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CCCC 2004: Review

Review: G 29 Rhetoricians as Top Administrators: Negotiating the Politics of the New University
Reviewed by: Will Hochman, hochmanw1@southernct.edu
Posted on: April 8, 2004

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Chair Elaine Mamon

Jasper Neel began. He is a Dean of Arts and Sciences at Southern Methodist University. He discussed national reputation, awkwardness with tenure decisions when departments support a candidate unanimously and he must reverse that decision, difficulties with programs that want to develop Ph.D. programs, rankings. Neel used classic rhetoric (Isocratean pragmatism, Aristotelian enthymene, Burkean consubstantiality) to boil down his administration rhetoric as: finding the best plan of action under the current circumstances, expressing only as much of the syllogism as is necessary to persuade, and to try to have everybody understand. He presented a very powerful persona as the persuasive, intelligent educational leader who cares deeply about learning and making decisions about some of the most difficult aspects (funding, tenure, etc.) of college life. Neel focused his discussion on his use of rhetoric to lead and increase his institution’s national status.

Thomas Kent is the graduate Dean at Utah State University. He discussed how outcomes of administrative are the result of organizational dynamics of how people work together to make decisions and establish policy. Kent linked his personal insights from working on committees with the post-process theory to emphasize that discourse is pubic, interpretive, and situated. As a member of the President’s Executive Committee, he claims that all of the major decisions of the university are made by the committee which meets once a week for 2 and half hours. Kent is the presidential appointee to the Faculty Senate Agenda committee, and he is also on the Provost’s Tenure and Promotion (P&T) Committee which reviews all candidates. From his experience on these committees, he understands the public nature of the discourse because discussions are framed by their effects on other constituencies (except for the P&T committee where there is primarily private discourse about the application of criteria). Much of his committee discourses is about what constitutes excellence in a discipline. Kent observed interpretive strategies or interpretive schema based on adversarial stances (typical for administrations everywhere) and a sense of victimization. In post-process terms of situatedness, Kent explained that voices on committees are always coming from a particular perspective that are predominantly discipline situated.

Elaine Mamon gave an overview of her the fragmented locations of Arizona State University. She is Provost and campus President at her location, and Vice President of all of the locations. All three presenters began their careers as Writing Program administrators and Mamon described her story with gender insights and argued that women bring wider approaches to solutions. She used the rhetoric of transformational leadership and peripheral vision to support her insights about women in top administrative posts. Her understanding of transformational leadership is based on getting people to see their personal interests as part of larger interests. She explained that this is different than transactional leadership which is more of a buying and selling of interests approach. Transformational leadership uses both centered focus and awareness of peripheries. She emphasized maintaining a multiplicity of awareness by distinguishing between a rhetoric of words and a rhetoric of actions. Mamon claimed that everything she learned as a campus president she learned as a writing program administrator. She believes that her ability to listen, to move across the university, to understand differences in disciplinary rhetoric, and to always put student interests first grew out of her original administrative experience doing WAC.


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