Class Report: ENGL 1213 at NOC, 15 February 2016

After addressing questions from previous classes, discussion treated the Prop, which had been returned to students who had submitted it in a timely fashion. It also asked after progress on the Explore, of which a sample is now available (here), before turning to assigned readings and some concerns of usage.

Students are reminded of the following due dates:

  • Explore RV (due online before class begins on 24 February 2016)
  • Explore FV (due online before class begins on 2 March 2016)
  • AnnBib RV (due online before class begins on 23 March 2016)

Students are also reminded that there will be no afternoon office hours on Friday, 19 February 2016.

The section met as scheduled, at 1300 in North Classroom Building Room 311. The roster listed nine students enrolled, unchanged since the previous class meeting. Seven attended, verified by a brief written exercise. Student participation was adequate.

No students attended office hours since the previous class meeting.

Class Reports: ENGL 1213, Sections 015, 023, and 040–15 February 2016

Class time in all sections was spent on peer review of the T&S. A quiz grade was taken from the reviewed draft, as was attendance.

Students are reminded of the following due dates:

  • T&S RV (via D2L before class begins on 19 February 2016)
  • T&S FV (via D2L before class begins on 26 February 2016)
  • Infog PV (in hard copy as class begins on 7 March 2016)

Students are reminded also that afternoon office hours will not be held on Friday, 19 February 2016.

Students are additionally advised that six-week grades will be published this week. The grades will reflect current class performance and are offered in an advisory capacity; they do not factor into grade point averages, and they do not represent a guarantee or prediction of grades for the rest of the term.

Regarding meetings and attendance:

  • Section 015 met as scheduled, at 1030 in Classroom Building Room 217. The class roster showed 16 students enrolled, unchanged since the previous report. Eleven attended, verified as noted above. Student participation was good.
  • Section 023 met as scheduled, at 1130 in Classroom Building Room 121. The class roster showed 17 students enrolled, unchanged since the previous report. Fourteen attended, verified as noted above. Student participation was reasonably good.
  • Section 040 met as scheduled, at 0830 in Morrill Hall Room 206. The class roster showed 16 students enrolled, unchanged since the previous report. Twelve attended, verified as noted above. Student participation was not good.
  • No students attended office hours.

Sample Exploratory Essay: Why Not Have a Rhetoric Requirement among UL Lafayette PhD Students in English?

What follows is an exploratory essay such as my students are asked to write for the Explore 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 approximately 1,000 words, exclusive of heading, title, page numbers, and any formal end-citations that may become necessary; the sample below is 1,000 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.

Please note that the essay below follows from the earlier sample topic proposal, here. Because it is a continuation of that same project, much phrasing will be similar to that in the earlier document.

Earning a doctorate in English from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in 2012 required me to take coursework and complete a dissertation, both of which register in public consciousness. It also required me to do something perhaps less well known: sit for comprehensive exams. Widely required across disciplines, the exams serve several purposes; in most cases, they are prerequisite to beginning work on the dissertation. In the English department at my graduate school, they also serve to help reinforce the generalist nature of the department and suit graduates of the program to the work of teaching after they have earned their degrees. In the event, however, most of the teaching done by those who earn graduate degrees in English is the teaching of writing, and there is no requirement that graduates of the PhD program in English at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette demonstrate proficiency in the relevant area of English studies–rhetoric and composition–as there is that they demonstrate proficiency in one or more areas of literature. Why this is the case is not entirely clear, although some potential reasons suggest themselves.

One such is a logistical reason. Although it is not the case that coursework necessarily directly or fully prepares students for their comprehensive exams, it is not at all expected that students will sit for exams in areas outside their classroom experiences. That is, students rarely if ever take exams in an area in which they have not taken courses; examining in a given area effectively obliges sitting for coursework in it. Graduate classes tend to have low enrollment caps–which is good, given the relative intensity of the interactions between professors and graduate students. (In practice, the relationship is much more like a master/apprentice dynamic than the “traditional” teacher/student pattern in force at the undergraduate level, particularly at the doctoral level.) Having a doctoral rhetoric requirement would oblige either a raising of such caps, which would likely diminish the quality of instruction in rhetoric classes by diminishing the time each professor has available to interact with students, or the hiring of additional faculty in rhetoric and composition, which would likely not be feasible due to ever-tightening budgets. Although not perhaps the most pedagogically valid reason not to have a rhetoric requirement, it is a remarkably sound practical concern, and academics do well to recall that they must negotiate the tensions between the embodied and the intellectual.

Another reason may have to do with the disciplinary status of rhetoric in the Department. There is a prevailing tendency, albeit one that is diminishing, to regard rhetoric and composition as service disciplines. That is, rhetoric and composition are held not so much to have their own distinct identity, but to exist to enable other disciplines to do the work they do. This is reinforced by dominant teaching practices, which assign the common classes in rhetoric and composition–first-year composition classes–to the least experienced instructors–typically second-year graduate students, irrespective of their own concentrations within English studies. My own teaching at that institution was of such a kind; while I did teach first-year courses throughout my attendance at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, I began to do so after completing but one year of graduate school. I was hardly typical, and the collective experience argues that the teaching of rhetoric and composition is devalued. If it is devalued, then a lack of a rhetoric requirement in doctoral examinations makes sense; the exams emphasize areas of study, and the devalued does not generally receive emphasis.

There is some vitiation of the point, however, as still another possible reason is motioned towards in the University of Louisiana at Lafayette English Department’s 2010 online English Graduate Student Handbook. The document, which includes the Department’s treatment of the doctoral comprehensive exams, explicitly notes that “Both the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees offered by the UL English Department are generalist degrees in English and American literature [emphasis added].” That is, they explicitly and specifically frame themselves as literature degrees primarily, falling in line with traditional conceptions of what an English department is and does. It would be expected that such degrees would de-emphasize rhetorical/compositional study in favor of their stated foci. A problem with accepting such an explanation uncritically emerges, however; were the degrees meant to be literary, there would not be options for students to focus their curricula and examinations primarily on non-literary fields. Yet it is the case that the doctoral program in the English department permits, and perhaps encourages, other approaches than literary study, as such. The aforementioned Handbook notes

In addition to the traditional M.A. degree in literature, masters students may pursue an M.A. with an emphasis in American Culture, English as a Second Language, Folklore, Linguistics, Reading, Creative Writing, Professional Writing, or Rhetoric; and in addition to the traditional Ph.D. in literature, doctoral students may pursue a Ph.D. with a concentration in Creative Writing, Folklore, Linguistics, or Rhetoric.

The avowed availability of other emphases and concentrations than literature belies the statement that the graduate English degrees are “in English and American literature”–specifically because not modified. More justification for such a reason, then, would be needed–although it may well be available.

That a few reasons there might not be a rhetoric requirement included among the doctoral comprehensive exams in English at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette suggest themselves does not mean no others are possible, of course. Any one analysis will be limited in what it can treat, and additional causes may arise from outside those limitations. In any event, however, whatever the reason that the doctoral comprehensive exams in English at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette lack a rhetoric requirement is, having that answer will prove of benefit to those students who mean to pursue a career in English studies; knowing what schools offer what curricula and why will help in selecting the most appropriate programs to try to enter. Since graduate school is arduous and expensive, careful selection is vital, indeed.

Class Reports: ENGL 1213, Sections 015, 023, and 040–12 February 2016

After addressing questions from the previous class meeting, discussion commented on performance on the StratRdg, of which grading has largely been completed (later submissions are generally graded later). It also addressed student progress on the T&S and concerns emerging from reviewed readings in advance of the expected activity during the next class meeting.

Students are reminded of the following due dates:

  • T&S PV (in print as class begins on 15 February 2016)
  • T&S RV (via D2L before class begins on 19 February 2016)
  • T&S FV (via D2L before class begins on 26 February 2016)

Students are reminded also that afternoon office hours will not be held on Friday, 19 February 2016.

Students are additionally advised that six-week grades will be published next week. The grades reflect current class performance and are offered in an advisory capacity; they do not factor into grade point averages, and they do not represent a guarantee or prediction of grades for the rest of the term.

Regarding meetings and attendance:

  • Section 015 met as scheduled, at 1030 in Classroom Building Room 217. The class roster showed 16 students enrolled, a loss of one since the previous report. Ten attended, verified through a brief written exercise. Student participation was adequate.
  • Section 023 met as scheduled, at 1130 in Classroom Building Room 121. The class roster showed 17 students enrolled, unchanged since the previous report. Fourteen attended, verified through a brief written exercise. Student participation was adequate.
  • Section 040 met as scheduled, at 0830 in Morrill Hall Room 206. The class roster showed 16 students enrolled, unchanged since the previous report. Twelve attended, verified through a brief written exercise. Student participation was adequate.
  • Three students attended office hours.

Class Report: ENGL 1213 at NOC, 10 February 2016

After addressing questions from previous classes, discussion asked after thoughts about the Prop, the FV of which was due before class began. It then turned to explicit treatment of the Explore, and it detailed argumentative ordering.

Students are reminded of the following due dates:

  • Explore RV (due online before class begins on 24 February 2016)
  • Explore FV (due online before class begins on 2 March 2016)
  • AnnBib RV (due online before class begins on 23 March 2016)

The section met as scheduled, at 1300 in North Classroom Building Room 311. The roster listed nine students enrolled, unchanged since the previous class meeting. Seven attended, verified by a brief written exercise. Student participation was reasonably good.

No students attended office hours since the previous class meeting.

Class Reports: ENGL 1213, Sections 015, 023, and 040–10 February 2016

After addressing questions from the previous class meeting, discussion continued to treat concerns of the T&S. Attention was paid to source quality and citation.

The StratRdg is in the process of grading. It will be returned as it is graded.

Students are reminded of the following due dates:

  • T&S PV (in print as class begins on 15 February 2016)
  • T&S RV (via D2L before class begins on 19 February 2016)
  • T&S FV (via D2L before class begins on 26 February 2016)

Regarding meetings and attendance:

  • Section 015 met as scheduled, at 1030 in Classroom Building Room 217. The class roster showed 17 students enrolled, unchanged since the previous report. Fourteen attended, verified through a brief written exercise. Student participation was good.
  • Section 023 met as scheduled, at 1130 in Classroom Building Room 121. The class roster showed 17 students enrolled, unchanged since the previous report. Fifteen attended, verified through a brief written exercise. Student participation was reasonably good.
  • Section 040 met as scheduled, at 0830 in Morrill Hall Room 206. The class roster showed 16 students enrolled, unchanged since the previous report. Twelve attended, verified by a brief written exercise. Student participation was reasonably good.
  • No students attended office hours.

Class Report: ENGL 1213 at NOC, 8 February 2016

After addressing questions from previous classes, discussion asked after progress on the Prop and treated concerns of the assigned reading. The assignment sheet for the Explore was distributed, too.

Information on the attached flier may be of interest, as well: Announcing the 2016 Peseroff Prize and Breakwater Review Fiction Contests.

Students are reminded of the following due dates:

  • Prop FV (due online before class begins on 10 February 2016)
  • Explore RV (due online before class begins on 24 February 2016)
  • Explore FV (due online before class begins on 2 March 2016)

The section met as scheduled, at 1300 in North Classroom Building Room 311. The roster listed nine students enrolled, unchanged since the previous class meeting. Eight attended, verified by a brief written exercise. Student participation was good.

One student attended office hours since the previous class meeting.

Class Reports: ENGL 1213, Sections 015, 023, and 040–8 February 2016

After addressing questions from the previous class meeting, discussion asked after progress on the T&S (of which a sample is available here). It then, as time permitted, turned to treatment of assigned readings.

The StratRdg will be returned when it is graded.

Information on the attached flier may be of interest, as well: Announcing the 2016 Peseroff Prize and Breakwater Review Fiction Contests.

Students are reminded of the following due dates:

  • T&S PV (in print as class begins on 15 February 2016)
  • T&S RV (via D2L before class begins on 19 February 2016)
  • T&S FV (via D2L before class begins on 26 February 2016)

Regarding meetings and attendance:

  • Section 015 met as scheduled, at 1030 in Classroom Building Room 217. The class roster showed 17 students enrolled, a decline of one since the previous report. Fourteen attended, verified through a brief written exercise. Student participation was adequate.
  • Section 023 met as scheduled, at 1130 in Classroom Building Room 121. The class roster showed 17 students enrolled, unchanged since the previous report. Fourteen attended, verified by a brief written exercise. Student participation was reasonably good.
  • Section 040 met as scheduled, at 0830 in Morrill Hall Room 206. The class roster showed 16 students enrolled, unchanged since the previous report. Fifteen attended, verified by a brief written exercise. Student participation was reasonably good.
  • No students attended office hours.

Sample Developing a Topic and Locating Sources Assignment: Questions about the Comprehensive Exams for UL Lafayette PhD Students in English

What follows are a topic proposal and annotated bibliography such as my students are asked to write for the T&S assignment during the Spring 2016 instructional term at Oklahoma State University. 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 325 to 650 words in the proposal and several citations and brief paragraphs for the annotated bibliography, exclusive of heading, title, and page numbers; the proposal below is 388 words long when judged by those standards, and the annotations after the introductory paragraph are appropriate in content), 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.

The text works in tandem with “Sample Topic Proposal: Why Not Have a Rhetoric Requirement among UL Lafayette PhD Students in English?” The text thereof is available here : https://elliottrwi.com/2016/01/14/sample-topic-proposal-why-not-have-a-rhetoric-requirement-among-ul-lafayette-phd-students-in-english/

To earn my doctorate in English from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, one of the many things I was asked to do was sit for a series of comprehensive exams. Like my contemporaries, I had to take four five-hour tests covering knowledge selected from among twelve separate areas of inquiry within English studies. The idea behind them, according to how the school’s Department of English describes them on its website as of 23 September 2015, is to facilitate both teaching and continued research, ensuring that students who complete the program adequately reflect the generalist orientation of the program. Successful completion of the exams is required before advancing to work on the dissertation in which the doctorate concludes, and continued presence in the program hinges on passing the exams. They are therefore of singular importance.

Because the comprehensive exams are as important as they are, they are perpetual subjects of discussion, both for those who sit for them and for those who administer and assess them. They are described by the Department in part as being meant to demonstrate students’ mastery of various areas in support of the generalist nature of the program, and the expressed requirements do tend toward that goal–but there are areas in which the comprehensive exams could align more closely to the goals of the Department and to its students.

Investigating the comprehensive exams could easily follow several paths. One would be to ask why the Area 1 requirement is framed as it is. Focusing on English languages and literatures prior to 1500, it effectively covers multiple distinct languages, as the differences between Beowulf and Chaucer attest, and the separation of the area at 1500 seems at odds with prevailing understandings of changes to the language–the medieval in England is usually held to end at 1485. Another question to ask could be why all students are not asked to sit for an exam in rhetoric. All students are asked to sit for exams in literature, and there is certainly nothing wrong with such a requirement, but more students will teach composition classes, and having a background in that sub-discipline would be helpful. A third possibility, although by no means the last, would be to ask why the comprehensive exams retain their traditional on-site, in-the-room form, when so many other schools and fields administer them differently.

Answering any such questions will benefit from recourse to the many discussions of curriculum and exams that go on. Various educational agencies and organizations will have something to say about how exams are conducted, as will disciplinary organizations. Publications of the National Council of Teachers of English and the Modern Language Association of America suggest themselves as useful initial avenues of inquiry. So do pieces from such databases as the Educational Resource Information Center. A few selections from simple keyword searches of such sources appear below.


Hassel, Holly, and Joanne Baird Giordano. “Occupy Writing Studies: Rethinking College Composition for the Needs of the Teaching Majority.” CCC 65.1 (September 2013): 117-39. Print.

The article argues against perceptions among writing scholars that devalue the work done by most writing teachers, who work in two-year and open-admission institutions. After defining a number of its terms, the authors note that studies of such teachers are not proportionate to the work they do. They continue with discussions of the two-year teaching environment, the focus of writing scholarship on four-year and elite institutions and the concomitant problems associated with community colleges, and what benefits would accrue to teachers and scholars from a reconsideration of such positions as they outline. The article concludes with a few recommendations of how to proceed, namely the support of research by and about two-year and open-admission institutions.

Of particular importance in the article is a quotation from a  Chronicle of Higher Education article by Schmidt, one noting that non-tenure-track faculty account for more than three quarters of teaching positions (119). While it does not discuss the comprehensive exam as an item, it does point towards the ubiquity of writing instruction by those with graduate degrees in English, irrespective of their specialization; it is a point the article reiterates. As such, it helps provide context and support for the need for graduate students in English to take exams and concomitant training in rhetoric, since it is from rhetoric that the practice of teaching writing emerges.


Nolan, Robert. E. “How Graduate Students of Adult and Continuing Education Are Assessed at the Doctoral Level.” Journal of Continuing Higher Education 50.3 (Fall 2002): 38-43. PDF file.

The article encourages discussion of the forms comprehensive examinations in doctoral coursework should take to increase completion rates and more accurately reflect the expectations placed on those who pursue advanced graduate study. After explicating then-current demographic data among graduate students, the piece lays out its purpose and summarizes previous studies of the topic. It then lays out its methods–noting the group surveyed and describing the survey used. Findings follow, identifying major trends about the timing, format, and intentions of comprehensive exams. The article concludes with notes that indicate no consensus among programs about how to hold comprehensive exams and what they ought to do.

The article may suffer somewhat from concerns of age, and repeated mentions of what various things “presumably” do weaken some of the rhetorical force of the piece. The brevity of the piece may also be of some concern. The article does, however, provide a useful summary of tendencies in how examinations have been conducted at the doctoral level across disciplines. In that regard, the article offers a useful starting point for discussion of any topic treating comprehensive exams at the doctoral level. As background material for framing investigation of the comprehensive exam, then, it is worth reading.


Ponder, Nicole, Sharon E. Beatty, and William Foxx. “Doctoral Comprehensive Exams in Marketing: Current Practices and Emerging Perspectives.” Journal of Marketing Education 26.3 (December 2004): 226-35. PDF file.

The authors identify and explain then-current and -emerging practices regarding doctoral comprehensive exams in United States marketing programs. After offering a general introduction to the topic, the authors review available literature on the topic, focusing largely on Bloom’s taxonomy. Methodology follows, with a survey described and the process of its dissemination, completion, and interpretation articulated. Results detailing the perceived purposes of doctoral comprehensive exams, structures of those exams, and changes to the latter are presented, and less traditional emergent structures–an “original papers” approach, an “extended take-home,” a “specialist,” and a “no exam–no paper” approach–are explicated. Results are discussed, and a conclusion suggesting that the traditional closed-book format of comprehensive exams will be less common in marketing schools finishes the article.

Although Ponder, Beatty, and Foxx discuss marketing, specifically, many of their assertions are likely applicable to other fields. Despite common perceptions of advanced education as liberal and socially deconstructive, academia tends to remain wedded to older structures, so the “traditional” examination structures discussed in the article are likely to be represented in other fields and programs entirely. If such points of correspondence are in place, then others may also be, making the conclusions reached by the article at least provisionally applicable to other areas of advanced education. Also notable in the article is the concern voiced by some faculty that changes to traditional exam structures “are depriving students of the opportunity to integrate a broad range of knowledge at a deeper level than they will ever have an opportunity to achieve again” (234), offering an unusual perspective on the comprehensive exam that may well bear examination.


Schafer, Joseph A., and Matthew J. Giblin. “Doctoral Comprehensive Exams: Standardization, Customization, and Everywhere in Between.” Journal of Criminal Justice Education 19.2 (July 2008): 275-89. PDF file.

The authors describe general tendencies regarding treatment of comprehensive exams by programs awarding doctoral degrees in criminal justice. The need for systematic study of criminal justice programs is articulated before the doctoral comprehensive exam is contextualized. Exam procedures are described and historicized. Study methods–largely focused on conducting surveys and interviews–are described and findings articulated, the latter focusing largely on the forms the exams take. Findings are subsequently discussed, identifying and commenting on the patterns that emerge from the study and treating relative merits of several exam formats. The article concludes with questions about the ongoing utility of curricular standards to both the discipline and the broader community the discipline serves.

Although Schafer and Giblin treat the discipline of criminal justice, specifically, they ground their article in information deriving from studies of other fields–notably including rhetoric–and assert that their own discipline largely follows the structures of others. The conclusions they reach about their own field therefore present themselves as able to be generalized back to those other fields, so that what they say about comprehensive exams can be applied to other areas than their own. Additionally, their relatively recent (to this writing) article allows their conclusions to be taken as more timely, and their relatively extensive bibliography offers useful insights as to further reading.

Class Reports: ENGL 1213, Sections 015, 023, and 040–5 February 2016

After addressing questions from earlier class meetings, discussion asked after student impressions of the StratRdg, of which the FV was due via D2L before class time began. It then turned to progress on the T&S, for which the library meeting had been conducted during the previous class meeting. (A sample T&S is still in draft and will appear on the course blog once completed.)

Students are reminded of the following due dates:

  • T&S PV (in print as class begins on 15 February 2016)
  • T&S RV (via D2L before class begins on 19 February 2016)
  • T&S FV (via D2L before class begins on 26 February 2016)

The Coordinator of the Writing Center asks that the following flier be made available to students: Documentation Orientation Part 1 and 2 [sic]. Attendance is encouraged as being likely to be of help.

Regarding meetings and attendance:

  • Section 015 met as scheduled, at 1030 in Classroom Building Room 217. The class roster showed 18 students enrolled, unchanged since the previous report. Fourteen attended, verified through a brief written exercise. Student participation was reasonably good.
  • Section 023 met as scheduled, at 1130 in Classroom Building Room 121. The class roster showed 17 students enrolled, unchanged since the previous report. Twelve attended, verified through a brief written exercise. Student participation was reasonably good.
  • Section 040 met as scheduled, at 0830 in Morrill Hall Room 206. The class roster showed 16 students enrolled, unchanged since the previous report. Fifteen attended, verified through a brief written exercise. Student participation was adequate.
  • One student attended office hours.