Rhetoric has been a part of Whitman College's curriculum since the 1880s. As vibrant as ever, the study of contemporary communication continues as our professors and students examine the latest news reports in the Middle East, Presidential addresses, union protests, among many kinds of discourse from a wide variety of rhetorical perspectives.

Click the eras in which you have interest.

Key Eras

1882-1909 - Rhetoric as Required Courses in the Curriculum

Some of the Speech Professors from the early years, most of whom coached the Speech and Debate Team.

President Penrose served as one of these Professors.

Rhetoric courses such as oratory, declamation, and the study of great rhetoricians and orators were required courses in the early years of Whitman's curriculum. For a year or two, public speaking was its own area of study.

1909-1946 - Rhetoric as Speech within the English Department

During this era, Speech was a part of the English department. W.R. Davis, pictured to the left, was the head of the English department for most of this era and he was involved in the speech and debate program. A variety of professors instructed in speech most notably John Ackley who served from 1934 to 1945.

1947 – 1953 – Speech becomes its own department

Ray KeeseyLloyd NewomerHarold SimsJohn Shepard

Professors Ray Keesey, Lloyd Newcomer, Harold Sims, John Shepard

Lloyd Newcomer begins in 1946 and the year after, the new Speech department appears, separate from the English department.

Newcomer leaves in 1951 with Harold Sims and John Shepard take charge until 1954 when Dean McSloy began.

The department offers courses focused on speaking, debating, persuasion and argument.

1954 – 1970, Dean McSloy heads up the one person department

Dean McSloy

Dean McSloy (until 1969) with William Veatch 1967-1970

Speech major. The department offers a comprehensive approach including speaking, debating, discussion, radio, public address, persuasion and argument, oral interpretation, and speech correction. Students were encouraged and in some cases required to take courses outside of the department.

Speech Correction is dropped in 1960.

Oral Interpretation is dropped in 1962.

The Speech Major is dropped in 1968.

Dean McSloy leaves in 1968, William Veatch takes over until 1970.

1970 – 1972, Larry Arlington shakes up the department

Larry Arlington

Larry David Arlington (instructor) with Remy Wilcox (forensics)

Major alterations in the program occurred. The fundamentals course is re-described. Radio is dropped. Forensics appears to take less importance. The fundamentals course is redone as a (classical) rhetorical theory course. The description of the department changes in 1970 and 1971 significantly and the focus appears to have been a more philosophical approach toward rhetoric.

1972 – 1980, Extra-Departmental Status with Remy and Joann

Remy WilcoxJoann

Remy Wilcox shared teaching responsibilities with Joann Rasmussen for the Speech department.

The fundamentals course is returned as a public speaking course. Argumentation, discussion, public address, persuasion are all dumped. Instead, a course in voice and articulation is added, somewhat akin to oral interpretation but more linguistic in nature. Forensics becomes a yearly course again.

In 1977, the department becomes “extra-departmental,” a teaching department. This description was essentially dropped in the 1980 catalog but remnants of it existed up until the 2000-2001 catalog when Jim Hanson and Bob Withycombe submitted a proposal that ended the teaching areas, created interdisciplinary studies as an area, and clearly placed the Rhetoric Department into the Humanities Division (II).

1980 – 1992, Bob arrives, Speech returns as a department


Bob Withycombe arrives as an Assistant Professor having finished 9 years coaching debate as a high school instructor.

Bob drops the articulation and diction course and returns to argument and persuasion and a western rhetorical theory course.

1992 – 2001, Jim and Bob, Speech then Rhetoric and Public Address

Bob WithycombeJim Hanson

Bob Withycombe, Jim Hanson

Jim Hanson's addition to the department allows multiple new courses. Rhetorical Criticism, Argument in the Law and Society, Free Speech, African American Protest Rhetoric, Advanced Public Address, Kenneth Burke, Contemporary Rhetorical Theory, Classical Rhetorical Theory, Rhetoric in Race, Class, and Gender courses are added.

Department name is changed to Rhetoric and Public Address in 1997./p>

Marilee Mifsud is visiting Johnstone Professor in Rhetoric for 1997-1998 and teaches a variety of classical rhetoric courses.

Minor added in 1997; its requirements were adjusted in 1998.

During this period of time, several students worked on independent majors with the Rhetoric department such as Karen Skantze (Political Rhetoric, 1998) and Nicholas Thomas (Rhetoric, 2002).

2001-2012, Rhetoric and Film Studies (Bob, Jim, Robert)

Bob WithycombeJim HansonRobert Sickles

Bob Withycombe, Jim Hanson, Robert Sickles


Robert Sickles is added in Fall 2001. Department is renamed Rhetoric and Film Studies in Spring 2001.

A major is established in the Fall of 2002. It is revised and unanimously approved by the faculty for 2003.

Bob, Robert, and Jim were the 3 Department Professors during this 10 year time period.

Andrew Douglas served as Visiting Professor in the Fall of 2004 (replacing Robert Sickels, sabbatical).

Amy Corey served as Johnstone Visiting Professor 2007-2008 (she moved to Visual Culture studies in the 2008-2009 year).

Annie Petersen served as Visiting Professor in Spring 2010 (replacing Robert Sickels, sabbatical).

Bob Withycombe retires at the end of Spring 2011.

The Department is renamed Rhetoric and Media Studies in Spring 2011 with new major and minor requirements as a stop gap measure before splitting the department in two.

Patrick Bellanger is added in Fall 2011.

2012-Present, Rhetoric Studies (Jim, Heather, Matt with Bob and Patrick)

Jim HansonHeather HayesMattBob WithycombePatrick Belanger

Jim Hanson, Heather Hayes, Matt deTar, Bob Withycombe, Patrick Belanger

Rhetoric Studies begins in Fall 2012. Film & Media Studies separates into its own program.

Jim Hanson is the chair of the Department.

Patrick Belanger teaches social activism and justice courses from Fall 2011 until Spring 2013.

Matt deTar begins teaching courses in rhetorical theory in Fall 2012.

Heather Hayes teaches social justice courses beginning in Fall 2013.

Bob Withycombe worked in Hunter 2011-12 and then Maxey beginning in Fall 2012 mostly doing development and admission work for the college.

In Fall 2013, the department was moved to the Maxey building.