advise the instructor of any special problems or needs at the beginning of the semester.  If you seek accommodation based on disabilities, you should provide a Faculty Contact Sheet obtained through Student Access Services located in Rowley Hall..

Access to Student Work

Copies of your work in this course including copies of any submitted papers and your portfolios may be kept on file for institutional research, assessment and accreditation purposes. All work used for these purposes will be submitted anonymously. 

Student Copyright Authorization

For the benefit of current and future students, work in this course may be used for educational critique, demonstrations, samples, presentations, and verification.  Outside of these uses, work shall not be sold, copied, broadcast, or distributed for profit without student consent. 

University Policy on Snow Closings

Snow closings are generally announced on area radio stations. For bulletins concerning Marymount snow or weather closings, call (703) 526-6888. Unless otherwise advised by radio announcement or by official bulletins on the number listed above, students are expected to report for class as near normal time as possible on days when weather conditions are adverse. Decisions as to snow closing or delayed opening are not generally made before 5:00 AM of the working day. Students are expected to attend class if the University is not officially closed. 





An introductory survey and analysis of the political processes that describe the operations of the federal, state, and local branches of government. Intergovernmental relations are examined.


The general purposes of the course are: (1) to introduce the students to the structures and functions of the major institutions of the American scheme of government—Congress, the Presidency, the federal courts, the bureaucracy, interest groups, and political parties and campaigns—and (2) to inquire into the origins, purposes, and historical development of these institutions. The first half of the course will focus on electoral politics; the second half will focus on the branches of the federal government. We will also discuss current political events: read a newspaper daily.



2.       COURSE OBJECTIVES/Learning Outcomes


·       University Requirements:


·       Ethics Across the Curriculum

         1. Students will read and understand texts about applied problems of justice as they pertain to government.

         2. Students will demonstrate an increased understanding of foundational questions about justice rooted in the principles of American government.

         (Outcomes will be measured by essay and/or short answer exam questions on the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and/or the Federalist Papers)


·       General Learning Outcomes:


·       Skills - Critical Reason and Problem Solving

         1. Students will practice critical reasoning and problem solving through study of the structure and principles of American Government.

         2. Students will apply knowledge of political analysis of the American system of government.

         (Outcome will be measured by performance on short essay exam questions on topics such as presidential-congressional relations, the role of public opinion in governance, and/or the budget process.)


·       Attitudes – Civic Responsibility

1.     Students will understand that a system of self-government requires the exercise of civic responsibility to survive and succeed.

2.     2. Students will learn that civic responsibility is exercised by acting according to informed and principled choices.

(Outcome will be measured by demonstrating an understanding of these principles through in-class discussions)


·       Discipline-Specific Outcomes:

1.     Students will have an understanding of principles of American government; i.e. natural rights theory, guarantee of civil rights as contained in founding documents; i.e. Declaration of Independence and Constitution. 

2.     .Students will know the structure and functions of American institutions of government.

3.     Students will understand citizen responsibility as it exists and is exercised in a system of self government.

(Outcome will be measured by identification, short answer, and objective questions on exams.)


·       Course Specific Outcomes: The design of this class is based on four parts: foundations, institutions, politics, and governance.    The course will begin by examining the rules, values, and principles behind our system of government.  The “politics” component of the course encompasses the entities outside of the formal government, including media, political parties, and interest groups. We will then turn our focus to government institutions: the Presidency, Congress, the Courts, and the bureaucracy.  We also examine the structure and function of state and local governments.  We will conclude the course by concentrating on public policy as a vehicle for governance.


3.    TEACHING METHOD   (lecture, laboratory, audio-visual, clinical experience, discussion, seminar, tutorial)


Class lectures and extensive discussion.




    There is no formal attendance policy, but consider that each class covers the equivalent of one week’s material during a regular semester. Absences can put you behind             very quickly. Plus, you will miss one of the daily quizzes. 


    The final grade will consist of three components—your two exam grades and the quiz-paper grade.


There will be one seventy-five minute mid-term examination and one similar final examination. Each exam will be given only on the scheduled day during the summer session. If you cannot take the mid-term at the scheduled time for reasons of sickness, legal, or job responsibilities, and if you provide me with satisfactory written documentation, you may take the exam immediately after the final exam on June 18th. Note: June 18th is not merely an alternate day for the mid-term. You must present me with documentation of a legitimate excuse—an official note from a medical professional, from a court or government officer, from a job supervisor. Otherwise, missing the mid-term will result in a zero for the exam. If you cannot take the final on June 18th, talk to me now, on the first day of class!


There will also be a quiz at the beginning of each class. The quizzes will only be offered at the beginning of class; there will be no make-ups, so if your schedule does not permit you to get to class right at 6:00pm on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday at 6:00pm, we must talk now. If you take the quiz and then leave class early without permission, or if you did not bring your textbook or other assigned reading to class with you, I will not grade the quiz or consider that you took it. The quizzes will focus on the assigned readings and are aimed primarily at determining whether you have read the material. Your total quiz grade, consisting of the top nine quiz grades, will equal one exam grade in determining your final grade.


Each of the exam grades and the quiz grade amount to a possible 100 points. Your final grade is based on the percentage of total points that you earn out of a total of 300 possible points: 90 to 100% = A-/A, 80 to 89%=B-/B/B+, 70 to 79%=C-/C/C+, 60 to 69%=D-/D/D+, below 60%=F.


5.    CLASS SCHEDULE   (This schedule is approximate and may be adjusted throughout the session.)


WEEK ONE (5/19-22) Introduction to the course; basic political concepts, the United States Constitution, federalism and separation of powers. (Turner text, Intro, ch. 1, pp. 13-39, and ch. 2, pp. 47-65).


WEEK TWO (5/26-29) NO CLASS MONDAY! Congress; the Presidency (Turner, ch. 9 & 10, and readings: Federalist #39 & 51)


 - May 29 - last day to drop a course without academic record


WEEK THREE (6/1-4) The Bureaucracy; the Courts (ch. 11 & 12, parts of ch. 1 & 2, pp. 153-165, 172-181, and readings). MID-TERM EXAM, 6/4.


- June 5 - last day to drop a course with a grade of W


WEEK FOUR (6/8-11) Politics and the Media (ch. 5 & 6, and readings by Prior, Price, and Starr)


WEEK FIVE (6/15-18) Political Parties and Interest Groups; Campaigns and Elections (ch. 7 & 8, and readings) FINAL EXAM, 6/18.





Charles Turner, D. Grier Stephenson, et al. Introduction to American Government. 7th ed. Redding, CA: BVT Publishing, 2013.


Daily Newspaper: online or paper version. I will also assign handouts and online articles for most classes.


Suggested Websites: (More will be given during the semester but this will get you started. Please let me know about additional sites that you find or know.)


The Founders' Constitution

"Thomas"—The Library of Congress Legislative Research Service

Official Documents of the Executive Branch via GPO

Recent Supreme Court Opinions

United States Supreme Court Website

Congressional Elections, 1900-2012.

Presidential Primary Candidates, 1952-2004.

See also the subject “United States presidential election 1964” (and so on) on Wikipedia for more information. The Wikipedia site looks pretty good for the 1952 to 1976 elections. The Theodore White series, "Making of the President," with bestsellers covering the 1960, 1964, 1968, and 1972 presidential campaigns, are excellent books for these four elections; they are well-known classics. I am not familiar with comparable books on the recent elections.

Presidential Elections, 1892-2012.

Presidential Succession, 1900-2008.

For material on the congressional incumbency advantage, see Incumbency Re-election Rates (Thirty-Thousand Org.), Incumbency Re-election Rates (Center for Responsive Politics)


Also Recommended:

James Madison, Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, Reported by James Madison. New York: Norton, 1987. This is also on the “Thomas” website.

Michael Kammen, ed. The Origins of the American Constitution: A Documentary History. New York: Viking Penguin, 1986.

Stanley, Harold W., and Niemi, Richard G. Vital Statistics on American Politics. Latest edition. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, ----.


A few additional rules for the class:

For the benefit of the class and your classmates, the following rules regarding electronic devices also apply to this course:

1. At the beginning of class, turn your cell phones off and put them away.  If you are expecting an important call, inform me about it, put your phone on “Vibrate,” sit near the door, and, when the call comes, answer it outside the classroom.

2. It follows from the foregoing rule, but it must be separately stated: no talking and no texting on cell phones during class. If you do not follow this rule, I will publicly ask you to leave the room for the remainder of the class and, if you do it again, I will do my best to have you removed from the course for the rest of the semester.

3. No lap tops will be permitted in class without my permission. There have simply been too many problems associated with allowing access to the Internet during class time. You may use iPads, Nooks, Kindles, or other e-readers—any device on which the screen lies flat on the desktop—if you use the electronic version of the textbook.

These rules are necessary to foster a suitable learning environment in the classroom during class. There are enough distractions with lawnmowers, air conditioners, and other outside forces to combat during lectures and discussions without these controllable distractions within the room.