Rhetoric and its execution in both writing and speech have been central to Western education for millennia. One need look no further than St. Augustine who, as a writer and teacher of rhetoric, recognized the importance of studying effective communication for pursuing truth and spreading Christianity.
The value of thoughtful, eloquent, and effective writing for the educated individual cannot be overstated. As both a practical skill and a medium of thought, excellent writing bestows power and possibility. Similarly, a working knowledge of rhetoric in its classical and contemporary manifestations imparts the ability to construct successful communication, evaluate others' arguments and, more importantly, comprehend and critique the basic epistemological and ideological frameworks of public and private discourse from an ethical standpoint.
Paired together, expertise in writing and rhetoric will prepare a student to participate more meaningfully in democratic citizenship by becoming a discriminating producer and consumer of text; such expertise will also provide life-long opportunities for personal enrichment. A coursework in Writing and Rhetoric will make the acquisition of such abilities and knowledge possible for our students, thus preparing them for greater success in the future.
Students in the Writing and Rhetoric Program will choose from professional, skills-based writing courses such as media and web writing, advanced expository writing, journalistic and short story writing, and desktop publishing, as well as more theoretical and information-based courses such as Rhetoric and Public Discourse, Media Criticism, Literary Criticism, Intercultural Communication, and The American Short Story. Thus, the program has both a practical and theoretical component. It will emphasize practice by requiring three courses in expository, creative or journalistic writing as well as a fourth practicum course involving professional writing or the teaching of writing, rhetoric or critical theory.
In all courses the constant interaction of theory and practice will be stressed with the goal of developing both professional writers who can analyze what they do and researchers or teachers who understand the demands of writers at work. It is important to note, therefore, that even the "practical" courses will have a rhetorical component. Understanding such "theoretical" notions as those Aristotle put forth in his Rhetoric, or St. Augustine in Confessions, or Derrida in Of Grammatology, for example, will ensure that students can make sophisticated decisions regarding the purpose, social context, ideological stance and style appropriate to any discourse they wish to create. The ethical dimension of this approach will ensure that students learn to think beyond facile eloquence or efficacy and to speak and write from examined values and moral conviction.
Students graduating with the Concentration or Minor in Writing and Rhetoric will be given the option of joining the "Graduation Pledge Alliance." Initiated at Humboldt State University in California and now a part of the graduation ceremonies at over 100 colleges and universities, the pledge affirms a commitment to principles of social and environmental responsibility in the graduates' professional work and writing.
Finally, the rapid, worldwide "digitalization" of writing and discourse calls for familiarity with the electronic media involved in text production and dissemination. The Concentration and Minor described here is built on an infrastructure of the latest computer hardware and software. Such technical knowledge is paramount for any effective communicator today.
As an interdisciplinary program with courses from the Departments of English and Communication, the Program in Writing and Rhetoric offers students opportunities to gain significant experience in a range of writing environments as well as knowledge of the rhetorical framework constituting professional, aesthetic and everyday writing. The program will allow students who want to pursue study in writing and communication to do so in a focused and comprehensive way with examination of the theoretical, historical, and philosophical aspects of these disciplines.
In keeping with the English Department's focus on literary texts, the notion of rhetoric informing the Concentration includes textual analysis as well as the more traditional uses of the term, thus bringing the wisdom and imagination of literary discourse into the Concentration. Such a focus on literary texts also underscores the well known correlation between reading well and writing well. In keeping with the Communication Department's focus on orality and persuasion, the Concentration will allow students to develop rhetorically complex understandings of audiences and mastery of the skills necessary to adapt written and oral messages for identified audiences.