I got caught up in the syllabus conversation on WPA-L and did a couple of quick searches. I will admit that I was looking for a particular point of view (way too much time spend on syllabi); but at any rate, they were interesting links.
Here’s my quick take: when you start your class, don’t spend more than 15 min max on a syllabus—I try to keep mine to 10. Students on the first day are bored stiff by all the syllabi stuff. I try to abide by some of the institutional imperatives, but I am NOT going to include junk that I know is counter-productive to good teaching (read: Disciplined Minds). For my money, our allegiance is to our students, not to the institution. Duh.
Overly focusing on syllabi (and grades—the ugly stepchild of contract-syllabi) is simply wrong teaching. If you think I’m wrong, re-read the work of Freire, read Shor, re-read Dewey. I’m going to restate: education is a collaborative enterprise; the degree to which you make it adversarial marks your having fallen into the social reproductive mechanism of education. One of my sources said re-read Jerry Faber, Student as Nigger.
My suggestion: when you start your class, tell students that you want to work with them on improving their writing and having them help you improve your teaching. Tell them that if they are in every class and do all the work, they will have an A. If they miss some stuff, they’ll go down a bit. Make it simple. By all means, get away from the accounting mechanism of assigning grades. And ALWAYS (as Seth knows) realize that by emphasizing grades, you are reproducing the capitalist construct—like how can anyone miss this?