Re-Envisioning Rhetoric at the University of San Francisco

By Julie Sullivan, Assistant Professor & Nicole Brodsky, Adjunct Professor, University of San Francisco

USF Associate Professor & Department Chair of Rhetoric & Language, Ted Matula, and Assistant Rhetoric & Language Professor, Leigh Meredith, celebrate with students at the Student Speaker Showcase during USF's recent Rhetoric Week (Photo by Marla Lowenthal of the University of San Francisco)

USF Associate Professor & Department Chair of Rhetoric & Language, Ted Matula, and Assistant Rhetoric & Language Professor, Leigh Meredith, celebrate with students at the Student Speaker Showcase during USF's recent Rhetoric Week (Photo by Marla Lowenthal of the University of San Francisco)

When the faculty in the Department of Rhetoric and Language (R&L) at the University of San Francisco (USF) began re-envisioning their course curriculum in 2014, they decided to highlight Eloquentia Perfecta as a key element of the new 3-course sequence. A backbone of Jesuit education, the concept of Eloquentia Perfecta (affectionately known in-house as EP) became a means to unify the department’s composition and public speaking courses.

In order to make the course offerings more equitable, and the course sequence less confusing, the department’s new curriculum committee (NCC) brainstormed options. One solution: make the classes directly complement each other by integrating some speaking into the writing courses and vice versa.

R&L professor Michelle LaVigne soon acquired a Jesuit-focused grant from USF to bring in guest speakers who would teach faculty about EP and the concept of being “complete” in one’s communication. These scholars, including Cinthia Gannett from Fairfield University and Michelle Hammers from Loyola Marymount University, helped the department to realize that they needed to be more explicit when explaining the concept of a good person communicating well for a greater purpose.

As a result of these training sessions, the NCC set out to focus on EP in their new course design for a composition prerequisite. But the committee members soon discovered a lack of available materials on EP that were geared toward a student audience. In response, professor Nicole Brodsky wrote a student-focused article that demystified the concept, which can sometimes be seen as intimidating in its Latin language and presumed meaning. Eloquentia Perfecta does not mean that we have to be “perfect.” Rather, it means that we should have an ethical purpose when we communicate. This article was shared across the department so that all students could be exposed to the theory of EP in their first year of course work.

NCC member Cathy Gabor took the call for materials even further, after noticing that a Wikipedia page was unavailable for Eloquentia Perfecta. Working with WikiEdu, Gabor asked members of a seminar she taught for transfer students to develop such a page (wikipedia.org/wiki/Eloquentia_Perfecta). She was pleased to see her students embody EP by “using their burgeoning rhetorical skills to contribute to the Wikipedia community and to inform a wider audience.”

In a similar way, students in the pilot classes for the public speaking-infused composition course demonstrated both an understanding and ownership of EP. Freshman Emily Regan said, “Eloquentia Perfecta is used not only in my writing as a student but also in myself as a person. It is the process of not only looking at things for yourself but…for (an)other person. It means to look at things as a whole. It has helped in my writing because I am able to look at a topic and see how it can help or benefit the reader.”

Such responses reinforced the R&L department’s plan to put EP at the forefront of the newly integrated curriculum. To further prepare for that change, all part-time and full-time faculty were invited to participate in working groups to share their knowledge and experience across disciplines. This collective wisdom continues to benefit the whole department, whose members now have a better understanding of EP.

The culmination of these efforts is now being realized. The department rolled out the first new course—a composition course with elements of public speaking, including one speech delivered in class—in Fall 2018. The “sister” course—a public speaking course with writing-infused activities and one essay—will be launched in Fall 2019.

But the department is not stopping there. The members of the NCC are looking to infuse digital rhetoric throughout the curriculum as well, aiming for a multimodal approach, or the “full rhetoric,” by expanding EP beyond speaking and writing to other forms of communication. This will encourage students to express their ideas in a variety of forms, from traditional PowerPoints and posters, to podcasts, TED talks, Tumblr pages and more.

The department’s long-term plans have faculty eyeing a redesign of the final course in their core sequence to include equal parts of written, oral and digital rhetoric, all in an effort to help students become ”rhetorical citizens” (this course structure has already been adopted by the new Getty Honors College at USF). The department also dreams of creating an Institute of Eloquentia Perfecta, which could someday house the University’s writing and speaking centers, among other offerings to support students and faculty alike.

In the short term, the department continues to host an annual week-long series of events dedicated to celebrating rhetoric. This year’s Rhetoric Week lineup includes a comedy night; a debate team presentation; a launch party for the in-house student academic writing journal, Writing for a Real World; and a Speakers Showcase, complete with prizes including the Workman Public Affairs Award and the Cotchett Human Rights and Social Justice Speaking Award. Both of these student awards were made possible through a generous donation by prominent civil attorney, and 2011 USF honorary doctorate recipient, Joseph Cotchett, whose children both attended USF.

R&L members continue to extend the concept of Eloquentia Perfecta through University-wide service work. Examples include helming the Center for Teaching Excellence; leading Faculty Learning Communities; overseeing a Masters in Asian Studies program; facilitating the Mellon scholars program; developing the Honors college; and supporting the Teacher Education program, the Erasmus living/learning community, The Martin-Baro scholars, the St. Ignatius Institute and the Eugene Muscat scholars program.

Now more than ever, the practices and mission of the University of San Francisco’s New Curriculum Committee and Department of Rhetoric and Language reflect the principles of EP, not only in subject matter, but in the Jesuit spirit of service and Magis.