Dear Tania & others,

Re: the place of composition in Canadian universities

I'm delighted to see this subject raised again, especially
since we've just been through a kind of "case study" on
the place of composition here at UCC. Following an external
review (which included wonderfully useful input from
Doug Brent), our "English" program has undergone a significant
metamorphosis--from a traditional historical survey model
to a three-stream major in English: historical focus,
contemporary literature focus, and a rhetoric & professional
writing focus.  The RPW option was highly contentious, involved
much debate (in both meetings & corridors), but was finally
included in the new major.

I mention all of this because I think it raises at least
two or three issue relevant to Tania's question. First,
a practical, production-oriented emphasis does not fit easily
with traditional notions of English instruction, where the
emphasis falls on reading, not writing.

Second, in order for our department to understand/accept the
RPW concept, we needed to articulate it not in terms of
"writing," but in terms of expanding literary analysis into
cultural studies (which takes writing and language as its
subject). Thus half of the courses qualifying for
the RPW major are recognizable as cultural studies courses.

Third, as we begin to implement the new three-option major,
there's some doubt that we'll be able to maintain the
writing component.  One of the key faculty members in the
program has recently taken on the role of Dean of Arts. Ironically,
despite a strong endorsement of the RPW option (only two
of 44 department members voted against it), there's no consensus
on whether we need to replace the Department's rhetoric
and composition specialist. In other words, and with the
best of intentions, our department is debating seriously
the prospect of offering a rhetoric and professional writing
degree without a critical mass of area specialists doing the teaching.

Some of this must sound pretty familiar.  I wonder, though,
if examining such case studies--moments in the discipline when
rhetoric & composition is forced to define (or redefine) itself--
might go some way toward answering Tania's questions.

Regards,  Will

PS. The new major we've worked out (on paper) is a wonderfully
creative set of options for students to explore.  Wish us luck.

                       < < W.F. Garrett-Petts > >

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