Sunday, March 20, 2005

Conference, Day One: Former Chairs of CCCC Speak

Highlights only, as the session was uneven.

Lester Faigley reminded us that, as chair, he spoke about the declining public investment in higher education, and said that now we have even more perspective about that fact, as the decline has only increased. Consequently, writing programs are working in a general environment of less and less public subsidy. He used California as an example. In the late 70s, California experience a large influx of students, and the state responded by building lots of new colleges and universities. California expects an influx of 700,000 students by 2010, but now the system's funding is being cut so drastically that many qualified students are being turned away from universities, and open-access community colleges have student waiting lists for entry. He said, "we cannot allow higher education to fall into a shambles, or to become prohibitively expensive for some of the people it has traditionally aided."

Andrea Lunsford talked about the future of the field--shall rhetoric and composition retain its connection with English studies, or shall it separate. She noted that she sees literature departments whose identity is based upon a canonical literature in steep decline. She would argue for a separation on that basis. She thinks that if there's some sort of rhetoric/composition major, one might as well construct a department, since "departments are still the locus of power within the university." And, she says, we as a country are "desperately in need of instruction in the ethics of communication and the ethics of power." She cited David Bartholomae on the issue of staying connected with English (Bartholomae says stay)--a current article in the English Journal (the one on the sublime) has a very interesting article showing the ancient connections between rhetoric and poetics. (that last is a relevant note from me.)

Lastly, Donald McQuade, who's now some kind of bigwig with the UC system, talked about the neighborhood and the community, in terms of thinking about our profession. He pointed out that in 1991, when he was chair, the field was more like a neighborhood; now it's more like an "electronic town square." (He noted that Raymond Williams, in Keywords, said that community is one of the only words that seems never to be used in an unfavorable sense.) He also said that academic units are like neighborhoods--and sometimes neighborhoods are rough. (This reminded me of my own department, in a good way. I really like my neighborhood.)

For anyone still reading this, I wanted also to say that the declining public support and funding of higher education seems like a great theme for a group of readings. I'm going to try to get some stuff together to post on our course website(s).

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