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Restructuring Gen Ed: The Bloodbath

barclay_barrios
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For this last post in this series, I want to consider the final part of the general education law as presented to our committee:
 Remaining courses (15 credits) to be determined by each university or college
This provision prompted a colleague to say, “Now the local bloodbaths will begin.” And I imagine they will. The core is shrinking. Some department somewhere is going to lose 6 credits, 2 courses, and who knows how many students. I won’t predict a bloodbath, but only because I deeply believe in academic collegiality—call me an idealist if you will.  My hope is that at my own institution, those final 15 credits will be decided through rigorous processes with multiple points of faculty input. In other words, I hope we will harness what James Surowiecki would call the “wisdom of crowds.” However, I can predict one very local point of contention: Public Speaking.  I know our School of Communication and Multimedia Studies is quite eager to see Public Speaking as part of the core and, frankly, I’m not at all opposed to having it there. Students do need to know how to speak effectively.  And, after all, isn’t that where rhetoric really started? In the agora? And of course, my professional organization is called College Composition and Communication. We get to drop some course in our local bucket… shouldn’t Public Speaking be one? It is, of course, more complex than that. For starters, we are in lean budget times and, as in any famine, humans start acting less than humane. As resources become scarce, we genetically hoard and scavenge—it’s the way our ancestors survived. So yes, I am thinking about the implications for our writing program if Public Speaking can replace our second semester writing course, ENC 1102. I want to support my colleagues and I want students to learn how to “communicate effectively” in multiple modes. I also want to continue to support our graduate students and I also want to make sure that students have as much practice with writing as we can give them. Fortunately, there are advantages to the Byzantine structures of our state bureaucracy. Specifically, our “ace in the hole” is (I hate to sound so coldly calculating and strategic) FAC Rule 6A-10.030. That’s part of the Florida Administrative Code, the set of rules that governs public education; locally, it’s called the Gordon Rule. The rule states that students must take four writing classes, two of which must be offered by the English Department. Now, HB 7135, the state law that started this whole mess process, has more weight that anything in the FAC—law trumps code. However, the Communication Committee did reaffirm the Gordon Rule and, for now, it exists. Its existence means, of course, that even with Public Speaking in the core, students will still need to take another English course. It also means that if both ENC 1102 and public speaking are dropped in our local bucket, students are more likely to take ENC 1102—not just to knock out both the core and the Gordon Rule requirements in one fell swoop, but also because (as any speech teacher will confirm) students are terrified of speaking in public—more terrified than they are of writing. Darn. This is not the post I intended. I had hoped to talk about how to avoid a bloodbath. I think I’ve ended up sounding like Sun Tzu. So reader, let me crowd source this to you: Public Speaking or more writing? Ideally, both, of course. But if you were forced to put one and only one in the bucket, which would it be, and why?
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About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.