This fall’s English 4880 course “Topics in Public Rhetorics” has become the subject of scrutiny for select portions of a few readings that were included in the syllabus and later shared with media outlets. To be clear, this course focuses on rhetoric and ethics, not contemporary policy, politics, or politicians, past or present.
Students in the course will examine the relationship between rhetoric and ethics from the first century BCE to the contemporary era. At the end of the course, students will have the foundation to articulate, critique, develop and construct their own rhetorical ethics; to explain their writing and research process; to develop and produce writing in multiple genres; and to provide feedback on other students’ writing.
There are many possible responses to the question, “What makes a rhetorical response ethical and effective?” This is not a partisan or ideological question. People with very different political beliefs might answer the questions about rhetoric and ethics similarly. In English 4880, students analyze and evaluate different responses to this question, and, most significantly, develop and articulate their own set of rhetorical ethics. They then apply and demonstrate their rhetorical ethics in a final project about a topic and in a genre of their choosing.
The focus and materials of this course change periodically. A few of the readings in this semester’s course discuss current political rhetoric and the contemporary state of the media. Other readings provide historical context for the question of rhetoric’s ethics, including from classical thinkers such as the Sophists, Plato and Aristotle. The assignments throughout the semester encourage students to critique and evaluate the authors’ stance on rhetoric’s ethics.
To encourage productive and respectful classroom engagement with the course materials, the syllabus includes guidelines for classroom discussions that we review on the first day of class and to which students must adhere. These guidelines state that students are expected to treat one another with respect, regardless of viewpoint. They also encourage students to challenge different thoughts and theories and to be open and honest, but to avoid personal attacks. These guidelines apply equally to all students, regardless of their personal or political viewpoints.
It’s unfortunate that select portions of the reading material, including one author’s citations of another scholar’s study, have been portrayed as my personal views or the focus of this course. I am looking forward to analyzing different perspectives on ethics and rhetoric with this semester’s students and to supporting their development of their own ethical rhetorical stance.
Dr. Katherine Mack
Associate Professor and Chair
Department of English, UCCS