Menu Adam R Brown


Poli 110 (winter 2021)

Professor Adam Brown (about me)
Office phone: (801) 422-2182
Office: 772 KMBL

Current syllabus:
Syllabus version: October 29th, 2020

My office hours: TBA

What's this course about?

Here is the BYU catalog's course description for Poli 110: "Origin and development of federal Constitution; national, state, and local governments and politics." Let's unpack that. This course consists of three major units:

This course meets general education requirements. We will discuss the scientific methods, theories, and assumptions used to study human behavior to satisfy the social science requirement. This course also contributes to the American heritage requirement. See the GE foundation documents for detail.

All the above motivates this course's official learning outcomes:

Special provisions for online learning in a pandemic

Let's not pretend things are normal. They are not. Some of you are barely holding together, and sometimes I am too. Try to stay ahead so that unforeseen circumstances do not cause you to miss a deadline. But reach out to me if unforeseen events do interfere with school and we will discuss appropriate accommodations.

I will pre-record all lectures. You may watch at times you find convenient. Avoid falling behind by following the schedule shown below. Regular low-stakes quizzes will help you maintain good pacing.

You will interact with two websites. First: This website contains the syllabus and reading schedule; you will also submit all essays through this website, using a username and password I provide to you. Please play with the various links and menus to familiarize yourself with the resources available to you. In normal times, this is the only website you would interact with, and all quizzes and exams would be administered in person. But because of the pandemic, Second: You will submit exams and quizzes (but not essays) using Learning Suite. (I do not use Learning Suite for essays since it does not have the peer review features I require, so I use my custom system instead.)

TAs and I will hold live office hours and other review opportunities using Zoom. We will use the waiting room feature for one-on-one office hours but not for group reviews. We will use the same Zoom link for everything. To avoid Zoom bombing, the Zoom link is available only through Learning Suite (find the oldest announcement). Because students have diverse living situations I will not require turning your camera on, but that said, it is very hard for me to talk to a blank screen, so please do turn on your camera if you can. You can always use a virtual background if you wish to hide your environment.

Most BYU students are honest. However, I do not want concerns about cheating to cause anyone to feel their honesty may place them at a disadvantage. Normally, I adminster closed-book exams in the Testing Center. I have made the following adaptations for online learning:

  • First, I will place a time limit on quizzes and exams. Usually I allow one minute per question on in-class quizzes; I will set the limit higher in Learning Suite. These limits are not intended to make you feel rushed so much as to limit opportunities for cheating. If you have a documented disability that makes these time limits burdensome, contact me before starting a quiz or exam to discuss appropriate accommodations.
  • Second, Learning Suite will record if you click on any program or tab other than the quiz or exam.
  • Third, Learning Suite will activate your computer's webcam while you take quizzes and exams to ensure it is you at the computer and that your eyes are directed at the screen. (You will know your camera is on, since Learning Suite will display a little thumbnail image throughout the exam showing what it is capturing.) If your computer does not have a working webcam, please either obtain one or arrange to borrow a friend's laptop as needed.

BYU has gathered several tips for successful online learning here:

Download free electronic copies of required books from Learning Suite or using this link:

Required: Kernell et al., The Logic of American Politics. 7th, 8th, or 9th edition. A free PDF copy (8th edition) is available through course reserve. If you prefer hard copy, buy used on Amazon: 7th, 8th, 9th. The examples change in each edition, but the core concepts change minimally. Still, a caveat (that has never been a problem in practice): Relying on an older edition does not provide grounds to appeal an exam question that draws on the current one. Pro-tip: Use the practice quizzes and other study resources at the book's website.

Required: Brown, Utah Politics and Government. A free PDF copy is available through course reserve. If you prefer hard copy, the press waives my royalty for BYU students, saving you 30%, but you must order directly from the press (online or 800-848-6224) and use discount code 6UTPO. Also in the BYU Store and on Amazon. We will use Utah's political system as a frequent comparison point to the national system. This book also helps satisfy BYU students' natural curiosity about Latter-day Saints and politics.

Required: Follow American political news daily. To ensure we all see a common set of stories each day, sign up for the free daily news summary from the New York Times. Visit this link and subscribe to "The Morning" email. I have no particular attachment to the NYT, and I encourage you to consume news from a variety of sources. The email is free, but if you click through to see longer stories at the NYT website you will eventually hit the NYT paywall. Consider a student discount subscription, or get free access via the BYU library.

Optional: You do not need to read anything beyond what I assign below. Occasionally international students and others ask me to suggest additional background material to help them prepare. If you wish, consider reading one or both of these two short books: American History: A Very Short Introduction and American Politics: A Very Short Introduction.

Assignments, grading, and important policies

9% Quizzes
1% Completing student ratings
21% Debate papers (download instructions and submit online)
20% Midterm 1
20% Midterm 2
29% Final exam (29% = 20% new material + 9% comprehensive)
Bonus Government meetings (download instructions and submit online)

You are responsible for all the information in this syllabus, recognizing that a syllabus is a plan, not a contract. Check your email daily for updates, including your spam. Visit me or a TA with questions.

Course website. You will submit all quizzes, exams, and written assignments through Learning Suite. I find it easier to deliver readings and the course schedule through my personal website, though. Consider creating a username and password for my website (after the add/drop deadline), which will make it somewhat easier to download PDFs from this site. Using the menu at the top or bottom of the page, click "log in" to get to the login screen, then "what's my password" to reset your password. Contact me if you have trouble.

Quizzes. Research shows that frequent low-stakes quizzes improve learning. To keep the stakes low, I will drop 4 quizzes by the end of the semester. Quizzes emphasize assigned readings, recent lectures, and perhaps current events. Complete all the readings and watch all the videos assigned for a particular day before attempting that day's quiz. Quizzes are timed and administered via Learning Suite.

Late policy for Learning Suite quizzes and exams: Deadlines and late penalties will be clearly stated on Learning Suite. I accept late work only to accommodate emergencies and documented disabilities. If you're not sure what qualifies, please ask.

Submit written assignments by 4pm on the due date. Late policy: Late penalties are shown on the submission menu. I waive these penalties or make other individual exceptions only to accommodate emergencies and documented disabilities. If you're not sure what qualifies, ask. You will submit written assignments using this website. I provide a multiday submission window; please submit early enough to preempt unforeseen circumstances. The system will accept submissions without penalty until midnight, but I consider all assignments due by 4pm so that I am available to assist you with any website issues. If an internet outage or technical problem with the website arises prior to 4pm, tell me and I will either fix the problem or extend the deadline. You assume all risk for issues that arise after 4pm.

(Optional) government meeting assignment. I encourage you to attend local government meetings to observe politics in practice. If you complete this government meeting assignment, I will raise your overall percentage in the course by 1.25 percentage points. Complete it twice for 2.50 percentage points.

Grade appeals process for written work. TAs and I are happy to discuss your graded paper with you and suggest ways to improve, which is usually more productive than revisiting past grades. Still, I value fair and consistent grading, and I take appeals seriously. Actual appeals must come to me, not a TA. To appeal: Cool off for 24 hours, then re-read the complete assignment instructions, your submission, and any feedback you received. Then, within a week of first receiving your grade, send me a one-sentence email requesting that I review the grade, no justification needed. I will read the paper without checking the original grade and assign a score. The grade I assign stands, whether it is higher or lower. If there are many appeals, I may first refer your essay to another TA and then grade the essay myself only if the two TA scores differ by more than a few points.

Missed exams. If you know of a conflict in advance, email me beforehand to arrange an alternative time. If you miss an exam because of unforeseen circumstances, contact me as soon as possible to work things out. Each exam will be available for plenty of time. Take exams early enough to preempt unexpected problems.

Final exam mercy rule: If you do better on the final than on one or both of the midterms, then whichever midterm you perform worst on will have its weight reduced by 5 percentage points and the final will have its weight increased by 5 percentage points.

Do you have a disability? I want you to succeed. Please find the "equal opportunity" heading below.

Do you have a university-excused absence letter? I treat university travel the same as other excusable absences such as illnesses, disabilities, personal and family emergencies, and so on. I have probably already built enough flexibility into this syllabus to accommodate your travel. Visit with me if you have questions.

A freshman FAQ: Nearly all faculty at BYU hold doctorates in their respective fields. Most exceptions you will encounter are adjunct instructors in the freshman writing program. Unless directed otherwise, address university faculty as Professor or Doctor So-and-So. ("Doctrine" means "that which is taught," and "doctor" meant "one who teaches" or "learned one" until physicians started coopting the title.) Some students belittle my female colleagues without realizing it by calling them "Sister" while calling male faculty "Professor" or "Doctor"; don't.

How to get help, and teaching assistants' role

Office hours provide drop-in opportunities for help, with no appointment needed. Both TAs and I hold office hours. See the schedule at the top of this page. Receive one-on-one help with papers, lecture review, test prep, and so on. If you need to meet with a specific person whose hours conflict with your schedule, email for an appointment. Due to current conditions, all office hours will be held online using Zoom. Find the link in the oldest announcement on Learning Suite.

Office hours are not limited to course-specific questions. I especially encourage first-generation students and students who feel they are scraping by on the margins at BYU to come visit me in office hours, even if all you want is to introduce yourself.

Group Q&A sessions: We will hold frequent Q&A sessions. We open by briefly highlighting essential or confusing material, then we take questions. Sessions adjourn when questions stop. Attendance is often low enough that these wind up as TA- or instructor-led study groups, a great format for improving comprehension. See the schedule above.

Help with papers. Consider bringing an outline to office hours, since a good discussion early on will probably improve your argument more than asking me or a TA to read a complete draft. If you mostly want help with grammar or mechanics, visit the FHSS writing lab or the BYU writing center. Due to current conditions, they now offer support over Zoom.

TA boundaries. It is inappropriate to ask a TA on a date or offer a gift before grades are posted. It is also inappropriate to offer a TA money for tutoring; their services are free to students in this course.

Difficulty, grade cutoffs, curving, and workload

Is this a weeder class? No. Weeders ensure only the "best" students enter a certain major. If your major requires "pre-major" courses, those are weeders. You can fail Poli 110 and still declare in political science.

Can non-majors succeed? Yes. Only 5-15% of Poli 110 students are majors, since most majors take Poli 210 instead. Majors who do take this course perform no better on average than non-majors. Nor do seniors earn higher average scores than freshmen, incidentally. In introductory GE courses, grades mostly reflect effort and dedication.

So grades are based on effort? No. But consider sage counsel from Thomas S. Monson: "Thinking is the hardest work anyone can do, which is probably the reason why we have so few thinkers.... What the public takes for brilliance is really the result of thorough, painstaking investigation and downright hard work." (In "Constant Truths," Pathways to Perfection.)

Do you curve? Uncurved cutoffs are 93.0+ A, 90.0+ A-, 87.0+ B+, 83.0+ B, etc., rounded to the 0.1 place. I never curve down. I curve up when needed by lowering cutoffs (not by adding points to your score) to ensure at least a quarter of students earn an A/A- and at least two-thirds earn a B- or better. Grades below C- are very rare for those who attend regularly and complete all assignments. This distribution resembles those found in other introductory social science courses. I curve before adding bonus assignments to your score, so that students who choose not to complete optional assignments face no penalty.

How much time should students spend on this class? At BYU, "The expectation for undergraduate courses is three hours of work per week per credit hour for the average student who is appropriately prepared; much more time may be required to achieve excellence" (source). BYU defines an A as "excellent," a B as "good," and a C as "satisfactory." Thus, an "average student" (28.6 ACT, 3.87 high school GPA) who is "appropriately prepared" should plan on 9 hours per week to "satisfy" (B or C) course requirements, while "much more time may be required" to "achieve excellence" (an A). More generally, an average student enrolled for 15 credits should plan 45 hours for school each week to maintain a B or C average. Plan on more time out of class than in: A typical AP Government class uses 180 hours of in-person instruction (5 hours per week for 36 weeks) to cover a similar amount of material as we will cover in roughly 42 lecture hours (3 hours per week for 14 weeks). College classes assume more work outside lecture than in.

Tips for success

Performing well requires (1) comprehending the material and (2) retaining what you have comprehended. Reexposure (reviewing notes, re-reading books, attending review sessions) boosts comprehension, but research demonstrates that retention requires different strategies.

Improving comprehension of lectures.

Improving comprehension of readings.

Improving retention. Retrieval aids retention more than reexposure does. Retrieval means forcing yourself to try remembering something. Retrieval boosts learning even more when you retrieve regularly. Retrieving for 15 minutes three times a week is more effective than retrieving for 60 minutes once a week. Your study should include only enough reexposure to ensure comprehension. After that, emphasize retrieval as your study strategy.

Improving your writing. Writing in the social sciences means defending a position. Debate papers must have (1) a central claim, clearly stated as you open and close; (2) logical arguments (reasons) supporting your claim; and (3) compelling evidence supporting each reason.

General suggestions

A matter of a few degrees. Consider a true story related by Dieter Uchtdorf:

In 1979 a large passenger jet with 257 people on board left New Zealand for a sightseeing flight to Antarctica and back. Unknown to the pilots, however, someone had modified the flight coordinates by a mere two degrees. This error placed the aircraft 28 miles (45 km) to the east of where the pilots assumed they were. As they approached Antarctica, the pilots descended to a lower altitude to give the passengers a better look at the landscape. Although both were experienced pilots, neither had made this particular flight before, and they had no way of knowing that the incorrect coordinates had placed them directly in the path of Mount Erebus....

By the time the instruments sounded the warning that the ground was rising fast toward them, it was too late. The airplane crashed into the side of the volcano, killing everyone on board.

It was a terrible tragedy brought on by a minor error—a matter of only a few degrees....

Remember: the heavens will not be filled with those who never made mistakes but with those who recognized that they were off course and who corrected their ways...

Though he had a different point, we can apply this story to school: Good scores don't go to those who never make mistakes, but to those who recognize when they go off course and take prompt corrective action. If an exam or paper early in the course comes back with a lower score than you hoped, then read and apply the tips listed above. Visit me or a TA for help. Don't wait for the volcano to fill your windshield.

University policies and resources

Plagiarism and cheating

While all students sign the honor code, there are still specific skills most students need to master over time in order to correctly cite sources, especially online sources, as well as deal with the stress and strain of college life without resorting to cheating. As your professor, I will notice instances of cheating on exams or plagiarizing on papers. Even if the plagiarism was unintentional, it will have serious consequences for your grade. General information about the honor code can be found at Details about Academic Honesty are found in the university catalog

Writing submitted for credit at BYU must consist of the student's own ideas presented in sentences and paragraphs of the student's own construction. The work of other writers or speakers may be included when appropriate (as in a research paper or book review), but such material must support the student's own work (not substitute for it) and must be clearly identified by appropriate introduction ("According to so-and-so...") and punctuation (such as quotation marks) and by footnoting or other standard referencing. Take care with your notetaking to track sources and to differentiate quotations you have jotted down from paraphrases you have written. Unintentional plagiarism caused by sloppy notetaking is still plagiarism.

Substituting another person's work for the student's own or including another person's work without adequate acknowledgment (whether done intentionally or not) is plagiarism. Plagiarism is a violation of academic, ethical, moral, and legal standards and can result in a failing grade not only for the paper but also for the course in which the paper is written. In extreme cases, it can justify expulsion from the university. Because of the seriousness of these consequences, students who wonder if their papers are within these guidelines should visit the Writing Lab or consult with their professor or TA. Useful books to consult on the topic include the current Harbrace College Handbook, the MLA Handbook, and James D. Lester's Writing Research Papers.

Counseling and stress management

Most lifelong mental illnesses emerge in adolescence and early adulthood—the typical college students' age. If you experience frequent sadness, worry, fear, inability to focus, nightmares, forgetfulness, or extreme mood changes; if you are withdrawing socially by avoiding friends and social activities; if you experience significant changes in sleeping habits or eating habits; if you are abusing alcohol, prescription medications, or other substances; or if you are thinking about hurting yourself, then please talk to somebody. You may find that all is well, but please find out.

Mental health concerns and stressful life events can affect students' academic performance and quality of life. BYU Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS, 1500 WSC, 801-422-3035, provides individual, couples, and group counseling, as well as stress management services. These services are confidential and are provided by the university at no cost for full-time students. For general information please visit For more immediate concerns please visit

Equal opportunity

Disabilities: Brigham Young University is committed to providing a working and learning atmosphere which reasonably accommodates qualified persons with disabilities. If you have any disability which may impair your ability to complete this course successfully, please contact the University Accessibility Center (801-422-2767). Reasonable academic accommodations are reviewed for all students who have qualified documented disabilities. Services are coordinated with the student and instructor by the UAC office. If you need assistance or if you feel you have been unlawfully discriminated against on the basis of disability, you may seek resolution through established grievance policy and procedures. Contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Office at 801-422-5895, D-282 ASB

Going beyond the boilerplate language above: If you have a disability, including mental health issues or learning disabilities, please visit the University Accessibility Center to receive an accommodation letter. The letter UAC gives you will spare you from needing to explain yourself over and over to each of your instructors; it will also recommend to your instructors specific accommodations that ensure you have a fair opportunity to succeed. The letter will not disclose the disability and I will not ask. I will work with you to identify appropriate accommodations supported by the letter. If you wish to discuss accommodations, I am happy to schedule an appointment at any time, including outside office hours if needed. Even if you have not yet received a letter, please talk to me.

Discrimination and sexual misconduct: In accordance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Brigham Young University prohibits unlawful sex discrimination against any participant in its education programs or activities. The university also prohibits sexual harassment—including sexual violence—committed by or against students, university employees, and visitors to campus. As outlined in university policy, sexual harassment, dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking are considered forms of "sexual misconduct" prohibited by the university. University policy requires all university employees in a teaching, managerial, or supervisory role to report all incidents of sexual misconduct that come to their attention in any way, including but not limited to face-to-face conversations, a written class assignment or paper, class discussion, email, text, or social media post. Incidents of sexual misconduct should be reported to the Title IX Coordinator at or (801) 422-8692. Reports may also be submitted through EthicsPoint at or 1-888-238-1062 (24-hours a day). BYU offers confidential resources for those affected by sexual misconduct, including the university's Victim Advocate, as well as a number of non-confidential resources and services that may be helpful. Additional information about Title IX, the university's Sexual Misconduct Policy, reporting requirements, and resources can be found at or by contacting the university's Title IX Coordinator.

Reading schedule

Dates and deadlines are subject to change. You can also view the reading schedule in calendar format.