Southern Methodist University rhetoric program records
A Guide to the Collection
Since the founding of Southern Methodist University, first-year writing has been a part of the Department of English. In response to various curricular overhauls and decanal priorities, the program has evolved over the years, both in content and focus. In the beginning, composition, or first-year writing, was literary in focus and theme-based. In the 1960s, for instance, students took "Discourse and Literature," and studied various themes like "Love" and "War." In the 1970s, the emphasis turned to rhetoric, with non-fiction readings blending with literary texts. At this time first-year writing was a two-semester course, and it was required for most entering students.
In the seventies, the program began to publish Criteria, a journal of the best first-year writing. This journal continues to be published and provides income to the rhetoric program and provides an excellent record of student achievement.
During this decade, first-year writing was taught by instructors. After six years, it was possible to be reviewed for tenure and become a tenured assistant professor. If an instructor did not choose to stand for tenure, or did not make tenure, he or she had to leave university teaching. The teaching load was heavy—four classes—and it has not varied over the years. The salaries were low, although instructors did benefit from salary equalization when the university raised women’s salaries to equal men’s. Instructors were full participants in the governance of the department and were members of the Academic Council.
In the eighties, instructors were re-designated as lecturers with one-year contracts, and tenure was no longer possible. Since this policy did not jibe with AAUP (American Association of University Professors) policy, senior lectureships became a reality for a few excellent teachers, who underwent a thorough review after six years. This provided more security, but the teaching load did not change, and the senior lecturers were responsible for reviewing and evaluating their colleagues as well.
In the mid-eighties, the program was evaluated both externally and internally. Two outside experts in first-year writing programs from Harvard and Ohio State visited SMU. They were shocked at the two-tier system of lecturers and professors, the class load, and lack of support for scholarly pursuits for lecturers. They recommended abandoning the basics test--an exam in fundamentals that all students had to pass to get credit for first-year writing. They also suggested appointing strong leader for the program.
In the late eighties a classical rhetorician was hired to direct the program and provide coherence. The focus of the course changed to classical rhetoric and argumentation, with students writing about public issues. Students learned to support a position and recognize a specious argument.
In the early nineties, exchange students from Japan and other international students led to the establishment of first-year writing classes for international students. This program expanded as the number of international students increased, and a director of ESL (English as a Second Language) was hired with responsibilities for ESL programs across campus. Multiple ESL sections of 1300, 1301, and 1302 are offered by the first-year writing program.
In the mid-nineties, the first-year writing program was again evaluated by a departmental committee (The Daniels Report). The three-semester sequence—1300, 1301, and 1302—was defined and suggested syllabi for each was provided. The teaching load remained the same, but the class size was limited to 15. The emphasis of the course changed, also, with the focus on critical reading and analysis of mostly non-fiction texts. Students were taught to write thesis-based essays about what they had read. For English 1302, first-year seminars were to be developed by lecturers on a theme such as the Kennedy assassination. These seminars would contain a research component and teach students to work with sources and synthesize material. The report suggested that writing-intensive seminars be offered across the university, designated by a "W" in the catalogue.
The suggestions in the plan were adopted, although the attempt to implement writing intensive seminars across the university did not succeed. In 1998, the program was again evaluated by the SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) accreditation committee. Because of their recommendations, an oral presentation component was added to the course, and yearly institutional effectiveness surveys of grading policies instituted. Lecturers received a salary increase to compensate for adding the oral presentation requirement.
Recently, the first-year writing program has been instrumental in facilitating the university Common Reading program. Lecturers have created syllabi, moderated discussion sessions, and are responsible for including the Common Reading in their syllabi.
Today, the program continues much as delineated in the Daniels Report. The teaching load for lecturers remains four classes of 15 per semester. Senior lectureships are no longer available. A recently instituted PhD program in English will provide teachers for the program in years to come. The present senior lecturers are charged with evaluating and reviewing all full-time, non-senior lecturers every three years and take part in hiring procedures for the program.
The two-tier system remains. Lecturers cannot vote in departmental meetings; they are provided no funds for travel to conferences for scholarly development; their salaries remain low. In fact, the department does not even provide business cards for full-time lecturers.
Despite this, the writing program is an integral part of the Department of English and the university, both financially and intellectually. The goal of the program is to teach each student to read well and to write well, to gain the skills he or she will need to participate effectively in the classroom, the workplace, and the community.
Pamela Lange, Senior Lecturer of English, Dedman College, Southern Methodist University
This collection is comprised primarily of departmental records from 1980 to 1990. The majority of the material is correspondence. Grade sheets, articles, meeting agendas, contracts, and resumes are also included. The collection is arranged in two series, and each series is organized alphabetically.
The first series, Rhetoric Program, includes materials created and collected by the Rhetoric department. A large portion of the material deals with the internal structure of the department. Grading policies, job candidates, scheduling issues, academic support services, and academic standards are also covered.
The second series, Publications, includes published material created and collected by the department. The majority of the series is made up of issues of Criteria, a journal of the best first-year writing. Journal articles and Southern Methodist University handbooks are also included.
Access to Collection:
Collection is open for research use.
Permission to publish materials must be obtained from the Director of the DeGolyer Library.
It is the responsibility of the user to obtain copyright authorization.
Southern Methodist University rhetoric program records, Southern Methodist University Archives, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University.
Transfer, Pam Lange, 2007.
Originally, the majority of the records were in 4 binders, and the binders were divided with labeled tabs. However, most labels did not accurately indicate what was in each section. In addition to the binders, there were 5 unlabeled file folders. Binder materials were removed from the binders and placed in acid-free folders. The materials already in folders were re-foldered. The collection has been arranged by subject. Paperclips were removed.
Allison Osborn, 2009.
Lara Corazalla, 2010.
Detailed Description of the Collection