POLSC332: The Presidency and the Executive Branch

Course Syllabus for "POLSC332: The Presidency and the Executive Branch"

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This course examines various topics related to the American presidency and the executive branch. Unit 1 begins with an introduction to the origins of the office and the early debates amongst the framers of the Constitution surrounding the institution of the presidency. The course will then focus on the components of the Constitution that pertain to presidential powers. A historical analysis of the expansion of these powers concludes the unit. Unit 2 and Unit 3 examine the relationship between the president and the other two branches of the federal government (Congress and the judiciary, respectively). Unit 4 assesses the presidency as it relates to national security, international diplomacy, and foreign policy. Unit 5 transitions into a broader discussion about the executive branch as an institution. It discusses the key players in the media spotlight (the vice president and cabinet), as well as the lesser-known, but essential, federal bureaucracy. This unit also discusses different models of White House organization, the role of executive agencies, the president’s relationship with the bureaucracy, and the Executive Office of the President. Unit 6 surveys the US presidential election process. Finally, Unit 7 explores the ways in which different political scientists have defined and qualified presidential leadership, character, and rhetoric. Upon completion of this course, you will have an understanding of the complexities and challenges surrounding the office of the American presidency. You will also be aware of the important role that the executive branch plays in our government.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, you will be able to:

  • analyze the early debates and discussions regarding the role of the presidency;
  • explain the concept of separation of powers and checks and balances;
  • analyze the debate between the Federalists and Anti-federalists vis-à-vis the presidency;
  • discuss the constitutional foundations of the presidency and the executive branch;
  • describe the formal and informal roles of the president;
  • analyze the general constraints on presidential power;
  • discuss the historical expansion of presidential power;
  • discuss the ways in which foreign policy is developed;
  • analyze the main actors in foreign policy development;
  • explain the shared foreign policy powers of the president and Congress;
  • analyze the factors that go into foreign policy decisions;
  • discuss the constraints upon a president’s authority to use force abroad;
  • explain the role of secrecy in US foreign policy;
  • analyze the historical background of US foreign policy;
  • describe the major actors on the National Security Council;
  • explain the role of the National Security Council;
  • discuss the contribution of the intelligence community in national security;
  • discuss the mission of the US Department of State;
  • explain how diplomacy is essential for effective national security and foreign policy;
  • discuss the foreign policy of the Obama Administration;
  • analyze the historical foreign policy agendas of past administrations;
  • discuss the checks and balances that exist between the president and Congress;
  • explain how differing electoral bases affect political calculations for a president and Congress;
  • analyze the relationships between recent presidents and Congress;
  • analyze the presidential appointment and congressional confirmation process;
  • explain the process of treaty creation and ratification;
  • analyze how and why executive privilege is used by presidents;
  • debate the benefits and pitfalls of congressional oversight of the intelligence community;
  • describe the impeachment process;
  • explain how the impeachment process is a constitutional check upon the president;
  • discuss agenda-setting power;
  • analyze the historical domestic agendas of former presidents;
  • analyze historical court cases as they pertain to the separation of powers;
  • analyze historical court cases as they pertain to a president’s war powers;
  • analyze historical court cases as they pertain to executive privilege and immunity;
  • analyze historical court cases as they pertain to presidential removal powers;
  • discuss how the court has chosen to limit and expand presidential powers during the war on terror;
  • describe the federal judicial appointment process;
  • explain the politics of Supreme Court nominations and confirmations;
  • discuss executive orders and why they are important for executive power;
  • discuss signing statements and why they are important for executive power;
  • describe the vice presidential powers and how this role has changed over time;
  • analyze the historical development of the presidential cabinet;
  • analyze the different cabinet departments and what role they play in the federal government;
  • explain the various components and functions of the Executive Office of the President;
  • discuss the role of the Office of Management and Budget;
  • explain the process of regulation development and implementation;
  • describe some of the key executive branch regulatory agencies;
  • discuss the executive rule-making process and politics;
  • explain the nature and function of a government corporation;
  • discuss the US presidential election process;
  • explain how the Electoral College functions;
  • analyze historical elections in which the Electoral College played a role in the outcome;
  • debate the usefulness of the Electoral College;
  • explain the obstacles to third-party presidential candidates;
  • describe the difference between a caucus and primary election;
  • debate the pros and cons of caucus and primary elections;
  • explain the process and politics of presidential general elections;
  • analyze the historical context and implications of recent presidential elections;
  • explain the politics of leadership;
  • discuss the difference between a US president that is a clerk or a leader;
  • analyze the defining features of effective presidential leadership;
  • explain what is involved in the presidential character; and
  • discuss how presidential rhetoric be used as a source of power and influence.

Course Requirements

In order to take this course, you must:

√    have access to a computer;

√    have continuous broadband Internet access;

√    have the ability/permission to install plug-ins or software (i.e., Adobe Reader or Flash Player);

√    have the ability to download and save files and documents to a computer;

√    have the ability to open Microsoft files and documents (.doc, .ppt, .xls, etc.);

√    have competency in the English language;

√    have read the “Saylor Student Handbook”; and

√    have completed all courses listed in the “Core Program”of the political science discipline.

Course Information

Welcome to POLSC332: The Presidency and the Executive Branch. General information on this course and its requirements can be found below.

Course Designer: Maeve Carey and Angela Bowie

Primary Resources: This course is comprised of a range of different free, online materials. However, the course makes primary use of the following materials:

Requirements for Completion: In order to complete this course, you will need to work through each unit and all of its assigned materials. Although all of the units will allow you to gain a foundational understanding of the executive branch, pay close attention to Unit 1, as it will lay the historical framework for future units.

You will also be responsible for completing a Final Exam. In order to passthis course, you will need to earn a score of 70% or higher. Your score on the exam will be tabulated as soon as you complete it. If you do not pass the exam, you may take it again. You will also need to complete:

  • Subunit 1.2 Assessment
  • Subunit 3.2 Assessment
  • The Final Exam

Note that you will only receive an official grade on your final exam. However, in order to adequately prepare for this exam, you will need to work through the assignments listed above.

Time Commitment: Completing this course should take you a total of 107.5 hours. Each unit includes a “time advisory” that lists the amount of time you are expected to spend on each subunit. These should help you plan your time accordingly. It may be useful to take a look at these time advisories, determine how much time you have over the next few weeks to complete each unit, and then set goals for yourself.

Tips/Suggestions: The course is critical to help prepare you for future upper-level courses in the political science discipline, so be sure to pay close attention to all course material. Take notes on all of the resources in this course. These notes will serve as a useful review as you study for the Final Exam.

Table of Contents: You can find the course's units at the links below.