PSCI 3440 - Syllabus

  PSCI 3440




Course Description

During this semester you will examine the political development of twelve countries: Russia, the five countries in Central Asia, the three countries in the Caucasus, Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus. It is a region in which democracy ranges from unstable (e.g. Ukraine and Georgia) to non-existent (e.g. Belarus, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan).

The majority of the attention will be devoted to Russia and Central Asia. Despite the hardships of the last three decades, Russia is still of crucial strategic importance. Central Asia, a highly understudied region, has also emerged as a region in which the world has significant strategic interests – in part because of resources, and in part because of its geopolitical character, sitting as it does between Russia, China, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.

One major theme of this course will be transition in all its dimensions: political, institutional, economic, social and cultural. Another will be diversity. All of these countries were once part of the same state: the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). We will seek to understand how and why each country has made the choices it has – many of which have resulted in troubling outcomes.

This class fulfills the requirements for General Education Area IV (Other Cultures and Civilizations).

Learning Outcomes


      • You will gain greater knowledge and understanding of a Russia, a country still often seen in the US through the prism of the Cold War and Hollywood movies, and of other parts of the former Soviet Union, especially Central Asia, an understudied region of the world. Ignorance leads to bad policy decisions; by the end of the semester, you'll be in a better position to make judgments about this part of the world than many Americans.
      • You will learn the challenges of political, economic and social transitions, specifically from communism to a number of post-communist regimes that range from unstable democracies to dictatorships.
      • You will become familiar with the cultural, social, economic and political diversity of the region.


You will gain skill in "border crossing," seeing things through someone else's eyes, understanding others' cultural "lenses."

You will strengthen your critical thinking skills, especially (but not exclusively) by remembering the following guidelines:

        • Complex problems have complex and multiple causes. Simplistic explanations lead to simplistic solutions that don't work.
        • Correlation is not causation. (It might suggest a causal relationship, but it's not a given.)
        • Evidence and inference guide our conclusions. Not ideology, not preconceptions and not emotion.
        • There is never only one side to a conflict. Rarely is one party always right.

Course learning outcomes intersect with these WMU and College of Arts and Sciences global learning outcomes:

      • Knowledge #2: Demonstrate knowledge of the varied forces that have shaped the world.
      • Skill #2: The ability to think critically and problem solve while relying upon globally relevant knowledge and a variety of cultural frames of reference.
      • Perspective #4: Concern for becoming a globally engaged citizen who will work toward a sustainable future.

Academic Freedom:

You have the right to engage in reasoned disagreement with me without any penalty to your grade. I have the right to challenge any belief, ideology, worldview, or attitude you have, including those beliefs you hold sacred. Students likewise have this right with each other and me. Everyone has the right to express his or her views without fear of bullying or reprisal. I or another student may ask you to support your view with evidence, logic, or an expression of values, just as you may ask of me or anyone else in class. Respectful disagreements and challenges should not be seen as attacks or insults, but as part of the reasoned dialogue we engage in as students, professors, and citizens. Look at disagreements as an opportunity to explore your own views as well as attempt to see an alternative viewpoint as if it were your own, even if only temporarily in order to understand it better. Understand that intellectual discomfort is a stepping stone to better understanding all points of view – even our own. And it is a critical foundation for learning.


Two texts are required:

      • Eric Shiraev, Russian Government and Politics (2nd ed)
      • Sally Cummings, Understanding Central Asia.

These books will be available at the campus bookstore (click here for details). You may also wish to check with one of the online retailers (Amazon, Abebooks, etc) where you can find used copies for as little as half the cost of a new copy. Just make sure you get the correct edition of Shiraev. 

In addition, you will read selections from Central Asia at 25 (available for free at the link), a volume of essays written by Central Asian scholars. Additional readings can be found under the schedule of readings and assignments.

Course reserves ("e-reserves") are entirely digital except for the texts. To access the digital items, you'll need the password "russia". Go to the library website, click on "Find Items," then select "Reserves, electronic and course-related," and search for PSCI 3440. Once you've logged in and found the article you are seeking, you can download it as a pdf or read it online.

Requirements and Grading

Quizzes: 30%

Assignment 1: 10%

Assignment 2: 15%

Exam I: 10%

Exam II: 15%

Final Exam: 20%

Class Lectures

All class sessions wil be conducted by webex at the address Class will start promptly at 16:00 pm and conclude by 17:40. Given that covid has reconfigured our interactions entirely and placed technology at the core of our instructional mode, I assume some students will miss classes due to connection issues, bandwidth limitations, family illness, and so on. To that end, I will record all class sessions and post the links to the videos on elearning. Note that it takes webex some time to process the recordings, so they may not appear until the next day. Hence, I've built in a delay to give students plenty of time to watch the lectures after the fact if they cannot do so during scheduled class time and still be able to prepare for after-class quizzes (see next).

After-Class Quizzes

A high priority in this class is placed on keeping up. One learns not by attendance when convenient and cramming for exams, but by regular engagement with the material, both written and verbal. I can't possibly test for everything, and I assume by virtue of being in class and being awake (another expectation!), you'll be learning far more than I can examine you on. Hence: the significant portion of your grade that is placed on after-class quizzes. You will be quizzed after every class session when there is not an exam. It will test both class material and assigned reading for the day. (See the schedule of classes and assignments for details.) Quizzes will be prepared and posted on elearning after class. You will have until 11:59 pm three days later to take the quiz. (For Monday class, that means Thursday at 11:59 pm; for Wednesday class, the deadline will be Saturday at 11:50 pm.) That will give everyone a chance to watch the lecture including those who have connection issues during class session.


Exams in this class will be in essay format, with perhaps some identification/short answer questions or multiple choice questions.

Oops Passes

Given the fact that we are in extraordinary times (The Time of Covid), each student will have three "oops" passes that can be used to compensate for missed deadlines (think: get-out-of-jail-free cards if you know the Monopoly game). Each "oops" will give you three additional days to complete after-class quizzes or written assignments, no questions asked. Note that they do not apply to exams; if you must miss an exam deadline, you must let us know in advance to be able to make it up.

Make-up Exams

If you do not notify one of us in advance, and if I do not approve of the reason for being absent, you will not be allowed to make up exams. Excused absences include significant illness, death in the family, and the like. Excuses not accepted: having to work, a major assignment due in another class, a planned family or personal vacation, oversleeping, volunteer activity or a student activities event, and so on.

Religious Observances

WMU has a religious observances policy that I will follow as much as possible. Note that advance notification is essential, the more the better.

Students with Disabilities

I will make every effort to accommodate students with verified disabilities. Please see me to discuss it.

Late Assignments

Assignments are expected to be in on time except for extraordinary circumstances.* Penalties for late papers are high. If turned in later than the midnight deadline of the due date, and any time in the ensuing 24 hour period, the penalty is one full grade. An additional full grade is deducted if turned in during the second 24 hour period after the deadline, and so on.

*Extraordinary circumstances do not include:

  • I got behind and it took longer to do than I thought.
  • My computer froze (save, save, save).
  • My computer crashed (backup, backup, backup).
  • The internet was congested when I tried to access the sites (see point #1).
  • I had other deadlines that week (see point #1).


I will communicate with you often. You are responsible for monitoring communications. To communicate with me or the teaching assistant, you should use email. Leaving a message on my office voice mail will likely result in no response. We will do everything we can to answer your email message promptly. Please help us distinguish between important messages from you and annoying spam from pranksters and criminals by using your WMU address. Also, when you write to either of us, please put "PSCI 3440" in the subject line. We cannot guarantee that emails that do not follow these instructions will be answered promptly.

Submission of Papers and Assignments

All papers and assignments in the class will be submitted to the elearning dropbox. Papers must be either submitted in docx or pdf format.

University Policies on Academic Integrity and Sexual Harassment

Students are responsible for making themselves aware of and understanding the University policies and procedures that pertain to Academic Honesty. These policies include cheating, fabrication, falsification and forgery, multiple submission, plagiarism, complicity and computer misuse. The academic policies addressing Student Rights and Responsibilities can be found in the Undergraduate Catalog. If there is reason to believe you have been involved in academic dishonesty, you will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct. You will be given the opportunity to review the charge(s) and if you believe you are not responsible, you will have the opportunity for a hearing. You should consult with your instructor if you are uncertain about an issue of academic honesty prior to the submission of an assignment or test.

Students and instructors are responsible for making themselves aware of and abiding by the “Western Michigan University Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment and Violence, Intimate Partner Violence, and Stalking Policy and Procedures” related to prohibited sexual misconduct under Title IX, the Clery Act and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and Campus Safe. Under this policy, responsible employees (including instructors) are required to report claims of sexual misconduct to the Title IX Coordinator or designee (located in the Office of Institutional Equity). Responsible employees are not confidential resources. For a complete list of resources and more information about the policy see


In addition, students are encouraged to access the Code of Conduct, as well as resources and general academic policies on such issues as diversity, religious observance, and student disabilities:

Office of Student Conduct

Diversity and Inclusion

Registrar’s Office

Religious Observances Policy

Disability Services for Students


Students who take this class must be prepared to submit electronic copies of their assignments. The university expects that all students will be evaluated and graded on their own work. If you use language, data or ideas from other sources, published or unpublished, you must take care to acknowledge and properly cite those sources. Failure to do so constitutes plagiarism. To deter plagiarism, encourage responsible student behavior, improve student learning and ensure greater accountability, assignments for this class will be run through plagiarism detection software. If the results of the report may be used to charge you with plagiarism, you will be notified of the result of the report, and you will be given the opportunity to respond per the regular institutional process and procedures that govern student academic conduct. If you are found to be responsible for plagiarism in the academic integrity review process, you will receive an E for the course.

Grading Scale


100-93% = A

92-88% = BA

87-83% = B

82-78% = CB

77-73% = C

72-68% = DC

67-60% = D

below 60% = E

Semester Points

1000-930 = A

929-880 = BA

879-830 = B

829-780 = CB

779-730 = C

729-680 = DC

679-600 = D

below 600 = E



140-150 = A

133-139 = BA

125-132 = B

118-124 = CB

110-117 = C

103-109 = DC

91-102 = D

below 91 = E

Each Essay Question:

42-45 = A

40-41 = BA

37-39 = B

35-36 = CB

33-34 = C

31-32 = DC

28-30 = D

below 28 = E

Assignment 1

93-100 = A

88-92 = BA

83-87 = B

78-82 = CB

73-77 = C

68-72 = DC

60-68 = D

below 60 = E

Assignment 2

166-180 = A

157-165 = BA

148-156 = B

139-147 = CB

130-138 = C

121-129 = DC

107-120 = D

below 107 = E