Department of Rhetoric
P.O. Box 846
Hampden-Sydney, VA 23943
Lizabeth A. Rand, Chair
History of the Rhetoric Minor
Reprinted with permission from The Hampden-Sydney Tiger, April 23, 2004
Rhetoric Department Offers New Concentration
By Wesley Sholtes
Hampden-Sydney College's Rhetoric Department has recently received the rubber stamp of the general faculty to offer students a concentration in rhetoric, which will be infinitely valuable for students wishing to pursue careers involving written or verbal communication. Elliott Professor of Rhetoric and Humanities Elizabeth Deis had previously presented an oral argument to the general faculty favoring the establishment of said concentration, which could only be approved by a majority vote of all the faculty members, regardless of department, in order to be instituted.
Approve the concentration they did, though only after a lengthy period of discussion and planning. Currently, three Hampden-Sydney students have completed or are in the process of completing the requirements for the concentration, including seniors Joey Hall and Rusty Foster as well as Sophomore Chad Southward. However, due to the lateness of the implementation of the new concentration, Hall will not have the concentration denoted on his transcript, even though he fulfilled its requirements.
Deis commented about the number of long-term faculty members comprising the Rhetoric Department, as well as information about their specializations: "We now have, with Professor [Lizabeth] Rand ... four tenure track positions, each of us having areas of expertise." She noted that she recently went to the national composition convention, which concerns one of her noted areas of expertise, while Rand, who is an Assistant Professor of Rhetoric, has performed research on the rhetoric associated with illness and religion. Apparently, Rand is recognized on a national level for her work with illness.
Deis stated, "She has a course this semester on Rhetoric and illness, a 401-level course. They read discussions by patients and doctors about illness [especially cancer]." Regarding the quantity of staff members now available to teach rhetoric classes, she added, "We've got enough people in rhetoric that we could do something like this."
Rhetoric can be applied to a wide variety of fields. According to Deis, "Even simple businesses that are surveyed put communications skills at the top of their list." Elliott Associate Professor of Rhetoric and English Kathy Weese echoed Deis's assessment: "I think so many employers put such a high premium on having students write well ... Oral rhetoric fits very well into a liberal arts curriculum."
Weese commented on her role as Chair of the Department as well as Deis's role in getting the concentration approved. "Dr. Deis conceived the idea, while I did a lot of the footwork," said Weese, adding that once it finally came to a formal vote of the faculty, "it was passed by an overwhelming majority."
Deis said that when she went from department to department to pool potential rhetoric-related classes for consideration to be included as part of the curriculum, she found that "they all got excited about [the concentration]." However, she contrasts current faculty enthusiasm with the "nightmare fight" that occurred several years ago over the issue of hiring a new faculty member to teach the college's current course offering in Public Speaking.
Deis recalled, "The main concern was having to hire more people." Fortunately for the department, adding on a new concentration did not require the hiring of more faculty members, since Rand had already been recently added to the department's faculty. As a consequence, the faculty has been very supportive of the new concentration.
Regarding the previous non-existence of a Rhetoric concentration, Deis stated, "It's ridiculous when Hampden-Sydney is known for Rhetoric that all we could do was teach students in their freshman year." She is very pleased that students will now have the option to continue upper-level courses in rhetoric toward the goal of gaining recognition on their transcript.
Southward had a similar reaction to Deis about the previous lack of course offerings in rhetoric, asserting, "I was shocked to learn Rhetoric was not offered as a major or concentration. Now, at least, one can achieve a concentration in Rhetoric to go along with whichever major they are pursuing."
Hall, however, was more understanding of the time it took for Hampden-Sydney to offer a concentration. He stated, "I'm not at all surprised to see that the concentration didn't exist before now. The one thing I've learned is that everything worth having takes time to get."
Weese notes that "the [Rhetoric] program is often touted as the centerpiece of the college curriculum," so it certainly makes sense for the college to offer upper level courses. Asked about the possibility of a Rhetoric or Communications major down the road, Weese asserted, "I don't foresee the program expanding radically in the near future."
The concentration requires six courses, including Rhetoric 102, Rhetoric 210 (Public Speaking), Rhetoric 310 (Advanced Public Speaking), Rhetoric 301 (currently, Creative Nonfiction taught by Deis) or English 235 (Creative Writing), Rhetoric 401 (currently, the Rhetoric of Illness taught by Rand) or a choice between Critical Issues in Fine Arts, Literary Criticism, and two Classics courses, and finally, an additional course with rhetoric import chosen from a wide variety of courses among a number of different disciplines.
The department had to argue for two new courses to be added to the Hampden-Sydney curriculum: Rhetoric 301, Creative Nonfiction and Rhetoric 401, Topics in Rhetorical Theory and Practice.
Creative Nonfiction is writing intensive and focuses on reading and discussing essays and finding a personal style and voice. According to a "Rationale" defending the addition of the class to the department, which was offered up for the faculty's consideration, "The ability to craft a well-researched and well-reasoned argument, and present it with conviction and an awareness of the rhetorical situation, is the hallmark of a well-rounded liberal arts education."
Hall notes that it was through this class that he first realized he could pursue a concentration in Rhetoric. "I had a great start on the requirements, such as having already had one public speaking course, and, just by what I think is good fortune and somewhat [of] an attempt to make the most of broadening my horizons, I took Creative Nonfiction with Dr. Deis, where I was informed of the potential of the concentration and how that class too was part of the requirement." He added, "So, as it stood, I had a great start on fulfilling the concentration."
Hall enthused, "Dr. Deis had a great impact on me and my overall experience here at Hampden-Sydney. Before I even took the Creative Nonfiction class with her, I had always valued what going through the rhetoric program had done for me: I felt like I could communicate. But taking Creative Nonfiction allowed me to see that I love to write."
Southward echoes Hall's enthusiasm for this class as well, asserting that it was the most valuable course that he has taken so far for the concentration. "Creative Nonfiction with Dr. Deis was essential for me. It was my first upper level rhetoric course, and it made me focus my writing. Focusing my writing has allowed my skills of rhetoric to increase. Pinpointing a thesis and staying with the thesis is something you can only learn by practice."
Southward says he wished more courses beyond the introductory level were offered, but he expresses pleasure with several of the offerings. "Classes such as Rhetoric of Illness with Dr. Rand really allow a person to explore writing on a more personal basis, making writing a passion instead of a chore. I am glad that Public Speaking with Professor Deal is included in the Rhetoric concentration. Speaking well is important in any career path."
Rhetoric 401, the other new class that is being offered, treats the study of selected topics in rhetorical history and theory, with students participating regularly in class discussion, giving oral presentations, and writing analytical essays, including a "substantial seminar paper."
The "Rationale" for this class asserted, "Rhetoric 401-an upper-level seminar taught in the spring semester every other year-will allow students the opportunity to read broadly and deeply in rhetorical theory and practice and, as a result, to become skilled 'producers' and 'consumers' of written and oral discourse."
Hall also mentioned this course as one of a couple of courses whose professors have offered him significant support, guidance, and instruction during his pursuit of a Rhetoric concentration. "In my last semester ... I have taken two more wonderful classes that have really allowed me to actively engage [sic] my desire to write, the Rhetoric of Illness with Dr. Rand and Creative Writing: Fiction Writing with Dr. Robbins."
Regarding Creative Writing courses, Deis said she was very pleased that it can now count for more than a mere English elective. "This allows the class to serve another purpose, which is just great." She also thought that the Rhetoric 310 course is very valuable, since students are required to deliver an oration off campus to a group.
Both Hall and Southward expect to benefit in the future from their coursework in Rhetoric. Southward, an English major, stated, "I plan on becoming a teacher and a professor after my time at H-SC is over. Rhetoric skills can only enhance my ability to communicate to my students, whether they [are] in high school or college."
Hall stated, "I initially decided to go for the Rhetoric concentration because I had plans to go to law school, and I figured that having the concentration would help me in that endeavor."
Hall responds about not receiving the recognition of an official concentration due to the time lag that the concentration experienced in being approved by the faculty. He stated, "As far as being disappointed that the concentration will not be on my transcript, I'm really not. It sounds cheesy, but I just value the skills that I have acquired in pursuing the concentration."
"It would have been nice to attain the notoriety of being the first Hampden-Sydney student to graduate with a concentration in Rhetoric, but that's just for other people's acknowledgement anyway, as far as I see it."
Hall summed up the real value of a rhetoric concentration, aside from the obvious benefit of enhancing one's transcript so as to become more attractive to employers: "Honestly, developing the skills of learning how to articulate and express my thoughts convincingly is all the merit I need, and these are the treasures that will do more for me than just having it in writing on my diploma."
*The Rhetoric Concentration became the Rhetoric Minor in the 2006-07 academic year.