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May 12, 2003


Contact: Wendy K. Wilkins, College of Arts and Letters, (517) 355-4597; Douglas Noverr, American Thought and Language, (517) 355-2400; or Kristan Tetens, University Relations, (517) 355-5563,


EAST LANSING, Mich. - The Department of American Thought and Language at Michigan State University, which is responsible for teaching critical reading, writing, and cultural analysis skills to undergraduates, will expand that mission when the new academic year begins this fall.

The department will offer a broader range of writing courses in addition to two undergraduate degree programs: the B.A. in Professional Writing and the B.A. in American Studies.

To reflect this alteration in the department's mission and curricular emphasis, its name will be changed to the Department of Writing, Rhetoric and American Cultures effective July 1.

"With this change, the university reaffirms its commitment to teaching students how to think critically and communicate clearly-skills that are essential to success in the modern world," said Wendy K. Wilkins, dean of the College of Arts & Letters

. The department will continue to offer courses that students can use to fulfill the university's "Tier I" writing requirements. Those courses, taken by most students during their first or second years on campus, are designed to improve their ability to read carefully and critically; to collect, analyze and share information; and to develop arguments and present ideas to others in clear, effective and persuasive prose in a variety of genres.

Building on this foundation of intensive writing instruction, the department's two undergraduate degree programs will place special emphasis on the rhetorical, cultural, cognitive and technological contexts in which writing is created and distributed. Various tracks within the programs will allow students to explore the rhetorical nature of cultures and communities and the cultural and community contexts of writing.

"Students will learn how the sites of writing and culture are rhetorically negotiated and socially constructed in complex and ever-changing ways," said Douglas Noverr, chairperson of the department.

"They will gain skills and learn concepts that will enable them to write and contribute in a technological and global world increasingly dependent on effective communication, socially transforming ideas, dissemination of new knowledge and reasoned responses to changes and crises."

The new B.A. program in Professional Writing will offer courses in web authoring, writing for publication, editing and style in professional writing, multimedia writing, advanced technical writing, the rhetorics of American cultures, writing in the public interest and visual rhetoric.

"This program will make Michigan State a national leader in the preparation of strategically minded and culturally aware communicators who will assume important roles in education, business, civic life and public affairs," said Wilkins, who noted that it complements a new master's degree program in Digital Rhetoric and Professional Writing as well as a new doctoral program in Rhetoric and Writing.

The B.A. program in American Studies offers students the opportunity to examine American culture in all its diversity, drawing on the traditional disciplines of history, literature, material culture, and museum studies as well as popular culture, ethnic studies, women's studies, Native American studies, science and technology studies, and African-American studies.

In 1967, MSU was among the first universities in the nation to establish an American Studies program. Since then, the university has become a major center of teaching and research on a wide range of subjects related to American culture.