Course Syllabus

POLS 1, Introduction to United States Government
1988 - Course Syllabus

Course Description

Principles and problems of government with emphasis on national, state and local governments in the United States.

The course of outline of record can be found here.

Student Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of the course, students will be able to:

  1. Analyze American political institutions and processes;

  2. Assess how government impacts their daily lives;

  3. Engage in discourse about contemporary political problems and issues, applying critical thinking skills and analysis to support a point of view.

Class Meetings

This class meets synchronously once a week on Tuesday from 10:30 to 12:00 noon. Students taking this class are still expected to commit the same amount of time as a face to face 3 unit class. In order to do so,  there is weekly asynchronous work that needs to be completed. This will be made available through weekly modules

Instructor Contact

Johannes van Gorp


Phone: (805) 280-8791

Office Hours: Wednesday from 9:30 to 14:30 and Thursday by appointment. You can schedule a 15 minute appointment during office hours through a link available on the homepage . I respond to emails with 24 hours from Monday to Friday.

Please do not respond to my feedback to your assignments within the particular assignment page. I do not get notifications about these.  Please email me.

Course Web Site

Students will use the Canvas course web site for assignment instructions, submitting assignments, viewing classmate's work, sharing resources, and viewing grades.

Textbooks and Required Readings

The following books are required for the course:

  1. Samuel Kernell, Gary C. Jacobson, Thad Kousser and Lynn Vavreck (2020). The Logic of American Politics, 9 Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: CQ Press
  2. Occasional selections from The Economist’s America section. (course website)
  3. Select readings that can be found on the course website.

You can locate and order textbooks online via the SRJC Bookstore.

Required Software

You will need the following software for this course. 

Important Dates

Day class begins

Tue. Sep. 1

Day class instruction ends

Fri. Dec. 11

Last day to drop with refund

Tue. Sep. 15

Last day to drop without a ‘W’ symbol

Tue. Sep. 22

Last day to opt for Pass/No Pass

Fri. Dec. 18

Last day to drop with a ‘W’ symbol

Mon. Nov. 16

Dropping the Class

If you decide to discontinue this course, it is your responsibility to officially drop it to avoid getting no refund (after 10% of course length), a W symbol (after 20%), or a grade (after 60%). For classes that meet online, students who fail to log on and initiate participation on the first day of the class may be dropped by the instructor. Also, for several consecutive, unexplained absences, the instructor may drop a student.

Pass‐NoPass (P/NP)

You may take this class P/NP. You must decide before the deadline, and add the option online with TLC or file the P/NP form with Admissions and Records. With a grade of C or better, you will get P.

You must file for the P/NP option by December 18, 2020. Once you decide to go for P/NP, you cannot change back to a letter grade. If you are taking this course as part of a certificate program, you can probably still take the class P/NP. Check with a counselor to be sure.

Instructor Announcements and Q&A Forum

The instructor will post announcements on the “Instructor Announcements” page in Canvas throughout the semester. Canvas notifies students according to their preferred Notification Preferences as soon as the instructor creates an Announcement. A “Q&A Forum” is also on Canvas to ask for assistance of your classmates or of instructor.



You are expected to be logged in on time and to attend class in its entirety on every Monday for our synchronous Zoom meeting. You should also be prepared to actively participate. Participation is not simply a matter of speaking up. It also means demonstrating your comprehension of the reading, asking relevant questions, respecting others’ opinions, thinking intelligently about the material, and being present. This means readings assigned for that week should be completed beforehand. There also will be graded on-line discussions throughout the course that require about 150 to 200 words of writing a week – this is what your discussion grade will be based on.


You will have a quiz once a week. These quizzes are there to ensure that you have an incentive to stay on top of your readings. They are also there so that the instructor can be sure that you are comprehending these readings. There will not be makeup quizzes. Quizzes are due at 11:59 pm on the Thursday of each week. Because life happens, the two lowest quiz grades will be dropped.

Research Papers

You are expected to write a 1,000 word paper in this course (double spaced, font Times New Roman and 1” margins). Besides course readings, the paper should draw from at least 8 other peer-reviewed sources (you may also consult The Economist, or other news sources, but these will not count towards your eight peer-reviewed sources). Papers should have an introduction, a clear thesis statement, a conclusion and be properly cited using Harvard There should be at least two paragraphs a page, with at least two sources referenced per paragraph.

Prompt (due at Sunday December 13 at 11:59 pm): Write an essay on one of the following:

  1. How has the role of the presidency changed in the American political system in the course of the 20th century? In your opinion, is this for the better?
  2. Has Congress become more dysfunctional? If so, why? If not, why not? What likely implications is this going to have for the future of American politics?
  3. Choose one of the first ten amendments to the constitution. Analyze how and why this amendment still matters today by examining a Supreme Court ruling from the last 5 years. Be sure to link theory to practice.


Including the final, there will be three exams in this class. Exams I and II consist of 20 multiple-choice questions and 4 short answer questions (each answer should be about a paragraph in length). The final exam will consist of 4 short answer questions (each answer should be about a paragraph in length) and an essay. For all exams the material comes from the textbook, class lectures, and supplemental materials. If any exam is missed, a zero will be recorded as the score. It is your responsibility to take the online exams by the due date.

Late Policy

All assignments are due at 11:59 pm on the due date. Research papers submitted late will lose 3% of a grade for each day they are late. Thus, a 95% paper will become a 92% paper if it is handed in one day late. Similarly, a 95% paper handed in two days late becomes an 89% paper, etc. Late quiz and discussion submissions will not be accepted. 

Grading Policy

Assignment Grades

Visit the “Grades” in Canvas to keep track of your grades. I post grades and comments on the online Canvas gradebook.

Grades will be assigned as follows:

90.00 – 100.0



80.00 – 89.99



70.00 – 79.99



60.00 – 69.99



Less than 59.99



If taking Pass/No Pass you need at least 70% of the total class points and complete the midterm exam and the final exam to pass the class.

Grade Distribution

Your course grade consists of the following weights:



Due Date

Discussion Posts






Research Paper


Sun. Dec. 13

Exam I


Sun. Oct. 11

Exam II


Sun. Nov. 15

Final Exam


Tue. Dec. 15




Your final grade will be based exclusively on these course components. No extra-credit projects will be offered to supplement a final grade. Once posted, grades are final and will not be changed barring a mathematical or clerical error.

Standards of Conduct

Students who register in SRJC classes are required to abide by the SRJC Student Conduct Standards. Violation of the Standards is basis for referral to the Vice President of Student Services or dismissal from class or from the College. See the Student Code of Conduct page.

Collaborating on or copying of tests or homework in whole or in part will be considered an act of academic dishonesty and result in a grade of 0 for that test or assignment. I encourage students to share information and ideas, but not their work. See these links on Plagiarism:
SRJC Writing Center Lessons on avoiding plagiarism
SRJC's policy on Academic Integrity

Other Important Policies and Practices

Avoid Plagiarism Like the, er, Plague

Although most students have likely heard about plagiarism during their years of schooling, it still is prevalent-even in higher education.

The video below reviews what plagiarism is and how not to do it.

Plagiarism: How to avoid it

Class Notes

Students are responsible for their own class notes. Students absent from class should obtain notes from their fellow students. The instructor’s notes are not available.

Makeup Quizzes and Exams

The scheduled exam dates are firm. In case of an emergency situation (e.g. illness, death in the family), inform the instructor at least twenty-four hours in advance of the scheduled exam. A missed exam lacking appropriate documentation will count as zero points in the final grade.

Technology and Papers

Last minute computer or typing crises (corrupted USB keys, crashing hard-drives, etc.) are not considered as acceptable emergencies. Save your work often and back it up in multiple locations.

Netiquette, or Why Is It Harder to Be Polite Online?

Netiquette refers to using common courtesy in online communication. All members of the class are expected to follow netiquette in all course communications. Use these guidelines:

  • Use capital letters sparingly. THEY LOOK LIKE SHOUTING.
  • Forward emails only with a writer's permission.
  • Be considerate of others' feelings and use language carefully.
  • Cite all quotations, references, and sources (otherwise, it is plagiarism).
  • Use humor carefully. It is hard to "read" tone; sometimes humor can be misread as criticism or personal attack. Feel free to use emoticons like :) for a smiley face to let others know you are being humorous.
  • Use complete sentences and standard English grammar to compose posts. Write in proper paragraphs. Review work before submitting it.
  • Text speak, such as "ur" for "your" or "ru" for "are you" etc., is only acceptable when texting.

Special Needs

Students with disabilities who believe they need accommodations in this class are encouraged to contact Disability Resources (527-4278), as soon as possible to better ensure such accommodations are implemented in a timely fashion.

Course Schedule

Readings are to be completed before the class for which they are assigned. Readings are listed below under the title of each lecture.




Part I: The Foundations of U.S. Government


Mon. Aug. 31-Sun. Sep. 6

The Study of Politics – Collective Action Problems and Institutions

- Kernell, Jacobsen, Kousser and Vavreck, Chapter 1

Quiz 1 – Canvas

Quiz 2 – Syllabus

Discussion 1 - Introductions


Mon. Sep. 7-Sun. Sep. 13

The Founding Era – Roots of the Republic and the Constitution

No Zoom Meeting Tue. Sep. 8 – Professional Development Day


- Kernell, Jacobsen, Kousser and Vavreck, Chapter 2

Quiz 3

Discussion 2


Mon. Sep. 14-Sun. Sep. 20

Federalism, American Style

- Kernell, Jacobsen, Kousser and Vavreck, Chapter 3

Quiz 4

Discussion 3


Mon. Sep. 21-Sun. Sep. 27

California Government and Politics

- Anagnoson et. al., Governing California in the Twenty-First Century, Chapter 1 + Chapter 2 (available on Canvas)

Quiz 5

Discussion 4

Part II: Government Institutions


Mon. Sep. 28-Sun. Oct. 4

The Executive Branch (Class Cancelled because of shut down)

- Kernell, Jacobsen, Kousser and Vavreck, Chapter 7

Quiz 6

Discussion 5


Mon. Oct. 5-Sun. Oct. 11

The Executive Branch

- Kernell, Jacobsen, Kousser and Vavreck, Chapter 7

Exam I – Covers Week 1-5, due Sun. Oct. 11 at 11:59 pm.


Mon. Oct. 12-Sun. Oct. 18

The Legislative Branch

- Kernell, Jacobsen, Kousser and Vavreck, Chapter 6

Quiz 7

Discussion 6


Mon. Oct. 19-Sun. Oct. 25

The Federal Judiciary

- Kernell, Jacobsen, Kousser and Vavreck, Chapter 9

Quiz 8

Discussion 7

Part III: Linkage Institutions


Mon. Oct. 26-Sun. Nov. 1


Public Opinion

- Kernell, Jacobsen, Kousser and Vavreck, Chapter 10

Quiz 9

Discussion 8


Mon. Nov. 2-Sun. Nov. 8

Voting, Campaigns, and Elections

- Kernell, Jacobsen, Kousser and Vavreck, Chapter 11

Quiz 10

Discussion 9


Mon. Nov. 9-Sun. Nov. 15

The Role of the Media

- Kernell, Jacobsen, Kousser and Vavreck, Chapter 14

Exam II – Covers Week 6-10, due Sun. Nov. 15 at 11:59 pm.


Mon. Nov. 16-Sun. Nov. 22

Political Parties

- Kernell, Jacobsen, Kousser and Vavreck, Chapter 12

Quiz 11

Discussion 10

Part IV: Citizens and the State


Mon. Nov. 23-Sun. Nov. 29

Civil Liberties and the Incorporation of the Bill of Rights

- Kernell, Jacobsen, Kousser and Vavreck, Chapter 5

 None - Thanksgiving


Mon. Nov. 30-Sun. Dec. 6

Civil Rights: American Slavery, American Freedom

- Kernell, Jacobsen, Kousser and Vavreck, Chapter 4

Quiz 12

Discussion 11


Mon. Dec. 7-Thu. Dec. 10

Civil Rights – The Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement

- Ta-Nahisi Coates (2014). “The Case for Reparations”. The Atlantic. (available on Canvas)

Research Paper due Dec. 13 at 11:59 pm

Tue. Dec. 15

Final Exam