Syllabus - GOVT 2306 - Fall 2012

Government 2306
Kevin Jefferies
Office: D-257
Office Phone: 281-756-3736
email: -- though I'd like you to start using the email on blackboard for classroom issues.
class blog:

Fall 2012
GOVT 2306 - 01
GOVT 2306 - 02
August 29 - December 14

This is the official information about the class from the ACC catalog: GOVT 2306 Texas Government (Texas Constitution and Topics) (3-credits) Origin and development of the Texas Constitution, structure and powers of state and local government, federalism and inter-governmental relations, political participation, the election process, public policy, and the political culture of Texas. Prerequisites: READ 0310 and ENGL 0310.

Please note the prerequisites. By taking this class it is assumed that you have the basic ability to read and write at the college level. You will be expected to perform at that level in all written assignments and communications.

Introduction: Why is This Course Offered? We live in a democratic republic. In such a system the people are sovereign, meaning that ultimate political authority rests with the people. This isn't necessarily good news. Overall levels of knowledge about government are quite low. The founding generation recognized this and created a governing system that placed a significant number of barriers between the people and the law. This was to ensure that the "instability, injustice, and confusion" common in democracies would not lead the new country to an early demise. Nevertheless it was understood that participation would expand and an educated population would be required to ensure that the country would survive. Public education and democratic government therefore go hand in hand. This class is not only offered, but required, in order to ensure that you become a knowledgeable participant in the American governing system. I might be prejudiced, but I happen to think that this is the most important class you will take in college, and I treat it as such.

Learning Objectives: What Do I Plan to Accomplish? GOVT 2302 takes explores the institutions of American government on the national, state, and local level. Broadly this means that we will look at the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, and their relative components, powers and personnel. We will begin by exploring the organic evolution of these institutions over the course of British history, and how that history helped determine how each branch was designed in the United States and Texas Constitutions. We will devote a good amount of time to reading through the relevant articles in each constitution. We will then analyze how each branch has evolved since the Constitution was written and the state of their designs today, including an understanding of the people who occupy those positions currently. We will also use this information to help make sense of the current controversies that each institution is dealing with. We will conclude with a look at some of the current, topical public policy disputes: health care, financial regulations, and energy. Hopefully our discussion of the governing institutions will help us understand how policy is shaped.

Methods for Accomplishing Course Objectives: Below (under "Calendars") you will see a series of links which take you to pages I have put together on class subject matter You will be expected to read not only the material I have assembled for you, but additional material pulled from various sources online. You'll see a lot of links, but you aren't expected to know everything I link you to. The class is designed to introduce you to the large number of additional sources of information which exist online. Your understanding of the assigned material will be assessed in two ways. The first is based on your ability to answer short answer questions while the second will be based on answering multiple choice and other similar questions. The first is subjective and is meant to force you to think critically about the subject matter while the latter tests your factual understanding of the material.

My Teaching Style: Over the course of two decades of teaching government, I've come to the conclusion that the Constitution is simply a means of making decisions publicly, of non-violently reconciling the different points of view -- or interests -- that exist in society. James Madison says as much in Federalist #10: The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation, and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of the government. Conflict is part of the process. I see my job as helping you understand how the constitutional system structures that conflict. While it is common for people to consider the political and governing process as hopelessly complex and confusing, it isn't. Once you properly understand the framework of the overall, while you still might get lost in the specifics, the general process make sense.

BlackBoard: Much of this class (both online and lecture) will be run in Blackboard. Obviously this is no big deal for online students, but lecture students will also take their quizzes (Blackboard calls them "assessments" so that is the term I will use) and submit their written work through this site. This means that there will be no assessments in class, though my lecture students will have two in class tests, a midterm and the final (multiple choice). As you will note below, every week we will have both a 25 (or so) question multiple choice assessment and a 150 word (at minimum) short answer question. The assessments are designed to do just that, assess how well you know the material, the short answer questions are designed to force you to apply that material to current issues and debates.

If you do not already have a blackboard account, get one. Click here to get started:

Please note that we will have weekly assessments beginning the first week of class, so it is your responsibility to do this promptly.

Readings: Although all of the readings in this class are available online in the pages you are linked to below, you may wish to use a traditional textbook. If so, the following two are available in the bookstore:

Lowi, Theodore, Benjamin Ginsberg and Kenneth Shepsle. American Government. 11th Edition. New York: W.W. Norton.
Brown, Lyle et al. Practicing Texas Politics. 13th Edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

For information on the textbook and other course materials, including details about how you can order your book online and have it delivered to you, visit the ACC College Store's Web page.

About those Power Points: The bulk of the information I provide to you is through power point slides. I find these convenient ways to manage access to class information. You will see that I have lots of them, this is because I treat them as book chapters. It also keep me from writing on the board. If you are a lecture students you will soon find out that this is a good thing. The slides are laden with links to different sources of additional information. In reality, this is the most important part of the class. I want you to become familiar with the wealth of information that is available to you online. More than anything else - really - that's what I want you to get out of this class (in addition to the basic info about the structure of the government). Please make sure that the links open for you as quickly as you can. I use an older version of power point so that it will work on most - hopefully all - computers. Let me know if you are having problems. Some students need to right click in order to open them. I also keep them very simple (and black and white) so you can print them out if you choose and not blow your printer cartridges. I suggest taking notes from the slides, but do whatever works for you.

About the blog - The Weaker Party: You will notice that I also maintain a blog -- -- where I post items, usually on a daily basis, that pertain to the subject matter of the class. Everyday we will spend time discussing how current events illustrate the principles we cover in class. The blog features a large number of links to the various institutions we will come to understand in this class. In order to better communicate, I want you to go to the page and subscribe to it, you will notice a subscription widget on the right of the page. By subscribing, you will receive daily information regarding not only what we will cover in the class, but also various other notices such as whether class will be cancelled.

What's with the Wikipedia Links? You will also notice that I often link to Wikipedia pages, the open-sourced web based encyclopedia. Wikipedia is often criticized as being unreliable and subject to manipulation. In some cases entries are edited by people who wish to bias the information contained in the article for self interested reasons, but the site has become increasingly reliable, especially with relatively non-controversial or historical topics. I have found the range of articles available to be impressive. There is easily accessible information available there, that simply cannot be found elsewhere. I have found it to be very useful for my purposes. Perhaps its best feature is that it records all edits and allows for discussions of controversies associated with how subjects are discussed.

Here are some links that touch on controversies associated with Wikipedia:
- Dean's World.
- Reliability of Wikipedia, from Wikipedia itself

Grading: A = 89.5 - 100; B = 79.5 - 89.5; C = 69.5 - 79.5; D = 59.5 - 69.5; F 59.5 - 0

Your grade will be based on how well you perform in the following:

1 - Weekly Quizzes (25%): You will be expected to take assessments each week for each of the sections covered that week. I want you to take them all, but will drop the lowest two - again provided you took them. The purpose is to ensure that you have familiarity with the subject matter we cover in class. These assessments will be given through BlackBoard, so once again, please get an account immediately. The assessments are intended to reinforce the principle points made in each section and assess - objectively - your retention of those points. You can use the power points available on each wiki page while answering the questions, so yes they are open note. Check below for the days and times each assessment will be opened.

2 - Weekly Written Assignments (25%): Each week I will also post a question designed to encourage you to think critically about that week's material. They will generally ask you about a current event that illustrates some aspect of that week's readings. These will also be presented to you in BlackBoard - though the questions will be written out in the blog - and you are to send your responses through BlackBoard as well. I'd prefer you to use the submissions box, but note that you will be timed out if you take too long to compose it there. I'd recommend writing answers out in a word processor then pasting them into the box. The assignments will be posted at the beginning of each week and you will have a full week to write at least 150 words (you should consider this to be a bare minimum) and be analytical in nature, based on the specific facts related to the subject. If you plagiarize your answer you will receive a 0, and this grade will not be replaced. I will accept late work, but all work is to be turned in by the date listed below. You are required to turn all of these in, and I will not drop any of these grades.

3 - A Written Report (25%): You will be required to turn in a 1000 word paper at the end of the semester on a topic you can find by clicking on this link. The paper will be evaluated base on a variety of criteria including, content, organization, grammar and spelling. The paper is to follow MLA guidelines. These can be found on the following website: The ACC writing center can also assist you with formatting issues. Send me your report by the date listed below. You must submit the paper in two separate places, both can be found on BlackBoard. One - the one I will be grading - can be found under "assignments" where you submit the weekly written assignments. The second is under the Writing Assessment link on BlackBoard - which you will see each time you get on BlackBoard. Here the assignment will be evaluated based on three criteria. First, did it meet the requirements of the assignmen? Second, was it organized well? And third, are the mechanics of the paper (spelling, grammar, and whatever else applies) proper? Please follow the instructions provided to upload your paper.

4 - A Cumulative Final (25%): Look below for the dates of finals week. Lecture students check online for the precise day and time of your final. Online students will take their final online. It will be open for one day and you will have two hours to complete it. Each will be composed of 100 multiple choice questions.

Regarding Student Behavior: You are adults and will be expected to act accordingly. For online students this means that I expect you to do your own work. You will not ask anyone else to write papers for you, or you will not simply copy text from various sources and tell me you did it. Turnitin, and other techniques will be used to determine if you have plagiarized. Among the Founders, proper behavior was considered to be a necessary mark of a civilized person and a requirement for political participation. Read through Washington's Rules for Civility and Decent Behavior. It is a great example. Consider adopting a few.

Please Note: If you have any disabilities or other special needs that will affect your ability to learn in this class, please inform me. Appropriate steps will be taken to make reasonable accommodations and assistance with your needs.

AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT - ACC complies with ADA and 504 Federal guidelines by affording equal access to individuals who are seeking an education. Students who have a disability and would like classroom accommodations must register with the Office of Disability Services, A 136, (281)756-3533. Instructors are not able to provide accommodations until the proper process has been followed.

Behavioral Intervention Team (BIT) – Letting someone know - The Behavioral Intervention Team (BIT) at Alvin Community College is committed to improving community safety through a proactive, collaborative, coordinated, objective and thoughtful approach to the prevention, identification, assessment, intervention and management of situations that pose, or may reasonably pose, a threat to the safety and well-being to the campus community.
College faculty, staff, students and community members may communicate concerns to the BIT by email,<>, or through an electronic reporting option located on the BIT page of the college website,<>.

Scholastic Dishonesty: If you cheat in any way in this class and are caught, you will fail the course. Do not download items from the internet and pass them off as your own. If you do so, you will receive a zero for that paper or assignment and that grade will be final. If you do it a second time, you risk failing the course, or receiving a sanction for your actions.

Incompletes: I do allow students to take incompletes provided unusual circumstances have arisen that prevent you from finishing the class in a timely manner. Unless there is an overwhelmingly good reason to take the incomplete -- such as a prolonged hospital stay -- the grading scale is will be adjusted as follows: B = 85.5 - 100; C = 69.5 - 85.5; D = 59.5 - 69.5; F 59.5 - 0. This is done to be fair to the students who were able to complete the class on time, but could have performed better if they had also been given extra time.

W….Withdrawal. It is recommended that the student talk to the instructor before withdrawing. Current information can be found online in the Withdrawal section of ACC Schedule. Students who file withdrawal requests by the published deadline will receive a grade of W.


Note: In order to ensure that you are comfortable with the class, and have an understanding of class material, I want you to take an open-ended assessment on the content of the syllabus, and send me a quick hello from the assignment section. You will note both on blackboard.

Classes Start: August 29

Week One: August 29 - September 2
- Have You Read the Syllabus? (You can take this multiple times until you get a 100)
- Introduction: Why do you have to take this class?
- Introduction: Government, Politics, Sovereignty, Public Policy
Assessment Open from 4pm August 30 - 8am September 5
Written Assignment Due: 8am September 5

Week Two: September 3 - 9
- Texas and the States within the National Governing Landscape: Federalism
- Texas within the National Political Landscape: Political Culture
Assessment Open from 4pm September 3 - 8am September 10
Written Assignment Due: 8am September 10

Week Three: September 10 - 16
- The Texas Declaration of Independence
- The Texas Constitution
- Local Governments in Texas
Assessment Open from 4pm September 10 - 8am September 17
Written Assignment Due: 8am September 17

Week Four: September 17 - 23
- Local Governments in Texas - (I'll extend the time to take this assessment)
- The Separated Powers
Assessment Open from 4pm September 17 - 8am September 24
Written Assignment Due: 8am September 24

Week Five: September 24 - 30
- No readings this week due to blackboard meltdown
Assessment Open from 4pm September 24 - 8am October 1 (cancelled)
Written Assignment Due: 8am October 1 (cancelled)

Week Six: October 1 - 7
- State Legislatures
- State Executives
- State Judiciaries
Assessment Open from 4pm October 1 - 8am October 8
Written Assignment Due: 8am October 8

Week Seven: October 8 - 14
- The Legislature - Texas Constitutional Design
- Texas Bill Making
- Local City Councils
Assessment Open from 4pm October 8 - 8am October 15
Written Assignment Due: 8am October 15

Week Eight: October 15 - 21
- The Executive: Texas Constitutional Design
- The Texas Bureaucracy
- The Texas Governor, County Judges, Mayors and City Managers
Assessment Open from 4pm October 15 - 8am October 22
Written Assignment Due: 8am October 22

Week Nine: October 22 - 28
- The Judiciary: Texas Constitutional Design
- The Texas Criminal Justice System
- Local Judiciary
Assessment Open from 4pm October 22 - 8am October 29
Written Assignment Due: 8am October 29

Week Ten (August 6 - August 13)
- Elections.
- The Texas Secretary of State
- Local Elections
- Judicial Elections
Assessment open from 8am August 6 - 8am August 13
Written Assignment Due: 8am August 13

Week Eleven: November 5 - 11
- Political Parties.
- Parties in the Texas Legislature
Assessment Open from 4pm November 5 - 8am November 12
Written Assignment Due: 8am November 12

Week Twelve: November 12 - 18
- Texas Budgeting
- Texas Economic Policy Making
- Local Budgeting
Assessment Open from 4pm November 12 - 8am November 19
Written Assignment Due: 8am November 19

Week Thirteen: November 19 - 25 (Thanksgiving November 21-23)
- Education Policy
- Health and Human Services
Assessment Open from 4pm November 19 - 8am November 26
Written Assignment Due: 8am November 26

Week Fourteen: November 26 - December 2
- The Texas Bill of Rights
- Freedom of Speech in Texas
- Public Opinion in Texas
Assessment Open from 4pm November 26 - 8am December 3
Written Assignment Due: 8am December 3

Week FIfteen: December 3 - 7
- The Media in Texas
- Assembly Rights In Texas
- Interest Groups in Texas
- 1000 word essay due December 7th at noon
- Last Day to turn in written work: December 7th at noon.

Week Sixteen: December 8 - 14
Finals Week
August 16