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Course Objectives and Scope

Fundamentals of Public Policy is an introductory course that explores policy-making as both a problem-solving process and a political process. We look at policy-making from the perspective of different focal actors and institutions, including: administrative agencies, legislators, the courts, the mass public, interest groups, and the media. We examine the interplay between policy development and institutions, and review normative and empirical models of policy-making.

Exploring these issues will require us to address questions like: How and why does something come to be seen as a "public problem" requiring a governmental response, while others fail to get attention? Why do we need public policies? What determines the content and nature of public policies? Who decides public policy priorities? Does public policy ever accomplish anything worthwhile?


This course is organized around the two weekly lecture sessions and a 1-hour recitation section. The lecture classes will delve into the primary topic for the week, covering theoretical and analytical issues as well as the substantive questions raised in the reading material. In particular, the discussion will emphasize alternative ways of examining a given topic. Students are encouraged to ask questions and offer comments in class.


The following textbook should be purchased for the course:

Amazon logo Van Horn, Carl E., Donald C. Baumer, and William T. Gormley, Jr., eds. Politics and Public Policy. 3rd ed. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2001. ISBN: 9781568024837.

Students are also required to read the daily press, choosing among: The Boston Globe, The New York Times, or the Wall Street Journal.

All the readings assignments relevant to a given week's class discussion must be read prior to that class.

Requirements and Gradings

Criteria for HASS CI Subjects: Communication intensive subjects in the humanities, arts, and social sciences should require at least 20 pages of writing divided among 3-5 assignments. Of these 3-5 assignments, at least one should be revised and resubmitted. HASS CI subjects should further offer students substantial opportunity for oral expression, through presentations, student-led discussion, or class participation. In order to guarantee sufficient attention to student writing and substantial opportunity for oral expression, the maximum number of students per section in a HASS CI subject is 18, except in the case of a subject taught without sections (where the faculty member in charge is the only instructor). In that case, enrollments can rise to 25, if a writing fellow is attached to the subject.

Grades will be determined by student performance on all of the following:

Class Participation - 25%

Students are required to attend all class sessions. Missing more than two classes without prior permission will result in automatic failure of the course regardless of other grades. Quizzes may be given at the discretion of the instructors.

Both lecture and recitation section will involve extensive student oral participation, commenting, questioning, and probing of arguments and ideas. Students will be required to prepare a group oral presentation as part of a policy exercise (see below).

Four Topical Papers and Policy Exercise (Totaling About 20 Pages) - 48%

Paper topics will be assigned. Specific due dates for the papers are noted in the syllabus and late papers will be reduced 1/2 grade per day.

The first paper will involve a rewriting exercise, with the grade being assigned after completion of the rewrite.

Policy Exercise

The final paper will include a policy exercise. The exercise focuses on the implementation stage of policy-making and is designed to give students direct experience in a policy arena that interests them. Students work in groups to conduct interviews with local individuals and organizations involved in implementing policy, collectively analyze the results of their research, and communicate their findings in an oral presentation. The policy exercise is organized through the sections where guidance will be provided to help students identify appropriate topics, organize and analyze their research, and present their findings. Further guidance will be distributed.

Final Exam (3 Hour Exam) - 27%

Grading Criteria

activities percentages
Class Participation 25%
Four Topical Papers and Policy Exercise (Totaling about 20 Pages) 48%
Final Exam (3 Hour Exam) 27%