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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato


Page address: Syllabi/PS474SYL.html

Political Science 474/574
The Executive Process
Spring 2006
TTh 8:00-9:15
AH 215

Instructor: Dr. Fred Slocum
Office: 204A Morris Hall
Phone: 389-6935
Web site:
Office Hours: M, W, F 1:00-3:00; T, Th 9:30-11:00, or by appointment


This course examines politics and policymaking in American politics, from the perspective of executive leaders.  Our major focus will be on the United States presidency, but from time to time we will draw comparisons with state and local executive officials, and with executive officials in other nations.  We will read and discuss a number of analyses of the George W. Bush presidency by leading presidential scholars.  We also will look at the initial expansion of presidential power since September 11, 2001, and responses to this expansion from the legislative and judicial branches.

We will encounter many ideas this semester, some of them quite controversial.  Political scientists, politicians and political observers argue vociferously over these ideas, and you should, too.  I expect and encourage frequent participation from members of the class.  You should come to class prepared to offer opinions, observations and questions, and to use recent events to shed light on concepts learned in this class.  Students of all ideological persuasions are encouraged to express their opinions during class discussions.  Agreement or disagreement with the professor's views will never become a factor in grading.

Course Objectives:

To the extent they do well in this course, students will gain knowledge and understanding of the following:

  • The American framers' experiences with executives, and how those experiences shaped the constitutional powers given to the president
  • Presidential elections, in the nomination and general election stages
  • Factors that contribute to the outcomes of presidential elections
  • The Electoral College, its advantages, disadvantages and biases
  • The 2004 election and its consequences
  • Organization of the executive branch, and how it is affected by the president's management style
  • Psychological dimensions of presidential service, including presidential character types
  • Presidential relations with Congress, and the factors that shape presidential success in Congress
  • The mutual influences of the president and the judicial branch on each other
  • The president's relations with bureaucrats, and why they often resist the president's preferences
  • The president's relationship with the press, and sources of conflict between presidents and journalists
  • Public opinion toward the president, its trends, sources and consequences
  • The concept of presidential opportunity, and how it influences a president's performance in office
  • The George W. Bush presidency, before and after 9/11
  • Suggestions for reforming the presidency

An additional objective of this course is to sharpen skills that will benefit you in gaining employment or admission to graduate or professional school.  These skills include especially those of communication (oral and written) and critical thinking that are valued increasingly in the global economy.  We will spend substantial class time discussing topics related to the readings and/or current events, as appropriate.  Students will be assigned to complete a brief research article review and oral report, and several other brief oral/written assignments with a choice of topics.  For graduate students, a longer book review replaces the article review, and an annotated bibliography will also be required.  Details on all paper assignments will be handed out separately.

Assignments and Grading:

There will be one midterm exam (March 9) and a non-cumulative final exam (May 11).  Each will consist of essays and identification items.  About a week before each, I will pass out a study guide to help you prepare.

The review assignment (to be handed out separately) will be due in class Tuesday, April 25, with oral presentations in class April 25 and 27.  For undergraduates, the paper will be a critical review (around 3 typed, double-spaced pages) of a research article on U.S. executive politics found in a professional journal such as Presidential Studies Quarterly.  No article can be reviewed by more than one student.  For graduate students, the paper will be a longer review of a book-length study instead, and will be due the same date.

There are several other short paper assignments, and students can exercise some choice among them.  One option is a brief character study of a president, using James David Barber's typology of presidential character.  A second option is an analysis of a decision faced by a president since 1969, on which there are clear constituencies on both (or multiple) sides of the issue.  A third option is to evaluate the 'presidential opportunity level' of a premodern (pre-FDR) president of your choice.  Students will choose any two of the above three options and for each, complete the assignment in a short paper and make a brief oral presentation in class.  Further details and specific due dates will be handed out separately.

Graduate students will also complete an annotated bibliography of articles from scholarly journals (totaling 250 pages or more) on a topic relevant to the American presidency or executive politics.  The topic must be cleared with the instructor.  The topic of your bibliography must be submitted to me in writing no later than Thursday, February 16.  The bibliography itself is due Tuesday, May 2.  Details of the bibliography assignment will be handed out separately.

Students are expected to contribute actively to class discussions, and should feel free to raise questions or points during class at any time.  Graduate students are expected to participate more actively in class.

Course grades will be determined as follows:

Undergraduate students:

  • Midterm exam: 20%
  • Article review: 15%
  • Paper 1: 15%
  • Paper 2: 15%
  • Attendance and participation: 10%
  • Final exam: 25%

Graduate students:

  • Midterm exam: 15%
  • Book review: 15%
  • Paper 1: 10%
  • Paper 2: 10%
  • Bibliography: 20%
  • Attendance and participation: 10%
  • Final exam: 20%

Grades will not be curved, meaning that you will not be competing against your classmates for a limited number of A's, B's and so on.  The grading scale is a straight scale, as follows:

  • A: 90%-100%
  • B: 80%-89.9%
  • C: 70%-79.9%
  • D: 60%-69.9%
  • F: 59.9% or less

Students whose point totals place them very near the cut point for the next higher letter grade will be evaluated on an individual basis for promotion to the higher grade.  In this evaluation, I will consider factors such as class participation, attitude and improvement over the term.

Students with Disabilities:

I would like to hear (early in the semester is much preferred) from students with a documented learning or other disability that might require some modification of seating, testing, or other class arrangements.  I will make every effort to accommodate students with these needs.  If you have any questions, please see me or contact Julie Snow in the Disability Services Office (132 Memorial Library, 389-1819).

Policy on Attendance:

I will note attendance frequently if not daily.  All students should plan to attend class regularly and contribute to class discussions.  Students are responsible for obtaining notes for any missed session.  Excused absences may be considered on a case-by-case basis for valid reasons (such as for certain medical reasons), or for significant opportunities, such as attending a professional conference.  Whenever possible, please notify me in advance of an absence, giving a valid reason.

Policy on Make-Up Examinations and Incomplete Grades:

Examinations cannot be made up unless the student provides acceptable, documented reason for missing the exam.  Makeup exam requests have merit to the extent that (1) the circumstance is unavoidable, (2) the reason for missing the exam can be documented, and (3) the instructor is notified well in advance of the exam.  Makeup exams will not necessarily be identical to, and may be more difficult than, the exam given in class.  Early exams will not be given.

The MSU Undergraduate Bulletin outlines University policy on incomplete grades as follows.  "The grade of 'incomplete' is reserved for special cases and means that, because of extenuating circumstances, the student failed to meet a specific need and an important requirement of the course, but has in other respects done passing work for the semester.  The incomplete must be made up in the next semester in which the student has enrolled, unless other arrangements have been made between the student and instructor.  If the deficiency is not made up within the specified time, the grade automatically becomes an F or NC" (p. 31).  I will support and enforce this policy fully.

Policy on Late Assignments:

Barring extenuating circumstances (which I must be notified of and approve in advance), late papers will be downgraded one full letter grade (10 points) for each calendar day late (20 points over a weekend), and no papers will be accepted more than three days late, unless other arrangements are made with the instructor.  These must be for valid reasons, similar to, but more compelling than, those justifying a makeup exam.  Computer-related problems (i.e. printer malfunctions, hard drive or disk crashes) are not an acceptable reason for late papers or extensions.

Academic Dishonesty:

A number of activities may be construed as academic dishonesty (cheating).  These include, but are not limited to: copying material from another source (book, manuscript or another student) without proper acknowledgment, using crib sheets during an exam, talking during an exam, or looking at another student's exam.  Any cheating will result in an automatic F in the course and possible further disciplinary action.  In papers, if you either quote a source or paraphrase (express an idea drawn from another source in your own words), you must acknowledge your use of that source in an approved citation form (i.e. APA, MLA, Chicago citation style).  Come see me if you have any questions.


There are three required texts for this class.  Although we will not read all of each book, we will read substantial portions of each.  To lower your costs, students may want to arrange to share books

  • George C. Edwards III and Stephen J. Wayne, Presidential Leadership: Politics and Policy Making, 7th edition.  Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth Publishers, 2006.
  • Colin Campbell and Bert A. Rockman, The George W. Bush Presidency: Appraisals and Prospects.  Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2004.
  • Michael Nelson (ed.), The Presidency and the Political System, 8th edition.  Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2006.
  • Recommended reading: The New York Times or Washington Post (available in Memorial Library, and also on the Web at or

There may be an occasional reading assignment outside the two main course texts.  These assignments will be distributed in class.

Course Calendar and Assignments:

I will make reasonable efforts to follow the schedule of topics below.  However, as time and circumstances dictate, the dates may change somewhat.  Thus, the dates given below should be considered approximate.  I will announce any changes to the schedule below in class.  Abbreviations used below are as follows: E&W (Edwards and Wayne); C&R (Campbell and Rockman) and N (Nelson).

Part I: History and Evolution of the Presidency.

Week 1 - January 17-19: Introductions; constitutional origins and provisions; the premodern vs. modern presidency.  E&W, Ch. 1; N, Ch. 3.

Part II: The Presidential Election Process.

Week 2 - January 24-26: The nomination process.  E&W, Ch. 2; N, Ch. 7.

Week 3 - January 31-February 2: The general election.  E&W, Ch. 3.

Week 4 - February 7-9: The Electoral College; the 2004 election.  N, Ch. 8. 

Part III: Structures and Operation of the Presidency.

Week 5 - February 14-16: Organizing the presidential office; presidential decision making.  E&W, Ch. 6; C&R, Ch. 4.

(Thursday, February 16: Graduate students - bibliography topics due)

Week 6 - February 21-23: Student presentations.  Presidential decision making.  E&W, Ch. 7.

(Tuesday, February 21: First paper due)

Week 7 - February 28-March 2: Presidential psychology and character, and why it matters.  E&W, Ch. 8; N, Ch. 6.

Week 8 - March 7: The George W. Bush presidency before and after 9/11; presidential 'opportunity level.'  E&W, Ch. 15; C&R, Ch. 8.

(Thursday, March 9: Midterm exam)

(Tuesday and Thursday, March 14 and 16: Spring vacation - NO CLASS)

Part IV: Presidential Relations with Other Political Actors.

Week 9 - March 21-23: The public: the president's public approval.  E&W, Ch. 4; C&R, Ch. 2.

Week 10 - March 28-30: Student presentations.  The media.  E&W, Ch. 5.

(Tuesday, March 28: Second paper due)

Week 11 - April 4-6: Congress: separated institutions, sharing power.  E&W, Ch. 10; N, Ch. 17.

Week 12 - April 11-13: Student presentations.  The judiciary.  E&W, Ch. 11.

(Tuesday, April 11: Third paper due)

Week 13 - April 18-20: The bureaucracy.  E&W, Ch. 9; N, Ch. 15.

Part V. Assessing the George W. Bush Presidency.

Week 14 - April 25-27: Student presentations.  The George W. Bush presidency in domestic policy.  C&R, Ch. 7.

(Tuesday, April 25: Article reviews due)

Week 15 - May 2-4: The George W. Bush presidency in foreign policy; an overall assessment.  C&R, Chs. 11 and 12.

(Tuesday, May 2: Bibliographies (graduates) due)

(Thursday, May 11, 10:15 AM: Final exam)