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POL S 355 A: The American Presidency

Meeting Time: 
MW 3:30pm - 4:50pm
MGH 389
Becca Thorpe
Rebecca U. Thorpe

Syllabus Description:

POL S 355: The American Presidency (WI2023)

Mon/Wed. 3:30-4:50 – MGH 389 


Professor Thorpe


Office hours (zoom): Tues. 12-1:30 & by appt


Teaching Assistant: Lauren Collins


Office Hours: Mon & Wed. 2:15-3:15, Gowen 30 & by appt


This is a course about the development of the American presidency and the bounds of executive power in a democracy. The course unfolds in three parts: First, we will examine the creation of the presidency and foundations for executive power both as the framers envisioned and in the modern era. We will also examine the presidential selection process and the extent to which our current electoral system selects individuals capable of assuming the responsibilities of the office. Second, we will examine the ways in which presidents promote their agendas and the political constraints that they encounter in both domestic and foreign policymaking. Third, we will examine whether the growth of executive power, changes in the media environment, national emergencies has contributed to democratic backsliding. Throughout the course, we try to make sense of contemporary political developments and what they suggest for the future of American democracy.


In-Person Learning/Expectations

The course will take place in person. Lectures and sections will not be recorded. Please contact the professor and TA immediately if you will need to miss class on account of your health or other personal circumstances.


Course Requirements

The grading is based on three (3) short (500-650 word) reading response papers, participation in sections, two (2) in-class exams and a final project.

A total of three (3) 500-650-word reading response papers will be due at 10am on Fridays. I will post 2-3 discussion questions on Canvas each week to help guide your reading of course material. The prompts will ask you to address a question or argument raised in the assigned readings and are meant to serve as foundation for section discussions. Responses must be uploaded to Canvas ( before your Friday section begins in order to receive full credit. The responses will be graded as superb (4.0), very good (3.5), satisfactory (3.0), needs improvement (2.5) or unsatisfactory (no credit).

You will turn in your response papers and final paper/project on Canvas. The website uses SimCheck, which is designed to identify plagiarism by indicating the amount of original text and whether quotations are appropriately sourced.

The exams will take place in person. Each exam will ask students will to complete respond to prompts based on class readings, lectures and discussions.

Section will focus on applying course themes to contemporary issues. Students are expected to come prepared to address the reading questions listed on Canvas and to participate in the discissions. This is an opportunity for you to engage with other in small settings, and your participation affects the group dynamic. If you have difficulties speaking in public, you can discuss this with your TA. If you must miss section, please be sure to notify your TA in advance to arrange to make-up participation points.

Student projects should 1) identify an interesting and relevant research question, and 2) develop a response to your question based on course material and outside research. You may draw from any of the subjects covered on the syllabus or a related topic. The standard format is a 7-8 page paper (doubled-spaced), but you may also elect to use a different format (e.g., podcast, zine, etc.) rather than a paper. You may work independently or with a group of 2-3 students. (We will arrange the appropriate page length and other parameters for group projects on a case-by-case basis.)  We will have an informal discussion of research in-progress in week 10. The projects are due during finals week. A brief summary of your research topic, format and (if relevant) group members are due February 17.



Exam 1 (15%) – February 1

Exam 2 (25%) – March 8

Section Participation (15%)

Response papers (15%)

Research outline (5%) – due February 17

Final paper/project (25%) – due March 15


355 syllabus - WI2023

Catalog Description: 
The American presidency; its evolution, its occupants, and its place within the American system. Topics include presidential character, war, elections, impeachment, the economy, and the Constitution.
Department Requirements: 
American Politics Field
GE Requirements: 
Social Sciences (SSc)
Last updated: 
October 26, 2022 - 10:03pm