What follows is a topic proposal such as my students are asked to write for the Prop assignment during the Spring 2016 instructional term at Northern Oklahoma College. As is expected of student work, it treats an issue of its writer’s curriculum. It also adheres to the length requirements expressed to students (they are asked for 300 to 500 words, exclusive of heading, title, and page numbers; the sample below is 372 words long when judged by those standards), although its formatting will necessarily differ from student submissions due to the differing medium. How the medium influences reading is something well worth considering as a classroom discussion, particularly for those students who are going into particularly writing- or design-intensive fields.
I received a doctorate in English from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in 2012, having completed a dissertation in late medieval literature and having passed with distinction comprehensive examinations in medieval English literature, early modern English literature, early American literature, and fantasy literature of the United States and Britain from 1950 to 2009 (when I sat for my exams). Composing the dissertation and studying for the exams, as well as taking the coursework that informed both, offered me rewarding experiences that I am glad to have had, as well as enabling many others outside the classroom that have been to my benefit.
Even so, they did not wholly equip me for the kind of work I have faced since leaving the school. The comprehensive exams, particularly, are discussed by the English Department that requires them in terms of both research and teaching, but most of the teaching that I and others who have earned graduate degrees through the Department has been in rhetoric and composition. Even those of us whose areas of interest and expertise are wholly literary are asked to teach more writing than anything else—and it is not something for which we are adequately prepared. Yet those students who concentrate in rhetoric and composition are prepared to teach literature, compelled to sit for exams in literary areas even as literature students are not obliged to sit for an exam in rhetoric.
Why no such requirement is in place bears some inquiry. The PhD program in English at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette is explicitly generalist in its orientation, and requiring all students to take an examination in rhetoric—effectively calling for them to take coursework in rhetoric, as well—would reinforce that orientation. Additionally, it would, as is gestured toward above, help students prepare more effectively for an academic job market that will call most of them to spend time teaching writing courses off of the tenure track, whatever their specialization may be. The Department and its doctoral students would therefore be better placed within the academy, helping the Department to continue offering its graduate programs and its graduates to secure employment in the short and long terms.