Forgive me, for I am still discovering the rhetorical demands of this medium. When I first proposed this blog to the Information Technology folks at Slippery Rock University, I thought that when we got it going I would be identified in the link or URL. It turns out, as our Director of Educational Technology and Design put it, that since I was the first to produce a blog via the SRU web site, it would just be identified as “blog.” (Guess the next one that goes up will be “blog1” or “blogthesequel.sru.edu.”) The result of my inattention to this phenomenon is that, on this the fifth posting, whatever readers we may have gained apart from some initial contacts have no idea who the “I” constantly presenting himself happens to be. Let us correct that oversight immediately.
My name is Neil Cosgrove, a professor of English who has been on the faculty since 1987. Prior to that I was an English professor at Villa Maria College in Buffalo, NY, and earlier still an English teacher at R.M. Bailey High School in Nassau, Bahamas. I have been teaching high school English, first-year composition and undergraduate writing courses, introductory literature courses, and the occasional graduate course, for 36 years now. My education is somewhat unusual for someone with my career path, as I received a Bachelors degree in History from LeMoyne College in Syracuse, NY, a Masters in Journalism from Penn State, and a doctorate in English Education from the University of Buffalo. In my twenties I had a brief and checkered career as a reporter and editor with two newspapers, the Grit of Williamsport, PA and the Rochester (NY) Times-Union. It’s a lost world now, as the Grit has moved on to Topeka, Kansas, and the Times-Union, like so many of America’s evening newspapers, no longer exists.
My life experiences do make me sensitive to the complaint expressed in a comment made in response to the blog’s first posting, that we can’t be sure what a degree in English Writing means, if anything, to prospective employers at present. When I conducted a survey of our graduates in late Fall, 2008, I found that 19 of 20 respondents who graduated from our Professional Writing program, and 14 of 17 Creative Writing graduates, were employed. And of those 33, 25 reported devoting a “significant part of their time to writing” as part of their job. (Complete survey results can be found here.) Now, it may be that many jobs that require a college diploma may demand a significant amount of writing, and the major of the graduate has only some influence on that feature of employment. Still, the percentage who reported significant writing activity was higher for writing majors than for the other three degree programs we surveyed.
Eleven of the Professional Writing graduates appeared to have jobs related to their major, and the same could be said of eight of the Creative Writing graduates. (See that table of results here) Given my own career path, as described above, I realize that it may be as likely that a college graduate will end up doing something quite distinct from the preparation received from her or his major. On the other hand, because our undergraduate programs do purport to provide some vocational preparation, I do take seriously the commenter’s observation that we (if one of our graduates) failed to move this person from an introduction to composition and rhetoric towards more ambitious undertakings, like the creation of a book, or the production of scholarly writing, or a financially viable use of new media. It is that kind of specific critique I hope this blog will elicit, of both our programs and those at other institutions. It is also my sense that we need to do more to prepare our students for the written communication of the 21st century that led me to undertake the study that is the catalyst for this blog.