Farris ’12 Gets to See Inside Workings of Rhetoric

Kenny Farris ’12 – One of the benefits of attending Wabash, besides an education across many disciplines and numerous undergraduate and post-graduation opportunities, is the ability to avoid elaboration or confusion when someone asks, "What major are you?" My double major both proves and disproves the observation. When I answer "English", most people can relate to reading and analyzing literature or studying parts of the English language. However, when I answer "Rhetoric", I tend to get a blank stare or a forward hand motion asking me to elaborate what exactly I study to earn that major.

Imagine the kinds of looks I receive when I tell people I interned for the Wabash College Rhetoric Department for eight weeks this summer.

Of course I deserve the confused facial expressions that I see because very few students, let alone the general public, perform or have performed the kind of work needed as this summer’s Rhetoric Department intern. One of the major projects this summer involved a rewriting of RHE 101, the Department’s Public Speaking Course. The class will teach skills necessary for public speaking as it has in the past, but the Department’s goal is to ground the course in civic engagement and the public discourse in the world.

I enjoyed searching YouTube, speech catalogs, and TV transcripts for examples of both excellent and subpar civil discourse needed for the first speech, particularly Jon Stewart’s "education" on public discourse to the hosts of CNN’s now-canceled show Crossfire. Four other Wabash students (Adam Phipps, Brady Young, Tyler Wade, and Neil Burk) working on campus this summer also helped me model a new speech for the course called the "Tough Issues" speech. In this speech, each student enrolled in RHE 101 would lead and participate in discussions over an issue without a universally accepted answer with the goal of learning how to approach a difficult topic without resorting to fallacious methods of reasoning and discovering the intricacies of a position not their own. Each of these projects helped Professors McDorman, Lamberton, and Abbott gauge how students would approach each assignment in comparison with their goals for the assignment and the course.

Upon starting on June 1st, I expected to perform tasks needed for the new course to develop and learn exactly what goes into the formation of a new course. However, I did not expect to observe a crash course in the process of hiring a new professor for the Department. Upon Dr. Timmerman’s acceptance to become the Dean of Faculty at Monmouth College, I witnessed much of the behind the scenes work involved in hiring new faculty.

My work on the RHE 101 project increased as the Department attended meetings and conducted interviews because of the opening. I feel thankful the Department hired me for the summer because I was fortunate to say a proper see-you-later to Dr. Timmerman as well as gather students for an impromptu classroom session led by the final two candidates for a job in the Department as a Visiting Professor.

I wonder if professors on other campuses allow their students, both majors and non-majors, to become involved in the hiring process as well as ask for their input on candidates. I wonder if professors on other campuses let students question, improve, and test their work as I have done. It is these opportunities that make Wabash so lively, so beneficial and rewarding, and yet so unique its confusing.

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One Response to Farris ’12 Gets to See Inside Workings of Rhetoric

  1. Gary James says:

    Great post, Kenny.
    The Rhetoric Department is lucky to have you, and we are all lucky to have Wabash.