4 September 2018
A recent controversy regarding a class’s mandated material sparked outrage among members of the community.
In the English 4880 course titled ‘Topics in Public Rhetorics,’ Professor and Chair of the English Department Katherine Mack assigned her students portions of texts that express anti-Trump sentiments.
The reading assignments at issue includes Brooke Gladstone’s “The Trouble with Reality” and Bruce MccComiskey’s “Post-Truth Rhetoric and Composition.”
Both books contain negative statements about President Donald Trump. Gladstone writes in her book that for them [Trump/his advisors] “lying is the point” and “the more blatant the lie, the easier it is to hijack reality and assert power over the truth.”
Being that the course is a requirement for English majors under the rhetoric and writing option, Mack faced scrutiny because the readings were included in the syllabus after the syllabus was shared anonymously.
On Aug. 21, Mack put forth a public release statement on the UCCS English Department’s Facebook page addressing the matter.
The release states that the course “focuses on rhetoric and ethics, not about contemporary policy, politics or politicians, past or present.”
“The assignments throughout the semester encourage students to critique and evaluate the authors’ stance on rhetoric’s ethics,” explains Mack in the statement.
She states that the readings are not direct reflections of her own beliefs and that the class teaches different perspectives on ethics and rhetoric and to supports students’ development of their own ethical rhetorical stance.
Mack also says that she provided guidelines within her syllabus to encourage a productive and respectful environment and that all guidelines applied equally to all students, regardless of their personal beliefs and viewpoints.
According to an email response from Mack, she led her students in a discussion on the first day of class that did not touch on contemporary politics, but rather stayed tethered to the focus of the class: rhetoric and ethics.
“It’s unfortunate that select portions of the reading material, including one author’s citations of another scholar’s study, have been portrayed as my personal views or the focus of this course,” said Mack in her public statement. “I am looking forward to analyzing different perspectives on ethics and rhetoric with this semester’s students and to supporting their development of their own ethical rhetorical stance.”
Sydney Parkins, an English and Political Science major enrolled in the course, felt that the material’s political bias was interesting and made for lively classroom discussions.
“The rhetoric is issue-based but not focused. That’s the keyword. I don’t think Mack or the school should be in trouble at all. The main focus is rhetorics and ethical rhetoric,” said Parkins.
It’s important to note that the term rhetoric is defined as the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the use of figures of speech and other compositional techniques.
UCCS advocates for freedom of speech, academic freedom, and respect for different viewpoints. While the materials used in ‘Topics in Pubic Rhetorics’ sparked a bit of controversy, they overall fulfil the purpose of the course while deliberately engaging students to participate in those challenging conversations.