PSCI 2101: Introduction to Public Policy
Professor Kenneth Bickers
11:00 am-12:15 pm TR in HUMN 1B90
Spring 2006-07
Office: Ketchum Hall 131A
Office Hours: 9:00-10:30 T, 1:30-2:45 W, and by appt.
Telephone: (303) 492-2363
Course Description
This course is an introduction to the analysis of public policies. This course utilizes the political
economy approach to policy analysis, which explores the ways that individual values and
preferences get translated into collective processes and outcomes. This approach is directly
related to debates about the meaning and operation of democratic systems; it is centrally
concerned with how collective enterprises – from neighborhoods to nations – operate; and it
treats governments, nonprofit organizations, and markets as sometimes competing and
sometimes complementary instruments by which groups of individuals make collective choices.
During the semester, we will consider the components of public policies and how these are
related to the kinds of politics that often surround policy debates. We will ask questions about
governments and markets. We will examine the role of bureaucracies, not-for-profit
organizations, and for-profit firms in implementing policies in the United States. We will
overview techniques for evaluating and analyzing public policies. Each week, we will build on
core concepts of policy analysis to delve more deeply into current debates over major public
policies. In particular, groups of students will take the lead each week for engaging in a formal
debate of policy questions that highlight one or more aspects of the material for that week. In
each of these debates, the policies are complex, involving substantial roles for the federal, state,
and local governments, market forces, and individual decision-makers.
This course is designed as an introduction to the analysis of public policy problems and proposed
solutions. It is not an introduction to political science or American politics. You will be
assumed already to have a strong working knowledge about the U.S. political system, obtained,
for example, through PSCI 1101 or some other introductory course in American government.
Course Requirements
The format of the course will be a combination of lecture, class room discussion, and group
debates. Class sessions will be kept sufficiently informal that questions and discussions can be
entertained. The grade for the course will be determined on the basis of four exams, a variety of
in-class assignments, group debates, and a short paper that pertains to the group debates.
Exams. Each of the exams will be comprised of twenty to twenty-five multiple choice items.
Questions on exams will cover readings and lecture material. Exams will be non-cumulative.
In-Class Assignments. In-class assignments will include a number of short memos and
responses to readings, group debates, and lecture material. They are designed to give you an
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opportunity to think carefully about issues central to the analysis of public policies – issues
which you are likely to encounter on an exam. These assignments will be announced during the
class period in which they are assigned, and will be graded using a dichotomous scale of
satisfactory or unsatisfactory. A satisfactory grade means that the assignment was seriously
attempted. Not being present for an assignment will produce an automatic grade of
unsatisfactory. With the exception of absences that have been excused (such as for a university
sponsored athletic event, or a documented illness), in-class assignments cannot be made-up. In
cases of excusable absences, in-class assignments must be made-up within a week after the
excused absence.
Group Activities. Each student in the class will be expected to participate in a small group that
will engage in two activities. The first is a group debate. Each week, beginning in the third
week of the semester, two groups of students will debate a question that is designed to elicit a
greater understanding of the core concepts being presented that week. Each group will be
comprised of two to three students. One group will take the “pro” side of the question and the
other group will take the “con” side. A drawing will be held during the second week of the
semester to determine the composition of the groups, as well as the question the group will be
debating, and whether the group will take the “pro” or “con” side of the question. Groups should
do careful research on both sides of the debate question and think carefully about what aspects of
the issue should be emphasized during the debate presentation. Each group in the debate will
receive a grade based on the thoughtfulness and thoroughness of the debate presentations.
The format of the debate will be as follows. There will be three rounds. Each time, the “pro”
group will go first, followed by a response from the “con” group. In the first round, each side
will have seven minutes; in the second round, each group will have two minutes; in the third
round, each side will have one minute to respond. The class will then have a few minutes to ask
questions of the two groups. Presentation times should be apportioned approximately equally
across the students in each group. Additionally, each student in the group must be the primary
presenter for at least one round during the debate. The debate will end with a class vote to
determine the winner of the debate.
The second group activity is a short paper that is based on the debate, taking seriously in a
thoughtful way the arguments that were adduced by the group from the other side of the debate.
Each paper should address the following three questions: First, if your side of the debate were to
prevail, what do you see as the benefits to society that would be produced and why? Second, if
your side of the debate were to prevail, what losses to society would occur and why? That is,
you should consider the cost (not just financially, but in other ways, too) of “winning” the
debate. Third, based on this discussion of benefits and costs, what policy outcome would you
now recommend and why? These papers should be six to eight pages in length (double-spaced,
using a ten or twelve point font), excluding a cover page, and will be graded for substantive
content, clarity, and grammatical precision. Papers will be submitted by each group. Papers are
due exactly one week after the class session in which the debate was held.
For each paper, each student in the group will be given a form on which the student is to estimate
the percentage of the work-load that each member of the group contributed to the paper and to
describe the division of labor within the group. In cases, where the percentages assigned are
approximately equal, the same grade will be given to each member of the group. In cases, where
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percentages diverge by non-trivial amounts, students will be asked to come in for a conference
with the instructor and the grades may be adjusted so as to deal with the problem of free-riding
by members of the group. Papers will be penalized one full grade if they are not turned in at the
beginning of the class on the date they are due. A full letter grade reduction will be taken for
each three days that go by until the paper is turned in.
Grade. The overall grade for the course will be determined as follows:
Exams (18% each x 4)
In-class assignments
Group paper
Group debates
Policies. A word about my grading policy: No matter how careful, instructors and graduate
assistants sometimes make mistakes in grading. For that reason, I have an automatic regrade
policy, subject to a couple of restrictions. I will be happy to regrade any exam or paper. I ask,
however, that you hold on to any item for at least 24 hours after it is returned to you before
asking for a regrade. Any request for a regrade must be made within one week after the exam is
returned to you, after which no regrading will be done. Should you feel that an assignment has
been misgraded, I encourage you to take advantage of this policy. Ordinarily, the entire exam or
paper will be regraded, which means that the grade may go up, go down, or stay the same.
Also, please be aware that cheating or plagiarism, of any sort, will lead to an automatic grade of
zero on the item in question. I strongly encourage you to review the University’s policies with
respect to academic integrity. In sum, the University position is that its reputation depends on
maintaining the highest standards of intellectual honesty. Commitment to those standards is the
responsibility of every student, faculty, and staff member on this campus. Consequently,
cheating and plagiarism will not be tolerated. Cheating is defined as using unauthorized
materials or receiving unauthorized assistance during an examination or other academic exercise.
Plagiarism is defined as the use of another’s ideas or words without appropriate
acknowledgment. Examples of plagiarism include, but are not limited to, the following: failing
to use quotation marks when directly quoting from a source; failing to document distinctive ideas
from a source; fabricating or inventing sources; and copying information from computer-based
sources, i.e., the Internet. For additional information on the academic integrity policies of the
University, see
For exams (or any other aspect of the course), you should be aware of the University’s Disability
Services. If you qualify for accommodations because of a disability please submit to me a letter
from Disability Services in a timely manner so that your needs may be addressed. Disability
Services determines accommodations based on documented disabilities (303-492-8671, Willard
Campus policy regarding religious observances requires that faculty make every effort to
reasonably and fairly deal with all students who, because of religious obligations, have conflicts
with scheduled exams, assignments or required attendance. If you need an accommodation of
any scheduled activity due to a conflict with a religious holiday or observance, please let me
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know in writing of the conflict during the first two weeks of the semester. I will be happy to
work out a suitable accommodation.
This course tackles subjects that are sometimes viewed as controversial. It is incumbent on
every participant in the class (instructor and students alike) to strive to maintain an environment
that is conducive to learning. We should always remember that people bring differences with
them into the classroom and that these differences must be respected. It is imperative that each
of us maintain civility when asking questions and making comments. Likewise, questions and
comments by others should be treated with civility at all times.
Course Materials
Two books have been ordered for use in this course:
Kenneth N. Bickers and John T. Williams. Public Policy Analysis: A Political Economy
Approach. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001.
Selections from the CQ Researcher. Issues for Debate in American Public Policy, 7th Ed.
Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2007.
Note: Other than wear and tear, there are no differences between used and new copies of the
book by Bickers and Williams. Plenty of used copies of the book are available at bookstores and
from websites. You are encouraged to buy a used copy of the book. Royalties from any new
book sales will be donated to charity through the Colorado Combined Campaign.
Course Outline
Week 1: January 16 & 18
Topics: Overview of public policy analysis
Text: Bickers & Williams, chapter 1
Case: “Avian Flu Threat,” Issues for Debate, chapter 4
Week 2: January 23 & 25
Topics: Democratic Governance
Text: Bickers & Williams, chapter 2
Case: “No Child Left Behind,” Issues for Debate, chapter 2
Week 3: January 30 & February 1
Topics: Forms of Democracy and Implications for Public Policy
Text: Bickers & Williams, chapter 3
Case: “Death Penalty Controversies,” Issues for Debate, chapter 10
Debate – Group A (pro) & B (con): Should the legality of the death penalty be put to a
vote in state referenda?
Introduction to Public Policy, page 5
Week 4: February 6 & 8
Topics: Forms of Democracy and Implications for Public Policy (continued)
Text: Bickers & Williams, chapter 3 (continued)
Case: “Direct Democracy and Minority Rights,” by Todd Donovan and Shaun Bowler.
American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 42, No. 3. (Jul., 1998), pp. 10201024, available at
Debate – Group C (pro) & D (con): Should the right to engage in same-sex marriage be
decided by judges?
Exam 1: Thursday, February 8
Week 5: February 13 & 15
Topics: The Problem of Collective Action
Text: Bickers & Williams, chapter 4
Case: “Climate Change,” Issues for Debate, chapter 9
Debate – Group E (pro) & F (con): Should all countries be compelled to abide by climate
change treaties (e.g., Kyoto), even if those countries do not want to do so?
Week 6: February 20 & 22
Topics: Government and Collective Action Problems
Text: Bickers & Williams, chapter 5
Case: “Evaluating Head Start,” Issues for Debate, chapter 1
Debate – Group G (pro) & H (con): Should states be given Head Start money and
discretion to adopt pre-school enrichment programs that best address needs within
the states?
Week 7: February 27 & March 1
Topics: The Market as a Collective Action Mechanism
Text: Bickers & Williams, chapter 6
Case: “Birth-Control Debate,” Issues for Debate, chapter 6
Debate – Group I (pro) & J (con): Should health clinics be compelled by law to provide
Plan B Emergency Contraception pills?
Week 8: March 6 & 8
Topics: The Market as a Collective Action Mechanism (continued)
Text: Bickers & Williams, chapter 6 (continued)
Case: “Pension Crisis,” Issues for Debate, chapter 12
Debate – Group K (pro) & L (con): Should the federal government provide a bailout fund
to protect workers against the failure of corporate pension systems?
Exam 2: Thursday, March 8
Introduction to Public Policy, page 6
Week 9: March 13 & 15
Topics: Limitations of the Market
Text: Bickers & Williams, chapter 7
Case: “Drug Safety,” Issues for Debate, chapter 3
Debate – Group M (pro) & N (con): Should the FDA be abolished, with the court system
handling questions of drug safety through the mechanism of law suits by parties
alleging injuries?
Week 10: March 20 & 22
Topics: Policy Analysis in the American Political Context
Text: Bickers & Williams, chapter 8
Case: “Rebuilding New Orleans,” Issues for Debate, chapter 13
Debate – Group O (pro) & P (con): Should the government and citizens of the city of
New Orleans bear the whole financial burden of rebuilding the city’s
Week 11: April 5 & 7
Topics: Politics and Policy Choice
Text: Bickers & Williams, chapter 9
Case: “Upward Mobility,” Issues for Debate, chapter 5
Debate – Group Q (pro) & R (con): Should college students, as the primary beneficiaries
of higher education, be expected to pay the lion’s share of the costs of providing
that education?
Week 12: April 10 & 12
Topics: Bureaucratic Implementation
Text: Bickers & Williams, chapter 10
Case: “Disaster Preparedness,” Issues for Debate, chapter 14
Exam 3: Tuesday, April 10
Week 13: April 17 & 19
Topics: Bureaucratic Implementation (continued)
Text: Bickers & Williams, chapter 10 (continued)
Case: “Disaster Preparedness,” Issues for Debate, chapter 14 (continued)
Debate – Group S (pro) & T (con): Should a new federal agency be created to implement
a federal disaster preparedness plan throughout the country?
Introduction to Public Policy, page 7
Week 14: April 24 & 26
Topics: Analyzing Proposed Policies
Text: Bickers & Williams, chapter 11
Case: “Minimum Wage,” Issues for Debate, chapter 7
Debate – Group U (pro) & V (con): Should the federal minimum wage law be adjustable
(either up or down) to compensate for variations in the cost of living across
different states?
Week 15: May 1 & 3
Topics: Evaluating Existing Policies
Text: Bickers & Williams, chapter 12
Case: “Illegal Immigration,” Issues for Debate, chapter 14
Debate – Group W (pro) & X (con): Should states be given the authority to crackdown on
employers that hire illegal immigrants?
Final (Exam 4): Saturday, May 5, 1:30 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.