By Deanna Howes Spiro, Director of Communications, AJCU
“Eloquentia Perfecta may sound like one of the more benign spells cast by Hermione Granger in a Harry Potter novel. Yet to those well versed in Jesuit tradition, the phrase evokes an elegance and erudition in learning and communication, whether in public speaking or writing, that is directed not toward the mere perfection of these skills but toward service to the common good.
“Rev. Robert Grimes, S.J., then dean of Fordham College at Lincoln Center in New York, says that there are three components of Eloquentia Perfecta. ‘First is…the right use of reason; the second one is to be able to express your thoughts into words; and the third one is to [communicate] gracefully, that is, do it in a way so that people are willing to listen to what you say.’ The Eloquentia concept emerges out of the rhetorical studies of the ancient Greeks, but it was codified in the Jesuit tradition in 1599 with the Ratio Studiorum, the official plan of studies for Jesuit teaching institutions.” (America: May 16, 2011)
Eloquentia Perfecta is an aspect of our mission as Jesuit educators that is just as vital today as it was in 1599. In fact, it may explain why this issue of Connections is so large: so many schools selected this month to contribute articles, that it didn’t feel right to turn any of them away!
Editing Connections every month always makes me acutely aware of the responsibilities of my own job. When I became Director of Communications at AJCU in 2013, I learned very quickly that anything I would produce on behalf of the Association would have to be accurate, proof-read and concise, or else I wouldn’t be very good at this role!
But beyond the grammatical responsibilities that come with being an editor comes something even greater: the need to communicate with purpose. This is why, over the past six years, Eloquentia Perfecta has become more than just a favorite “Jesuit catch phrase.” It’s something that motivates me to become more persuasive, more reasoned and more just in everything that I write or say. You’ll read more about Eloquentia Perfecta in this issue of Connections, but the explanation above (from a 2011 issue of America) is one that I find particularly insightful.
I should note that one of the articles in this issue came about in a rather surreptitious way. As I began to edit the first of (many!) articles that came in from our schools, I had a flashback to my English Composition and Rhetoric class at Fordham University in spring 2004. On a whim, I decided to Google my professor who taught that class and see where he was teaching today. Lo and behold, Dr. Andrew Tumminia is now at fellow Jesuit institution, Spring Hill College in Mobile, AL! I sent him an e-mail with an update on what I’ve been doing over the past 15 years and asked if he might like to contribute an article. I was delighted when he said that he would be happy to write for the issue, and even more pleased by the article itself, which examines Eloquentia Perfecta in the work of the French Jesuit, Michel de Certeau, S.J.
This was truly a fascinating issue to edit but more than that, it was energizing to see how seriously our schools take their mission to teach students to become just and purposeful communicators. It is something that makes our mode of education so distinctive and one that, I hope, continues to inspire all of us for the next four hundred years.
By Laurie Ann Britt-Smith, Chair of the Jesuit Conference on Rhetoric & Composition (JCRC)
How can we re-imagine and renew a 500-year-old, text-based, Euro-centric tradition so it remains relevant in our digitally mediated, multi-cultural, globally connected age? How do we balance the best ideals of the past with the constraints and challenges of contemporary higher education? The teacher-scholars who make up the Jesuit Conference on Rhetoric and Composition (JCRC) come together around these questions through a consortium that evokes the Jesuit notion of collaborative process, “nuestro modo de proceder” – listening, sharing and attending to both what is common and what is unique about our distinct institutional contexts, then moving forward together.
Our goals revolve around the promotion of rhetoric and composition on our campuses, where we serve as educational emissaries for the continued integration of Jesuit values into contemporary pedagogical practices of writing. Collectively, we share a desire to reclaim rhetoric as a tool for transformation, and we wrestle with ways of promoting meaningful change for the individual learner and in our communities.
Anyone who identifies as a writing scholar or instructor across the AJCU network is welcome to join the Conference; we have representation from most of the institutions. We also invite Jesuit-friendly colleagues who have either been educated or employed at Jesuit institutions and remain interested in ongoing conversations about rhetorical education. We support each other in our local tasks through the sharing of information about our individual programs, consulting about everything from drafting learning outcomes and goals, to setting enrollment caps on writing courses. As scholars, we collaborate on projects for conference presentations and publications with the goal of moving our work from the margins into the mainstream of conversation in our disciplines.
The group was started more than fifteen years ago as a means to recover the rhetorical tradition that the Jesuits called Eloquentia Perfecta – to understand the intentions of the practices and the evolution of the concept as the Order expanded its missionary reach and developed education as one of its ministries. There is a realization that much of this history was lost or distorted, and members of the JCRC have published many pieces that do the work of recovery.
The most notable project conceived and completed by the group is the collection, Traditions of Eloquence: The Jesuits & Modern Rhetorical Studies, edited by Cinthia Gannett and John C. Brereton (Fordham University Press 2016). The book takes the position that rhetoric was never meant to be contained by disciplinary expertise. As imagined by the Jesuits, rhetoric was meant to be “trans-discipline, a means of paying close attention to language, to making meaning, to connecting ideas with words across academic and social contexts.” The text is a vital first step in demonstrating that what we sometimes think of as a stolid, rigid tradition, never was, nor is it meant to be now. There is much more scholarship to be undertaken if we are to unravel the complexities of the past, uncovering the ways in which Jesuit ideals inform contemporary practices.
Although much of our communication takes place online through a listserv, we truly value our face-to-face conversations with each other. Our official meetings demonstrate this, as they are usually informal affairs – served with a side of eggs. We meet over breakfast at our discipline’s major conferences: the Conference on College Composition and Communication, or the conference of the Rhetoric Society of America. In this collegial breaking of bread and consumption of much coffee, we are able to reconnect across distances, report on our personal and professional accomplishments, offer advice on addressing local issues, and raise common cross-institutional concerns. We also continue the collaborative processes of further research and scholarship, making our plans to propose panels and create the kinds of conversations that move the overall goals of the group forward.
In 2018, our voices were heard at the two major conferences mentioned above. We also had a significant presence at the Conference on Religion and Rhetoric in the 21st Century, held in Knoxville last October. Paul Lynch (Saint Louis University) was co-chair of the steering committee that made the conference a reality. Pat Bizzell (College of the Holy Cross) was featured as a keynote speaker; Cinthia Gannett (Fairfield University, professor emerita) and John Brereton facilitated a multi-day seminar focused on Jesuit rhetoric; Lisa Zimmerelli (Loyola University Maryland) led a seminar on feminist historiography and religion; and several more of us presented papers as part of the conference program. (And of course we held a lunch meeting – rhetoric and salad.) Plans are in the works for another collaborative presentation at the 2020 Writing Innovation Symposium to be held at Marquette University. This event, scheduled for January, has the theme of “Just Writing” – a topic that goes to the heart of the ethical and spiritual legacies of Eloquentia Perfecta. Each opportunity to work together allows us to put into practice the energizing, and sometimes humbling, pedagogies we champion.
Our working together gives us the space to transform the culture of writing and communication on our campuses – to talk about the legacy we have inherited as being dynamic, cross-disciplinary and activist. As the breadth of our understanding about Eloquentia Perfecta increases as it relates to writing and the teaching of writing, we also find intersections with other Jesuit concepts such as accompaniment and discernment, which inform our relationships with our students and with each other. At moments like this, we realize the dual maneuvering of Jesuit rhetoric, which asks us to consider the interior motivations of what becomes our public presentation. We view rhetoric as the vehicle through which the aims and goals of a truly humanistic education, one that includes integrated learning and supports the whole learner, can be achieved.
Laurie Ann Britt-Smith is the Director of the Center for Writing at the College of the Holy Cross.
By Jeffrey S. Philpott, Ph.D., Director, University Core & Assistant Professor of Communication, Seattle University
When the Jesuits began their educational mission, they inherited and, thankfully, preserved the rhetorically-focused Isocratean educational tradition that had developed in the Greek and Roman worlds to prepare students for effective and wise civic leadership. In the Ratio Studiorum and other foundational documents of the Jesuits, the rhetorical focus and civic rationale was maintained and strengthened under the banner of Eloquentia Perfecta. Time, our students and our curricula have changed, of course, but Jesuit colleges and universities still emphasize civic engagement and leadership through effective communication. At Seattle University (SU), we rarely use the label Eloquentia Perfecta. Instead, we speak of “rhetorical flexibility”: the ability to thoughtfully adapt messages to different topics, situations, audiences and purposes.
In the SU University Core, the learning objective for communication emphasizes the ability “to communicate effectively in a variety of genres and for different audiences and purposes through writing, speaking and visual expression.” Students are called to understand both the complexity of rhetorical situations and be able to produce effective communication in different genres and for different purposes.
Our introductory Academic Writing Seminar teaches students to think strategically about who they are writing for and why, and gives students practice in developing both essays and speeches for varied purposes. In particular, that course covers traditional academic essays, argumentative prose, reflective writing, and a brief introduction to public speaking. Students aren’t experts in any of these genres after one course, but we’re seeking to provide a solid foundation and instill in students the understanding that good communication is always tailored to its situation.
Those early lessons are reinforced in subsequent courses in the Core, where writing is infused across the curriculum, with an emphasis on “writing in the disciplines.” Students take three Inquiry Seminars, one each in the Humanities, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences. While the primary focus in these courses is engaging students in the questions and methods of inquiry appropriate to the field, each also incorporates writing and speaking assignments. Faculty in those courses are not charged with teaching writing in general, but instead are focused on helping students think about what good writing is in the particular discipline being studied.
We want students to learn that a good lab report is different than a good review of literature, which is different from a good critical essay. As they move though these courses, faculty reinforce the importance of writing (and speaking) that fit the topic, audience and situation. Faculty who were initially concerned about “teaching writing” (something that many of us are not trained in) are much more comfortable teaching the more familiar writing in their own disciplines. This emphasis on rhetorical flexibility extends into courses such as Quantitative Reasoning (mathematics) where students learn to make effective arguments with numbers and Creative Expression (art) where students critique works of art and present – and explain – their own artistic work.
This emphasis on adapting to different communication contexts continues in upper division courses in the Core. Philosophy and Theology/Religious Studies courses combine reflective and argumentative academic writing. In our 3000-level Global Challenge courses, students continue to practice reflective and academic writing and add writing and/or speaking for civic situations. Our University mission calls for our graduates to be “leaders for a just and humane world” and these assignments are designed to help them translate their scholarly studies into persuasive texts that will make a difference in the public sphere. Finally, in their capstone courses, students engage in a major reflective writing assignment where they consider their own strengths and weaknesses, how they have grown in their time at SU, and their emerging sense of purpose and vocation.
The scaffolding of these assignments reflects data we’ve collected through assessments. For example, a reflective writing assignment has long been a part of our capstone in the Core. However, assessment work on those assignments revealed that many of our students were unfamiliar with and unpracticed in reflective writing. That finding made perfect sense: this course was the only place that required reflective writing, meaning that it was a completely new genre to seniors. As a result, when we redesigned the curriculum several years ago, we made sure to introduce and incorporate reflective writing instruction and practice much earlier in the curriculum, helping to prepare students for this final assignment.
Outside of the Core, majors have also worked on strengthening students’ rhetorical flexibility, using Susan Peck Macdonald’s concept of “expert insider prose.”* With funding from the Teagle Foundation, we conducted a series of workshops with most departments on campus, helping them engage in a process of backward design of their writing instruction, identifying first the qualities of disciplinary prose they expect of their graduates and then helping them design the building blocks of those genres into their curricula.
This work is far from complete, of course. We want students to be able to communicate in new media, whether that be through Twitter or a blog, and while there are courses that include relevant assignments, those skills are not yet systematically incorporated into the Core. Similarly, campus discussions on information literacy have raised the importance of infographics and interactive media, and questioned whether we’re doing all that we can to prepare students for these emerging contexts.
The need for effective communicators to be flexible and strategic about their choices remains a central pillar of Eloquentia Perfecta and is, in this fast-moving world, more important than ever. One style of writing or speaking does not fit every situation, audience or topic and new rhetorical situations will continue to spring up throughout the lives of our graduates. At Seattle University, we are thinking hard about how to continue to prepare our students with the mindfulness and skills to adapt to and lead in those new contexts and opportunities.
*MacDonald, Susan Peck. Professional Writing in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 1994.
By Brian P. Conniff, Ph.D., Dean, College of Arts and Sciences, The University of Scranton
Here at the University of Scranton, surrounded by the beautiful Pocono Mountains, we spend much of our time watching for signs of the changing seasons. After all, most of the year, we might experience two or three seasons on any given day (a phenomenon only partially captured by the euphemism “wintry mix”).
As Dean of our College of Arts and Sciences, I have my own reasons to look for seasonal signs, especially those with academic overtones. One of my favorites is the toga. On our campus, for more than a couple of decades, they have appeared every fall, as reliably as the changing colors of the leaves and the flocks of migrating Canada geese; they have then appeared again, every spring, a couple of months after the crocuses bloom and not long after the robins chirp.
These togas adorn sophomores enrolled in a course called The Trivium (taught by Professor Stephen Whittaker), which is one of the most distinctive features of our most distinctive honors program, the Special Jesuit Liberal Arts Honors Program (SJLA). As readers of Connections will immediately imagine, The Trivium integrates grammar, logic and rhetoric, like its namesake in the lower division of the medieval academies, and like several of its predecessors in classical Greece. In other words, the course is one of the crucial foundations of a liberal arts education that is now more than 2,400 years old and still thriving at our University.
Our Trivium students wear their homemade togas for one of their later assignments and in a conspicuously public forum. Some semesters, they have appeared in our student center, right between the front entrance and the main stairs, with a crowded food court and Starbucks in the background. Other semesters, they have appeared on the central campus green, surrounded by the sounds of ambulances racing to nearby hospitals and the inevitable lawnmower or leaf blower. In either case, the location is deliberate. It tests the students’ ability to speak confidently—even eloquently—amidst the distractions of the public square. It also makes a statement about the centrality of the liberal arts in our students’ education and in our campus community. One by one, the students recite passages from Plato’s Phaedrus, with its meditation on the nature and uses of rhetoric, including the place of rhetoric in the pursuit and love of wisdom and its corruption in the service of tyranny. Obviously, this lesson is ancient. Yet it still matters today.
In his excellent book, Realizing the Distinctive University: Vision and Values, Strategy and Culture, Mark William Roche describes the advantages for a Catholic university— from building community among students and faculty to inspiring graduates and donors—of a renewed focus on mission (61). Just as important, a compelling vision “also serves as a distinguishing alternative in relation to other institutions” (61).
The liberal arts have been central to our curriculum and our culture from our earliest days as Saint Thomas College, founded in 1888 to provide a Catholic education to the children of coal miners and garment workers. In the 1890s, our students included “breaker boys,” between seven and ten years old, who worked in the coal mines all day, then studied English and classics at night. More than a century later, a renewed focus on Eloquentia Perfecta has helped us to renew this tradition and provide greater coherence to our curriculum. We have added a first-year seminar, in which students are expected to “articulate components of the Ignatian identity and mission” of our university. Moreover, Eloquentia Perfecta now provides a vocabulary and a philosophical basis for the “foundational” level of the curriculum, enabling us to integrate these seminars with courses in writing, oral communication and digital technology.
Of course, the idea of a “foundation” is that it should support a larger structure (a Cathedral, let’s say). Fittingly, we have described the more advanced level of Eloquentia Perfecta in our curriculum as “rhetorical.” This designation recognizes and reaffirms the centrality of rhetoric in the Jesuit heritage: as Cinthia Gannet and John C. Brereton have written in the introduction to their important collection, Traditions of Eloquence: The Jesuits & Modern Rhetorical Studies, for centuries, “the study of the classical languages, texts, and their rhetorical uses and effects weren’t a part of the curriculum, they were the heart of the curriculum” (xvii).
Today, for many Jesuit schools, rhetoric is a “transdiscipline,” a model and a means of developing ideas and meaning “across academic and social contexts” (xvii). In the past few years, we at the University of Scranton have also made progress at this rhetorical level, redesigning advanced writing courses and integrating writing into many of our major programs. Still, it is at this level that we have the most work to do and, at the same time, the greatest opportunities to cultivate and present to the world our distinctive mission and identity.
In keeping with our Jesuit heritage, many of our best examples of Eloquentia Perfecta have extended beyond the formal curriculum and well beyond our campus. For instance, our students have recently been highly successful in a variety of competitions with obvious real-world implications, including European Union simulations, Mock Trial tournaments and robotics competitions.
In 2015, our “Royal Engineers” finished third in the nation in the Intel-Cornell Cup, a highly prestigious embedded design competition at the Kennedy Space Center (I enjoy reciting a list of major research universities that finished behind us). Last spring, a group of our Criminal Justice students gave a congressional briefing in Washington, D.C., sponsored by New American Colleges and Universities. They presented their work with the Scranton Police Department and our Center for the Analysis and Prevention of Crime on reducing burglaries and preparing first responders to engage people suffering mental health crises. In these forums, our students demonstrate exceptional professional competence, and they excel largely because they think and speak eloquently, as Jesuit-educated citizens of the world.
Yes, I started this article with togas, and then mentioned very old traditions. But I want to be especially clear that the rebirth of Eloquentia Perfecta—and the larger Jesuit liberal arts tradition—is not an exercise in nostalgia. In our contemporary world, any reflection on these traditions comes with an ultimate necessary urgency. After all, our natural signs of the seasons are now all too predictable, but not as they were in the past: each spring, our last few monarch butterflies decline in numbers, each year our geese migrate later (some no longer bother at all), and so on.
More than ever, as it turns out, they are fitting emblems of the education the world needs us to provide for our students.
By Andrew Tumminia, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Spring Hill College
I still hear their voices.
I received my undergraduate degree from Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore. I completed both my M.A. and my Ph.D. at Fordham University in New York. Now, I teach in the English Department at Spring Hill College, in Mobile, Alabama. And still, I hear the voices of my past professors.
When I write, research, teach, grade, and advise, their voices echo into the present. Sometimes I hear Kim Hall, Robert Miola, Kelly DeVries, Mary Bly, Stuart Sherman, Eve Keller, or Vigen Guroian. Other times, it’s Frank Boyle, Moshe Gold, Bryan Crockett, Susan Greenfield, Carol Abromaitis, or the late Paul Bagley. The words they spoke years ago defy time and become present again in my mind and through my actions. Perhaps that is simply how memory works, but it’s also, I suggest, how eloquence becomes perfect.
In the great document of Jesuit education, the Ratio Studiorum, Eloquentia Perfecta develops in time, according to a predetermined series of steps meant to ensure sequential mastery. Perfect eloquence results from, as the title of the Ratio indicates, “the course of study.” Or, I should say, “as the title can indicate.” Latin does much with relatively few words, so words often have a wide variety of meanings.
According to Lewis & Short, ratio can also mean a calculation, a procedure, a method or even reasoning. Each of those renderings casts a slightly different light on the aims of the Ratio Studiorum. The perfecta of Eloquentia Perfecta is more straightforward; it comes from the verb perficere, to complete. The Ratio depicts perfect eloquence less as an ideal than as the assured end product of thorough, regimented training. The intention, of course, as many have noted, is to promote the common good, but eloquence itself is both the result and the measure of a sequence of actions. Complete the course of study for complete eloquence.
The Ratio stipulates that students share the words that they constantly produce. Eloquentia Perfecta thus demands an audience. And according to one seventeenth-century Jesuit taxonomy of eloquence, that audience just might encounter a hero. Eloquence, as Steven Mailloux observes, was divided into human, divine and heroic varieties, with the last of them combining “human skill and divine inspiration” and manifesting through “informed thinking, moral discernment, and civic responsibility.”
Based on these criteria, Michel de Certeau, S.J., a French Jesuit who published his best-known works in the 1970s and 1980s, is also a hero. His eloquence, challenging and grand, demands an audience, too.
The Possession at Loudun, de Certeau’s history of the infamous exorcisms performed on Ursuline nuns in Loudun, France, during the 1630s, is a book without heroes. Not even the historian is immune. In a very brief epilogue, de Certeau turns history into metaphor; the possessions at Loudun come to represent all types of alienation.
Throughout the book, he plays with the then-ness of the Loudun possessions, indulging the dismissive view that such things would not, could not happen now. However, in the epilogue, de Certeau drives home his point that analogous processes continue to happen all the time, and historians, more often than not, are participants.
The historian, de Certeau writes, “has received from society the exorcist’s task…to eliminate the danger of the other.” However, he argues, there is no getting “rid of that strangeness internal to history by placing it somewhere on the outside, far from us.” The specific events at Loudun are temporally distant—“dead,” according to de Certeau—but the social dynamics implicated in them persist.
Perhaps, we can think of the strangeness of history as the stranger or the estranged. Our society needs Others to label as dangerous and push to the margins; historiography, de Certeau asserts, helps fulfill that need.
Othering is ever-present, but that does not make it right. The problem of the Other preoccupies de Certeau across his works, and his scholarship responds by seeking out Others across time, taking them in, and letting them speak. De Certeau’s practice, evident throughout The Possession at Loudun, is, I believe, a call to all scholars.
In the epilogue, de Certeau brilliantly turns an academic exercise into an ethical imperative. Eloquence cannot be perfect without first listening and then acting. De Certeau is a model for doing both. Void of heroes, The Possession at Loudun is also a book without villains. De Certeau doesn’t condemn figures of the past, because, as he titles the book’s introduction, “History Is Never Sure.”
After all, certainty would signal scholarly arrogance. As de Certeau’s friend and intellectual preserver, Luce Giard, notes, “his untiring work of reading/writing…was an ‘art of doing,’ as he liked to say, that consisted ‘of passing more than of founding’ in the ‘gesture of clearing a path, without cease.’”
The image of the scholar clearing the path between subject and audience is, quietly, both lovely and instructive. Giard identifies de Certeau’s “vocation to the Other,” which carries through his works. The epilogue of The Possession at Loudun turns an unsavory history into a call to look to the margins. Giard notes that de Certeau joined the Jesuits to become a missionary in China, something he would never end up doing, but she detects that missionary impulse in his scholarship.
De Certeau’s scholarly mission avoided both imposition and proselytization. He was too Ignatian for that; he was, instead, a clearer of paths. Giard writes that he sought “an encounter with the Other in order to be…in his own words, ‘transformed’ and ‘wounded.’” His vulnerability led him to allow the marginalized to speak for themselves through his works, while he focused his interventions on what their words revealed about culture, both historical and contemporary. His mission was to give voice to history’s casualties and today’s minor rebels in order that they might speak to the shame of the centers of power. Eloquence was the medium for his art of doing, “But,” as he concludes his introduction to The Possession at Loudun, “first we must try to understand.”
The epilogue of The Possession at Loudun sticks in my mind, and I hear it, along with the voices of my professors, when I write and teach. I try to work the epilogue into all of my classes—a little de Certeau goes a long way in the classroom—so that its imperative might echo in my students’ minds as they follow their course toward eloquence.
If I could pick the words that my students hear in my voice years from now, the words their actions will make present again and again, I would choose de Certeau’s lesson: you are obligated to listen to, and to clear the path for, the voices from the margins. Eloquence in the Jesuit tradition advocates, and so its perfection resides in the afterlife of words, first spoken and then made present again through action.
By Molly Kathleen McCarthy, Office of Communications, Le Moyne College
Good writers are voracious readers. They tell compelling stories, develop distinct voices, and anticipate their audience members’ questions. Ultimately, good writers see writing as a process of sifting through and even wrestling with competing ideas, formulating and organizing their own thoughts, and sharing them with others in a way that is clear, persuasive and respectful. They leave a lasting impression.
At Le Moyne College, our goal is to nurture writers who can do just that. Throughout the College’s First Year Writing Program, we prepare our students to read, think and write critically, skills that will serve as the foundation for the rest of their education – and their lives. Students learn in small classes that in effect become mini-writing communities, working under the guidance of faculty members who provide them with personal attention and individual feedback.
“We teach our students that writing is a process and a lens through which thinking happens,” says Miles Taylor, Ph.D., director of writing and associate professor of English.
Writing has been a central component of Jesuit education for more than 450 years. It’s not surprising then that the craft is a key component of Le Moyne’s strategic plan, Sempre Avanti (Always Forward). The plan upholds the depth and permanence of the College’s Ignatian roots while also recognizing the forward momentum of change and the invigorating call of, and response to, history and innovation. It acknowledges that tomorrow’s leaders will face challenges, including an explosion of data, the rise of mobility, and the emergence of multiple new platforms to communicate and share information. In order to navigate this complicated landscape, they will need a solid academic foundation that prepares them for a lifetime of learning.
To that end, last year, the College publicly embarked upon a $100 million comprehensive campaign that will enable Le Moyne to make strategic investments in programming and opportunities that will strengthen students’ learning outcomes, enable faculty to be both scholars and mentors, and prepare students for careers that will bring them meaning and success. Investing in writing instruction is a key component of the campaign. College leaders plan to launch a writing center that will host visiting experts in instructional design, pedagogy and creative writing along with workshops for faculty members in all disciplines to advance writing across campus.
“Ideally, Le Moyne students and graduates will be writers who follow the rules and conventions of standard written English, have a sense of their audience (and how they should adapt their writing to address that audience), and use writing to develop their thoughts, ideas and conclusions,” says Jim Hannan, Ph.D., dean of assessment and associate professor of English. “We are educating students to entertain ambiguity in their writing as a way to pose and resolve problems ranging from the minor to the complex, and to use writing as part of their creative and critical thinking.”
Hannan notes that reading, thinking and writing are foundational to successful engagement with “social, political, cultural and professional life,” as well as “personal fulfillment.” But it goes beyond that. Writing persuasively requires individuals to engage with others in a manner that is respectful and constructive: this aligns perfectly with the College’s mission to prepare its members for leadership and service to promote a more just society in their personal and professional lives.
Ultimately, faculty members want students to discover that writing is one of the best ways to sort through any number of challenges.
“We’re looking to develop writers who are really thoughtful and who see writing as a tool for developing, analyzing, synthesizing and working out problems,” says Maura Brady, Ph.D., department chair and associate professor of English. “Their writing is better when they realize it’s part of a process that is deeply engaged in thinking. It doesn’t always come easily, but once they have mastered it, writing is a skill that will serve them well for the rest of their lives. It’s also often how we initially represent ourselves to others.”
That is something that Nicole Weaver, Ph.D., assistant director of writing, reminds her students of daily. Whether in the form of résumés and cover letters or, in the digital age, emails, LinkedIn profiles and text messages, she stresses to her students that the first impression we make on others is often through our writing. Weaver sometimes asks her students what they might be in the future. A nurse? An accountant? A police officer? She then encourages them to consider the writing that those jobs require, including patient reports, client recommendations, and requests for search warrants. The more examples they find, the clearer it becomes that writing is crucial to success.
Ultimately Weaver’s goal is for her students to become writers who are “confidently aware of the many possible rhetorical situations they’ll face – both inside and outside of the classroom setting” and to give them the tools they’ll need to navigate those situations effectively. She acknowledges that while that can be uncomfortable, it is by “pushing through that discomfort that students (and all of us) become better writers.”
“Sound, solid writing skills are not particular to one career path,” Weaver says. “They are particular to every career path. And, above and beyond that, writing skills are not just job skills; they are life skills.”
By Tim Linn, Assistant Director of University Relations, Rockhurst University
For many adults, the mere idea of speaking in front of an audience is enough to cause anxiety.
But for students at Rockhurst University, public speaking is not just a pre-requisite. It’s a competition — a decades-old, extemporaneous rhetorical “Thunderdome” called the Robert W. Miller Speech Contest.
Every student in every section of the University’s introductory communication course — about 160 students per semester — is eligible to participate. At the end of each semester, all members of the sections vote to send the speaker with the best persuasive speech to compete in the Miller contest: a best-of-the-best showdown in front of an audience and a judges’ panel comprised of a graduating senior, a faculty member from outside of the communication department, and a staff member.
The contest has its roots in both the original model of higher education, as well as the ancient Greek concept of the seven liberal arts, which included rhetoric. It was launched in 1975 with funding from the family of Robert W. Miller, a longtime instructor of communication at Rockhurst. Miller felt that effective public speaking was an essential skill for future student success, a building block for virtually any career. With the support of the Miller family to endow the prizes — currently $100, $50 and $25 for the three places, respectively — his passion lives on at Rockhurst.
At the end of the semester, crowds of supporters rooting for contestants gather in one of the University’s large lecture-style halls to watch the competition. Changes in technology have changed the contours of the proceedings — interactive slide presentations now often accompany student speeches, underscoring factual arguments or buttressing main points. While some may fear that these changes threaten the classical idea of rhetoric, Rockhurst faculty believe that the Miller Speech Contest still invokes the qualities on which it was founded and offers many lessons on the importance of ethos, pathos and logos in the 21st century.
Pete Bicak, Ph.D., a 24-year veteran professor of communication, says, “I always tell my students that there is something special that happens between a speaker and an audience. Otherwise, we would say what we need to say through a memo, or an email, or we would post it on Facebook. That ‘specialness’ is marked by a dialogue, not a monologue. It’s spontaneous, and sometimes the message itself is created dually between the audience and the speaker — something happens there that you don’t always get in another medium.”
Will Martel, a junior who earned first place in last fall’s competition for his speech on extroverts versus introverts, said his father is a teacher and a coach, and credits his skill in public speaking partially from observing him. Key for Martel in delivering a successful speech is establishing a rapport with those in the crowd. He says, “Once I get them to loosen up with a joke, I loosen up myself and start getting on a roll. But the biggest difference here was that people came and expected me to be good right off the bat. There wasn’t that much pressure in class.”
Just as important as delivery is topic. There are some evergreen topics for a persuasive speech, but Bicak says that students are encouraged to explore a larger palette. As a result, the speeches take on unfamiliar subjects, often from unexpected angles. “Students definitely get creative,” says Bicak.
LaKresha Graham, Ph.D., an associate professor of communication, says that some of the most memorable speeches have come from a student who argued that peanut butter and jelly was perhaps the best sandwich due to its low cost, sustainability and versatility, and another student who explained why it was a good idea to follow the 3-second distance rule when driving. Some are funny, some are serious, many are social-justice oriented. Graham says that often the most effective subjects come from experience. She says, “I tell the students to choose a topic that they know something about and are passionate about, because these things will come across when they present.”
That’s the central challenge of a persuasive speech — to connect effectively, in the moment, with an audience of mostly strangers — and it’s what makes the Miller contest exciting to watch and a privilege to participate. Getting there often involves taking extra time to perfect the argument, the outline and how it’s delivered. Sophomore Margaret Gerards won second place in the most recent competition, arguing against the industrial production of palm oil.
Gerards had experience with public speaking in high school but said that she did adjust her speech to accommodate jumping from speaking in a classroom to speaking in an auditorium. “I mainly focused on the presentation of the speech,” she says. “I wanted to ensure that I knew my material and could present the topic confidently.”
Martel says he took great care in fine-tuning his classroom speech for his competition, making each piece of information as impactful as possible. He came away from the experience with a newfound appreciation for the power of speech. “Without communication, we cannot convey what we are passionate about,” he says. “I’ve used public speaking to my advantage in multiple ways, mostly through talking to people about the things I love.”
Bicak says that’s a refrain he still hears from alumni who come back to visit, especially those who participate in the Miller contest. The skills that students learn through the process are ones that echo not only the tenets of good Ignatian conversation, but also Rockhurst’s liberal arts foundation.
“People tell me how much of an impact this had on them,” he says. “I think that says a lot about how this is a building block of what we do as an institution.”
By John Hill, Director of Media Relations, College of the Holy Cross
There is no required ‘Intro to Writing’ class at the College of the Holy Cross. No Academic Writing seminar. No ‘How to Write the College Essay 101.’
How then does Holy Cross expect to turn out good writers? As you might expect, the answer can be found in ‘Cell Biology 266.’
Associate Biology Professor Michelle Mondoux says that many professors in the sciences struggle with teaching writing. “As a group, we feel unqualified to teach writing,” she says. “We feel qualified to assign writing.”
But clear, effective writing is crucial in the career of a biologist. Every researcher needs to publish in journals and to apply for grants. So Mondoux carves out precious class time to work on those things.
Every semester, Mondoux’s students must write mock National Institutes of Health grant applications, then critique each other’s’ work and decide which of their peers’ projects they would choose to fund. It’s Mondoux’s favorite class of the semester.
How does she justify taking time away from studying the structure and function of eukaryotic cells, homeostasis, intracellular compartments and protein trafficking? And what if there’s not enough time for the cytoskeleton?
“What we spend class time on is how we communicate what’s important,” says Mondoux. And at Holy Cross, writing is important.
In 2015, Holy Cross established its Center for Writing. Its mission is to instill a positive culture of writing into every academic discipline, from the physics lab to the stage in the theater department. The teaching of writing is not confined to a single first-year class, or even to classes in the humanities. Instead, it’s infused throughout the College curriculum.
“It’s everyone’s responsibility,” says Laurie Ann Britt-Smith, the Center’s director. Britt-Smith keeps in her office a large poster board that says “Writing is Never ‘Just’ Writing” – a phrase, she says, that embodies the Jesuit ideal of Eloquentia Perfecta. She occasionally brings along the poster board when she gives a talk to underscore that point.
She and colleague Kristina Reardon, associate director of the Center for Writing, spend their days presenting to classes across every department. One day, they might be in a physics class talking about writing effective introductions, and the next day, a history class to discuss annotated bibliographies. They wind up spending as much time in science labs as in humanities classes.
The Writing Center offers Holy Cross faculty support in a number of ways, including one-on-one consultations about course materials and writing pedagogies, as well as in-class workshops. Plans are in motion for a faculty collaborative on writing issues. They also manage the student Writers Workshop, where Holy Cross students meet with trained, peer consultants to talk about their progress as writers and to get help at any part of the writing process.
Britt-Smith explains that by removing the onus to create good writers from a single introductory class, the College’s curriculum instead places the responsibility with everyone. And while there is no ‘College Writing 101’ required course, the positive culture of writing is instilled early on in a student’s Holy Cross experience.
It starts in Montserrat, Holy Cross’ innovative year-long program for first-year students. Montserrat courses are built on a single theme – Environmental Justice or Chinese Culture, for example – but their underlying goal is to cultivate in students a shift in their ways of learning, one that reflects the values of a liberal arts education. That includes thoughtful, clear, reflective writing.
Indeed, eloquence is one of the core values of Holy Cross’ liberal arts curriculum. In 2012, the College’s Presidential Colloquium on Jesuit Liberal Arts issued a report that said, “Eloquence plays a crucial role in the search for liberation and truth. Critical inquiry has little impact without the ability to share, debate and reshape our ideas with others. The long tradition of Jesuit education emphasizes learning to speak persuasively, to write crisply, to argue and debate effectively, and to express oneself creatively.”
Faculty members across departments are now putting their heads together to develop these ideas even further and produce College-wide writing goals through an initiative called ‘Writing Across Curriculum.’ It’s an initiative that seeks to expand the first-year writing goals and to continue them across all four years of a student’s time at Holy Cross.
Britt-Smith says, “That’s the big question: What is good writing? What does it mean, and how do we assess it?”
By George P. Matysek, Jr., Loyola University Maryland ’94
Karl Dehmelt, ’18, already had a 100,000-word novel well underway when he arrived at Loyola University Maryland as a first-year student in 2014.
A fictionalized account of events surrounding the trauma and loss that his family endured during his mother’s battle with terminal cancer, the manuscript had consumed more than a year of the young Pennsylvanian’s life. “I knew I had a story that I could try to run with,” remembered Dehmelt, a writing major who now teaches English in Spain. “I was hoping to get it published, but I was just 18 and didn’t know anything about publishers.”
After typing “Baltimore-area publishers” into a Google search, Dehmelt was stunned to discover that Loyola itself was home to Apprentice House Press, the nation’s first entirely student-managed book publisher. “I literally went running down to the communication department trying to find it,” Dehmelt said with a laugh.
Upon learning that the next deadline for submitting manuscripts was just three weeks away, the ambitious freshman shifted into high gear. “I just maniacally worked on the manuscript as I was taking my classes that first semester,” said Dehmelt.
He also received suggestions for strengthening his story from Loyola’s Writing Center. “I did a bunch of revisions, cut 21,000 words, and took the book from the past tense into the present,” he said. “Then I submitted it.”
An Author’s Debut
The novel, The Hard Way to Heaven, was accepted by fellow Loyola students who reviewed it along with dozens of other submissions in a manuscript acquisitions class. Loyola students in separate classes then shepherded Dehmelt’s manuscript through every stage of production—working with the debut author on the cover, page layout and design. The book was published in 2015; soon after, students helped Dehmelt coordinate marketing and promotion.
“The cool thing about Apprentice House is that they give authors a good amount of creative control,” said Dehmelt, who wrote and published two more books through the same press while still a student. “I think it was good to have people of [varying] ages working on it to see what appeals to different demographics.”
As its name makes clear, Apprentice House focuses on helping students interested in the publishing industry learn from professionals while doing hands-on work that culminates in the production of tangible books. Kevin Atticks, ’97, DCD, Apprentice House’s director, explained that works are published through student efforts in three classes: manuscript evaluation and development, book design, and book marketing and promotion. “The classes are set up like an office space,” said Atticks, who teaches all three courses. “There are some lectures, but, in general, we are engaging each student individually about the projects. There’s a lot of mentorship.”
Evolution of a Press
Apprentice House has its origins in a book publishing class first taught in 1987 by Barbara Holdridge, a former adjunct professor at Loyola and pioneer in audiobooks. Students produced seasonal catalogues with book titles that reflected their own interests. The course later evolved under Andrew Ciofalo, a communication professor who worked with students to develop mock Apprentice House books. As improvements in technology made book production more accessible, Apprentice House took its current form in the mid-2000s, with students overseeing the production of actual books through the various publishing courses.
Apprentice House has published more than 120 titles, with multiple formats of each. The top three sellers are Hale Storm, a biography of Baltimore businessman Ed Hale by former Baltimore Sun columnist Kevin Cowherd; Flashes of War, a collection of short stories about the human faces of war by Katey Schultz; and Float Plan, a novel by Rob Hiaasen, a journalist at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, who was slain last year by a gunman in his publication’s newsroom.
“One of the highlights for students working at Apprentice House is that they get to take manuscripts based not on how many books they think they will sell, but on books they are excited about,” Atticks said, “We are one of the few presses I know of that is omni-genre. We love fiction and memoirs, and we have an affinity for poetry. We’ll take it if we love it.”
Sales of published books “more than cover” the activities and costs that go into the production of the books, Atticks said. Apprentice House uses the additional revenue for competition entries and complimentary review copies.
Partnering with Authors
Many Apprentice House books have earned reviews and commendations, with five winning national awards. Like any venture, though, this one comes with its challenges.
Writing rejection letters is the most difficult part of the experience for Carmen Machalek, a 21-year-old senior communication major from New Jersey. “You have to craft the letters in a way that says what’s really great about the book,” said Machalek, who works as Apprentice House’s managing editor, an intern position for which she earns academic credit. “We invite the authors to let us know if they want more feedback, whether it’s on writing style or clarity of characters.”
Dorothy Van Soest, a longtime Seattle-based professor and social justice advocate who has had three novels published through Apprentice House, said she was attracted to the press precisely because of its reliance on students. “They communicate very well,” said Van Soest. “I feel like I’m working with a team and not some anonymous editors at a big publishing company.”
Van Soest was humbled to learn how rigorously students evaluate manuscripts. Each year, Apprentice House receives between 50 and 75 submissions, and students select about 12 for publication.
Atticks said that Apprentice House gives students invaluable assets for their portfolios: published works they produce themselves. “It’s really helped our students get that leg up,” he said, “and we now have former students who are working in the publishing field at some of the major presses.”
Just Mercy, what Van Soest describes as a “social justice mystery,” was published by Apprentice House in 2014. The press has published two more of Van Soest’s social justice mysteries: At the Center, in 2015, and the award-winning Death, Uncharted, in 2018.
“I taught for many years at the undergraduate and graduate levels,” said Van Soest, a retired professor of social work. “I know how serious students are, especially when they’re doing real-life projects that come to fruition. I was drawn to [Apprentice House by] the fact that Loyola was apprenticing students and I could be helping with [that] education.”
By Julie Sullivan, Assistant Professor & Nicole Brodsky, Adjunct Professor, 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.
By Kristin E. Etu ’91, Associate Director of College Communications, Canisius University
An element of Jesuit rhetoric, Eloquentia Perfecta revolves around cultivating a person as a whole, as one learns to speak, write and communicate effectively for the common good. To that end, the new Writing Center at Canisius University offers students help with writing at any stage of the writing process in any discipline, whether it be a hard science, a social science or the humanities.
“I see writing centers as an extension of Cura Personalis (care for the whole person) in that our goal is to work with students as individual writers, as real people with real ideas, who aren’t just checking off a box to complete an assignment, but rather to grow as people,” says Graham Stowe, Ph.D., assistant professor of English and director of the college’s Writing Center. “I believe writing is an important way for students to grow and learn about themselves, and our aim is to help students do that.”
The Center is staffed with peer tutors who are prepared to assist with any stage of the writing process, from brainstorming to drafting to proofreading. Tutors are undergraduates who come recommended by professors ̶ and are not limited to English or creative writing majors.
Among them is Veronica Ward ’20, a creative writing major who notes that tutors go through rigorous training. She says, “I took a class with Dr. Stowe and we spent the semester discussing Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and R. Mark Hall’s Around the Texts of Writing Center Work. During our training, we research and study the theory of writing center work. I don’t think most people would realize that.”
Some students come in with an assignment sheet and nothing written, and some come in wanting help with polishing their work. If they have nothing written, tutors work on developing their ideas with them, or perhaps help them with a thesis statement or an outline. Staff members also offer workshops for classes or small groups working on specific projects.
Freshman computer science major Sam Struble ‘22 has enlisted the Writing Center staff to assist him with everything from a history paper on Alexander Hamilton, to choosing a topic for a religion term paper proposal, to tweaking an English essay on Medieval literature.
“The staff at the Writing Center has helped me with my writing skills by explaining the writing process as an easily follow-able ‘algorithm’ of sorts,” says Struble. “Rather than feeling completely lost in the assignment, I am able to follow this algorithm to construct an argument and produce sound reasoning and analysis.”
Ward agrees, remarking, “Students don’t just gain writing skills but learn about the role that writing plays in learning course material, and in life. I don’t just tell students they’ve made a mistake, but rather explain exactly where and how that mistake occurred. I then work with students to not only help them fix the problems, but show them how to spot that kind of issue so it happens less often in the future.” Ward adds that while she finds it is especially challenging to explain the mechanics of writing to non-native speakers, it is incredibly rewarding when she is successful.
These results, among many others, help contribute to the Writing Center’s contributions to the common good. Stowe says, “[Helping] students who are open-minded and willing to change and learn from others are my aims, both in Writing Center work and the courses I teach.” One of Stowe’s research interests investigates the ways in which the pedagogy of love operates in the context of a writing center ̶ but it’s not what you think. He says, “I teach tutors to think of love as a comportment rather than an emotion, a stance I borrow from social psychologist Erich Fromm. So, tutors position themselves with a loving attitude and it grows from there.”
The value of love is reflected in a portion of the Writing Center’s mission statement:
“The Canisius University Writing Center exists to help writers in all disciplines become better writers. We have faith in both the writers we work with and the evolving tutoring process. We have hope that writers are willing to engage in the writing process, and we will treat all writers as if they are entirely invested in their work. And most of all, we will love writers where they are as colleagues, peers and fellow human beings whose ideas and voices deserve to be heard and understood.”
“Tutors must wear many, many hats ̶ they’re coaches, editors, collaborators and commenters,” adds Stowe. “Valuing the humanity of each person who comes into the Writing Center is the aim of using love as our starting point.”
By Scott Fleming, Interim Vice President for Federal Relations, AJCU
As work begins on funding federal programs for FY20, Congress and the Administration will also need to deal with two overarching issues. First, budget caps established under the Budget Control Act of 2011 are scheduled to trigger into effect for the coming fiscal year. These caps would require $126 billion in cuts to discretionary spending (both defense and non-defense) from appropriated levels for FY19. Second, the federal debt ceiling (which had been waived in the last two years) went back into effect on March 1, and federal borrowing has already reached its limit.
The impact caused by these issues will not be immediate: over the years, presidential administrations have utilized what are referred to as “extraordinary measures” to avoid the need to borrow, and those tools are in use right now. These measures (e.g. using annual income tax revenues that flow into the Treasury during tax season, and moving funds from available accounts to cover other expenses that are more time-sensitive) are projected to avert a default until this coming fall. So, when the new fiscal year is set to begin, Congress and the Administration will be forced to deal with the debt ceiling crisis. The good news is that such a confluence of events tends to focus the minds of policy makers and forces decision-making.
The recent government shutdown led to a considerable delay in the release of the Administration’s FY20 budget. Typically, that occurs on the first Tuesday in February, but the shutdown delayed the release until mid-March. When the initial budget figures were finally released on March 11, they were, simply put, nothing that higher education, including AJCU schools, could be pleased about. It is heartening to know that many of our priorities did very well in the FY19 appropriations process; moving forward, this should serve as an important benchmark. Moreover, members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have said, in effect, that this budget proposal is dead on arrival.
On the student financial aid front, the Administration’s budget proposal would:
- Eliminate all funding for the Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant (SEOG) program;
- Cut Federal Work Study (FSW) funding from $1.3 billion to $500 million, thereby reducing the number of FWS beneficiaries by more than half. The proposal calls for rewriting the allocation formula for FWS to emphasize Pell Grant student enrollments and would allow FWS to support placements at for-profit firms provided they are “career or academically relevant”;
- Freeze discretionary funding for the Pell Grant program and maintain the current maximum award of $6,195 without any increase. The proposal would also rescind $2 billion from the Pell carryover account, thus diminishing that resource to address future economic downturns. The proposal would also permit Pell funds to support students in short-term programs that offer credentials, certifications or licenses in “in-demand fields”;
- Eliminate the federal student loan in-school interest subsidy thereby increasing the cost of borrowing to students, who would see their debt accrue interest even while in school;
- Consolidate loan repayment options leaving just one income-driven repayment plan. This plan would cap monthly payments at 12.5% of a borrower’s discretionary income; the balance would be forgiven for undergraduate borrowers after 15 years, and for graduate borrowers after 30 years;
- Eliminate the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program while preserving teacher loan forgiveness programs; and
- Eliminate funding for the Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) program.
From the research perspective, the budget would:
- Eliminate all funding for the Title VI/Fulbright Hays International Higher Education programs;
- Reduce National Institutes of Health funding from $38.2 billion to $33.7 billion (a cut of $4.5 billion or more than 10%);
- Impose a $1 billion cut (from $8.1 billion to $7.1 billion) for funding of the National Science Foundation; and
- Cut U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Workforce funding by more than 50% including a reduction from $234 million to $83 million for the Nursing Workforce Development program.
The budget proposal calls for:
- A cut of more than 10%, from $1.06 billion to $950 million, to the federal TRIO programs;
- Elimination of the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness (GEAR-UP) program;
- Cutting all funding for Teacher Quality Partnership grants;
- A doubling of H1-B visa fees that would impact foreign scholars on our campuses at the same time that the Administration is readying a change that would deny work permits for spouses of H1-B visa holders who are on H-4 visas; and
- Reduce funding for U.S. State Department Educational and Cultural Exchange programs by more than 50%.
You can be sure that AJCU is actively engaged in working to bolster critical investments in higher education and our students, and to ensure that the damaging proposals in the Administration’s proposed budget do not gain traction. As part of our efforts, AJCU has signed on to a coalition letter to the bipartisan leadership of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees urging a significant increase in the budget allocation available to the Subcommittees that fund the U.S. Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education. That is a first step, but much work still lies ahead.