Department of Public Administration and Policy and Department of Political Science
University at Albany, State University of New York

POS/PUB 140--Introduction to Public Policy--Spring 2008
This syllabus and updates are available on the course website: Students who need another copy of the syllabus should look on the web before asking me or a TA.

Professor: Michael A. Deegan, Ph.D.

Office: Milne 300C


Phone: (518)442-3854

Course Website:

Class Lectures: Tuesday & Thursday 1:15pm – 2:35pm in Lecture Center 7

Office Hours: Wednesday 2:40pm - 4:00pm and Thursday 2:40pm - 4:00pm at the campus center (Corner Café), or by appointment at my office in Milne 300C (downtown campus).

Teaching Assistants

Susan Appe:

Simone Grant:


TA office hours will be announced in sections.

Introduction and Overview

This course is an introduction to public policy in the United States. An important part of the course will involve developing an understanding of how the policy process influences public policy. We will consider why some problems reach the public agenda, why some solutions are adopted and others rejected, and why some policies appear to succeed while others appear to fail. We will primarily examine policymaking at the national level, but we will also look at examples at the state and local level as well.

This course is a requirement for students in Rockefeller College’s Public Policy program, and is also considered a Social Science course under the General Education requirements. This course will help you understand how and why government and citizens make the decisions that can affect, positively or negatively, your life. This course is not a survey of current events, although some sense of current events is useful to any student of public policy. Rather, while you and I both know something about policy areas that are the most interesting to us; what’s important to a student and analyst of public policy is the tools one uses to understand and analyze policy.

Course Goals

·         understand what we mean by "public policy";

·         understand how the study of public policy relates to political science and other social sciences;

·         be able to apply your knowledge of the policy process to any issue or topic that may confront you in your professional or personal life;

·         be able to intelligently analyze policies, and to find the strengths and weaknesses in partisan or news media depictions of policy issues;

·         learn and enhance your critical and analytical thinking skills.

You probably have your own goals as well for taking this course--let me or your TA know why you are taking this course and what you hope to learn from it.

Course Policies and Procedures

Student Responsibilities

Use your University at Albany e-mail account and check it oftenAccounts from any other provider, such as hotmail, Yahoo, AOL, etc., will not be accepted for this course.

·         No later than January 31st, send me and your TA an e-mail message with the following information:

·         your name

·         your year in school

·         your home town, and where you went to high school (school name)

·         why you are taking this course

·         your other interests, sports, hobbies, travel experiences. Help us to get to know you better!



·         Attend class: Students who fail to attend the lectures will miss important information and discussion, and will therefore receive lower grades in any case. Attendance will be taken weekly in the discussion sections and will be taken in the main lecture any time overall class attendance falls below 80% of the number of enrollees on that week's roster. Those arriving late or leaving early will be counted as absent from class.

·         Important note: Any absence not excused by the Dean’s office will be considered an unexcused absence. If you are absent from discussion or lecture, provide the Dean with the documentation (e.g., doctor’s note) immediately following the day(s) you missed. If the Dean’s office approves the documentation, they will send a letter excusing your absence to the instructor and/or TA.

You are allowed two unexcused absences from lectures, after which you will lose one letter grade for each unexcused absence. More than six total unexcused absences from lecture—the two you are allowed, plus four more—will result in a failing grade for the course. If you believe you have missed class for a legitimate reason, you must provide your reason to the dean of undergraduates, who will determine and then instruct me as to whether you should be excused from class. If there is a snowstorm and the university remains open, then class will be held, and no absences due to weather will be excused. The University’s snow emergency hotline is 442-SNOW.

·         Be courteous to the instructor and your classmates: If you have a meeting with the professor or with your TA, show up for the meeting! Contact me or your TA before you cancel an appointment. You do not need an appointment to come to office hours with questions.

·          Students who answer phone calls in class will be considered absent for the day, and will be asked to leave for the day. Students who place cell phone calls during class will immediately earn a failing grade for the course. If your phone does ring during class, immediately turn it off. If you are expecting a call that cannot wait, you must inform me and your TA, set your phone to vibrate or to otherwise indicate a call without ringing, and must answer the phone outside the classroom

·         Understand and follow university and class policies. There will be no make-up exams unless under extraordinary circumstances. Refer to the Attendance section of the university's academic regulations,

·         For other useful tips on expected behavior in my class and in all your studies—refer to Clemson University’s site, College Survival Skills, Pay close attention to Ten Things You Should Never Say Or Do To Your Instructor: Many of the examples in the College Survival Skills site is specific to Clemson University’s biology program, but all the information here is directly applicable to study skills for all your classes at any college.

Instructor Responsibilities

Having laid out my expectations for you, you are entitled to have high expectations of me. In exchange for your attention and cooperation in the sections and lecture hall, you can expect the following from me.

·         Be prompt, prepared, and respectful of all points of view. Respect does not imply, however, that you or I are compelled to uncritically accept every argument. Our goal is to be analytically critical, and to bring evidence and logic to bear on important questions. There is a difference between analysis and personal or ideological attack; by the end of the semester, you will have a finer sense of this difference.

·         Create an open, stimulating environment for the exchange of ideas and for questioning the underlying assumptions of ideas. In particular, I support and will implement University policies promoting a free exchange of ideas.

·         Be available for questions or advice. My office hours are listed on this syllabus, and I pledge to be there during those hours. I will also be available in my office in Milne Hall. You may wish to call ahead to see if I am there—you can call the administrative assistant, Paul Dickson, at 442-3853.

·         Support your right to appeal any grading decision or decision not to give a make up exam. Appeals must be made in writing not sooner than 24 hours after the test was returned to you, and not later than two weeks after the test was returned. You must first appeal to your TA, then, if that appeal is unsuccessful, you can appeal to me.

Exams and Grading

There will be three quizzes, three short response papers, two midterm exams and a final exam. The quizzes and midterm exams will consist of multiple-choice, true-false, and short questions answered in writing. The first two parts of the midterm exams will be machine graded, so have #2 pencils ready.

Grading Scale

Midterm exam #1


Grading Scale
A 100-94; A- 93-90
B+ 89-87; B 86-83, B- 82-80
C+ 79-77; C 76-73; C-72-70
D+ 69-67; D 66-63; D- 62-60
E: <60

Midterm exam #2


Final exam


Discussion section (includes attendance, participation, response papers, and quiz grades)


Discussion Sections

All students are required to register and attend the weekly section. More than two unexcused absences from sections will result in your losing all credit for participation in sections; more than four unexcused absences from sections will result in a failing grade for the entire course. Missing sections because of a job obligation, car breakdown, inclement weather (when classes are in session), roommate troubles, family problems, and the like without proper documentation are not excusable absences.

Grading in the sections is based on your commitment and effort in class discussion, including the quality of the questions you bring to class and the quality and consistency of your participation in the section.

Discussion sections will consist of several elements. Each element contributes to the discussion section grade.

1.        There will be three quizzes in this course. Quizzes will be conducted during discussion sections indicated on the syllabus. Quizzes will be based on assigned readings and lectures up to and including the date of the quiz.

2.        There will be three short (2-3 page) response papers due this semester. Students will be asked to apply concepts covered in the readings and lecture to a current events topic selected by the instructor. Details for these papers will be provided during lecture. In discussion sections, students will review themes covered in the readings and lectures as they apply to the response paper topic. Response papers will be handed in at the beginning of discussion. Due dates are indicated on the syllabus schedule.

3.        All students are required to participate during the discussion. The discussion grade will be based on your participation and the quality of your questions and comments. The TAs will help facilitate the class but most of the discussion should be conducted by the students.

4.        Students are required to prepare two questions for each discussion class. These questions may be collected by the TAs on the day of the discussion. Questions should show an understanding of the assigned reading and careful thought on how this case may relate to the material being covered during the lectures.

5.        Students may choose to not take the final exam only if taking the final exam would not improve their grade over the marks earned from the quizzes and response papers. For example, if the quiz and response paper average is 97, it’s unlikely that taking the final will change your final mark. Anyone who wishes to not take the final must clear this with both their TA and instructor within 72 hours after the final discussion class. In other words, the final exam is mandatory unless you are explicitly excused from it by your TA and your instructor. We will also inform you if we believe that you might want to exercise this option.


These books are required and are available at the University Book Store in the Campus Center.

Thomas Birkland, An Introduction to the Policy Process: Theories, Concepts, and Models of Public Policy Making. second edition, 2005.

Deborah Stone, Policy Paradox: The Art of Political Decision Making. 2001. Revised Edition.





Lecture Topic


Discussion Sections




Introduction to the class, topics, readings, course policies


No sections this week




Studying public policy

Birkland, Chapter 1

Meet in sections—get to know each other and your TA




Historical & structural context of policy

Birkland, Chapter 2




Historical & structural context of policy

Birkland, Chapter 2

Quiz #1




Thinking about Policy: Market vs. Polis

Stone, Part I




Official and Unofficial Actors

Birkland, Chapter 3 & 4





Official and Unofficial Actors




No Class


Paper #1 is due at 12noon on Feb. 22nd. Deliver your paper to the Political Science Office in Humanities B16.




Official and Unofficial Actors

Birkland, Chapter 3 & 4




Summary and Review

Thursday sections may wish to attend another discussion section to review for the 1st exam

Review for Exam #1








Goals of Public Policy

Stone Part II





Goals of Public Policy





Defining Problems

Stone Part III

Quiz #2




Defining Problems




Agenda Setting, Power and Interest Groups

Birkland, Chapter 5





Agenda Setting, Power and Interest Groups





Spring Break – No Class


No sections this week




Spring Break – No Class




Why does policy change?

Stone, Part IV, Birkland, Chapter 6

Paper #2 is due at 12noon on April 4th. Deliver your paper to the Political Science Office in Humanities B16




Policies and policy types




Summary and Review

Thursday sections may wish to attend another discussion section to review for the 2nd exam

Review for Exam #2








Policy Design and Target Populations

Birkland, Chapter 7





Policy Design an Policy Tool Dimensions

Salamon Reading part 1

Salamon Reading part 2




Policy Tools part 1

Stone, Part IV; Birkland, Chapter 8


Quiz #3 




Policy Tools part 2





Policy Implementation and Failure

Policy Analysis Readings

Paper #3 is due at 12noon on May 2nd. Deliver your paper to the Political Science Office in Humanities B16




Analyzing Public Policy




Models of the policy process, Summary and Conclusions

Birkland, Chapter 9

No sections this week

Final exam week



Final Exam in LC 7 10:30am – 12:30pm

Note: this is a working outline and may be revised to meet the needs of class participants