The cornerstone of our academic experience is the belief that there is nothing more valuable than teaching young men how to express themselves clearly and confidently. 

A "Write" of Passage

The Rhetoric Program, established 40 years ago, is based on a 1978 faculty resolution that states: All Hampden-Sydney graduates will write and speak competently. Consisting of course work and examinations that focus on argumentative and analytical writing and presentational speaking, the program is designed to assure that all graduates can express themselves clearly and cogently. Instructors of Rhetoric 100, 101, and 102 — supported by the Writing Center — emphasize the process of writing as well as the finished product. Instructors of Rhetoric 210 and 310 prepare students for public speaking in the classroom, community, and workplace. Students in these elective courses are supported by the Speaking Center.

As a director fortunate to work with actors of the highest caliber, it’s important that I have clear and precise ways to communicate. A lot of the skills I learned in the Rhetoric Program, I find myself using today, and I couldn’t be more thankful.

Scott Cooper ’92, writer and director of the Oscar-nominated film Crazy Heart

The Value of the Rhetoric Program

As persuasive communicators, Hampden-Sydney alumni regularly tell us that in competitive situations in the job market and in graduate schools, they have had a considerable advantage over other candidates because the Rhetoric Program gave them the ability to think clearly, write concisely, and speak cogently and persuasively. These are skills that employers and graduate schools consistently demand and reward.

Hampden-Sydney's Rhetoric Program has been featured in Inside Higher Ed, "Teaching for Better Writers" and The Atlantic, "What Aristotle and Stephen Colbert Have in Common."

The Rhetoric Curriculum

Most first-year students will enroll in Rhetoric 101, in which students learn to write expository and argumentative essays and to edit their work effectively, and then in Rhetoric 102, in which students hone their writing skills, learn to write researched essays, and work intensively on "rhetorical grammar" so that they can communicate their ideas in effective prose. Students who need preparation for the regular sequence of Rhetoric courses are enrolled in Rhetoric 100, a course that also focuses on argumentative writing and that helps students learn to write prose free from what the college identifies as major sentence-level errors. Many students also elect to take Rhetoric 210: Introduction to Public Speaking, and some go on to study Advanced Public Speaking in Rhetoric 310. 

All rhetoric classes have a 14-student maximum enrollment so that professors have sufficient time to read and grade their students' essays carefully and so that they have time to meet with their students in individual conferences.

Rhetoric Courses

The Rhetoric Minor

The Rhetoric Minor has become the most popular minor at Hampden-Sydney College. The requirements for a minor in Rhetoric are 19 hours, including

  • Rhetoric 102, 210, 301, and 310.
  • Students must also complete two courses from the following group: Rhetoric 360, Rhetoric 370, and English 380.
  • Finally, students must take Rhetoric 481 during the fall or spring semester of their senior year.
  • Students completing the Rhetoric minor who elect also to complete the Creative Writing minor (see under English) are allowed a one course overlap (Rhetoric 301).
Rhetoric Minor

Rhetoric Proficiency Exam

All Hampden-Sydney students must pass the Rhetoric Proficiency Exam (Rhetoric 200) before they may be graduated from the College. The RPE is a three-hour essay exam which tests a student's ability to invent a reasonable and thoughtful thesis "on a subject not foreign to the student's experience" and to construct a logical and well-supported argument on that thesis. 

Rhetoric Exam

An H-SC promise since 1775

The first advertisement for the College appeared in Williamsburg's Virginia Gazette; it promised that classes would begin on 10 November 1775 and laid a conceptual foundation for the Rhetoric Program that lives today: "The system of Education will resemble that which is adopted in the College of New Jersey; save, that a more particular Attention shall be paid to the Cultivation of the English Language than is usually done in Places of public Education."

The first advertisement for the College ("Hampden-Sidney") appeared in Williamsburg's Virginia Gazette"An Academy"

Prince Edward, Sept 1, 1775

"By the generous exertions of several Gentlemen in this and some of the neighbouring Counties, very large contributions have lately been made for erecting and supporting a public Academy near the Courthouse in this County. Their zeal for the interests of Learning and Virtue has met with such success, that they were enabled to let the Buildings in March left to several Undertakers, who are proceeding in their Work with the greatest Expedition. A very valuable library of the best Writers, both ancient and modern on most Parts of Science and polite Literature, is already procured; with Part of an Apparatus to facilitate the Studies of the Mathematicks and Natural Philosophy, which we expect in a short Time to render complete.

The Academy will certainly be opened on the 10th of next November. It is to be distinguished by the name Hampden-Sidney, and will be subject to the Visitation of 12 Gentlemen of Character and Influence in their respective Counties; the immediate and active Members being chiefly of the Church of England. The Number of Visitors and Trustees will probably be increased as soon as the Distractions of the Times shall so far cease as to enable its Patrons to enlarge its Foundations.

The Students will all board and study under the same Roof, provided for by a common Steward, except such as choose to take their Boarding in the Country. The rates, at the utmost, will not exceed 10£. Currency per Annum to the steward and 4£ Tuition Money; 20 shillings of this to be always paid at Entrance.

The system of Education will resemble that which is adopted in the College of New Jersey; save, that a more particular Attention shall be paid to the Cultivation of the English Language than is usually done in Places of public Education. Three Masters and Professors are ready to enter in November, and as many more may be easily procured as the increased Number of Students may at any Time hereafter require. And our Prospects at present are so extremely flattering that it is probable we shall be obliged to procure two Professors more before the Expiration of the Year.

The Public may rest assured that the whole shall be conducted on the most catholic Plan. Parents, of every Denomination, may be at full Liberty to require their Children to attend on any Mode of Worship which either Custom or Conscience has rendered most agreeable to them. For our Fidelity, in every Respect, we are cheerfully willing to pledge our Reputation to the Public; which may be more relied on, because our whole Success depends upon their favourable Opinion. Our Character and Interest, therefore, being at Stake, furnish a strong Security for our avoiding all Party Instigations; and our Care to form good men, and good Citizens, on the common and universal Principles of Morality, distinguished from the narrow Tenets which form the Complexion of an Sect; and for our assiduity in the whole Circle of Education."
~Samuel S. Smith

P.S. The principal Building of the Academy not being yet completed, those Gentlemen who desire their Children to enter immediately will be obliged to take Lodgings for them in the Neighbourhood, during the Winter Season; which may be done in Houses sufficiently convenient, on very reasonable Terms.

 

The Next Chapter


The Center for Rhetoric and Communication, a new innovative and collaborative home for The Rhetoric Program, is made possible by Hampden-Sydney College alumnus William L. Pannill '77.

Rhetoric Center

The RPE Toast


The Rhetoric Program Exam (RPE) is so revered that alumni gather annually at dozens of locations across the globe to celebrate and toast the program and the students taking their proficiency exam. 

David Fluharty '20

One of the founding members—and now president—of Hampden-Sydney's Cycling Club, David also serves as a resident advisor, vice president of both the Outsiders Club and the International Club, and editor of the Journal of the Sciences

David Fluharty ‘20

Rhetoric Program


Dr. Katherine J. Weese, Director 
P.O. Box 865
Hampden-Sydney College | Hampden-Sydney, VA 23943
(434) 223-6254
kweese@hsc.edu

Information icon