Resources for Students of Dr Toly

This page provides links to instructions for making appointments, requirements for writing assignments, tips for presentations and participation, and guidelines for letters of recommendation.


Making Appointments

I hold office hours each week. Please click here to make an appointment. Students should use the times marked "office hours." "Staff" times are for Urban Studies and Wheaton in Chicago staff only.

Writing Papers

Your syllabus, assignment guidance sheet or Blackboard module is the final guide for all assignment requirements. These resources must be consulted carefully in order to complete the assignment well, as they contain information specific to each assignment.

Here are some guidelines that apply across writing assignments in any course (including independent studies) that I teach (aside from co-taught courses, in which such decisions are made collaboratively with colleagues).

  • All papers, no matter the length, must employ a citation system when ideas are borrowed, facts are cited, or other people are quoted. There are no exceptions to this rule. Failure to employ a citation system will result in a lower grade. Failure to indicate that material is not original, either by quotation or attribution or both, may result in a zero on the assignment, due to plagiarism.
  • Your citation system should be the Author-Date format of the Chicago Manual of Style. Find it here.
  • If I specify a certain number (X) of words, the acceptable word-count range is .9x-1.1x. Any shorter or longer and points will be deducted.
  • Clear and error-free writing is required in order to earn the top grades.
  • Students should take advantage of the Writing Center.


All presentations should be high quality. If you do not know what it means to give a high quality presentation, recall your course in Public Speaking. If you have not had a course in Public Speaking, take the course as soon as possible.

Presentations are assigned for a number of reasons. They provide an opportunity to practice oral communication, a skill that potential employers consistently rank as the single most important attribute of employees. Presentations also allow everyone in the class to learn from your work (as opposed to most paper assignments, in which the instructor and maybe one or two classmates learn from your work). But it is hard to learn from a bad presentation. Therefore, I expect very good presentations.

I approach presentations a bit like the Gong Show. You've never seen it? Here's a link. ("If any judge considered an act to be particularly bad, he or she could strike a large gong, thus forcing the performer to stop.") If in the first minute your presentation is not good enough to earn a B+ or higher grade, I reserve the right to interrupt your presentation (perhaps by way of a "gong" app I have on my phone) and give you a zero for the assignment. In other words, the first minute is a threshold element of the grading process. You earn a B+ or higher grade then, or you cannot earn any grade at all for the presentation. (This is in part because I have assigned the presentation in order for your classmates to learn something from you. If you distract or offend with a bad presentation, this is a waste of your classmates' time.) If in your first minute your presentation is good enough to earn a B+ or higher grade, then you will be assigned a grade that corresponds to the overall quality of your entire presentation. (In other words, if you start well and continue well, you'll get a good grade. If you start well and then continue abysmally, you will receive a very bad grade.)

If your presentation corresponds to a written assignment, then you should orally present the same argument you make in the paper. You should not read the paper. (While reading papers is the norm in some fields, it is not the norm in urban studies, political science, or international relations.) Nor should you use phrases like "my paper says..." Your paper does not say anything. You say it. Don't tell us you say it (as in, "In my paper, I say..."). Just say it. Again, make an oral presentation of the same argument offered in your paper.

Presentation length will be specified in the syllabus or assignment guidance sheet. If I specify a certain number (X) of minutes, the range of acceptable minutes is X-1 to X+1. Any shorter or longer and points will be deducted.

If this is unclear or if you have questions about presentations, please ask them at the beginning of a class session so that everyone can benefit from hearing the answers.


I require active participation in each course I teach. Active participation takes many forms. It means participating in small group discussions when those are the order of the day. It means answering and/or asking questions in such a way as demonstrates your engagement with the reading material and class discussion. (I have had students say that they do not like to presume to have the answers to questions. That's alright. You can always ask questions. But active participation is a non-negotiable part of your evaluation.)

Letters of Recommendation and References

It is a joy to write letters of recommendation for students and alumni I know well and who have performed well in my courses and independent studies. It is generally not a good idea for students or alumni to request a letter of recommendation or reference from a faculty member who does not know you well or in whose courses you have not performed well. So if you do not know me well or have performed poorly in my courses, please consider asking someone else for a letter of recommendation.


  • Make all letter of recommendation requests at least three weeks in advance. Why not two weeks? It is not unheard of that I would leave town for 9-14 days. I will not write and submit your letter of recommendation while I am out of town.
  • Include the following with any request for a letter of recommendation:

    A list of all courses taken with me, along with the grades received in each course and any other relevant notes about participation or research projects;

    Indication of any special programs (e.g., HNGR, WIC, Passage, Wheaton Center for Faith, Politics and Economics Scholars, Hastert Interns) in which you have participated, along with details of your work in each program;

    An updated c.v. or resume;

    All required forms;

    Details of each program to which you are applying, including due dates for letters, submission methods (e.g., online or by snail mail), and your reason for applying/program fit;

    A copy of your personal statement (not each one, just a representative sample that describes your background and interests).

  • Please do not make five separate requests for five letters. Make batch requests--the fewer the better; the earlier the better. 

If you would like me to serve as a reference for a job or for applications to graduate school or other program (e.g., fellowship, scholarship, or internship programs), please be sure to make that request before you submit my name to a potential employer or school.


Media Center