Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Committee Chair

Kopelson, Karen Lynn

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Boehm, Beth A.

Committee Member

Owen, David S.

Committee Member

Jaffe, Aaron

Author's Keywords

Syllabus; Authority; Composition; Genre; Graduate student; Community


Learning and scholarship--Outlines, syllabi, etc.; English language--Rhetoric-- Outlines, syllabi, etc.; Education, Higher--Curricula; Instructional systems--Design


This dissertation is an investigation of composition's disciplinary conceptions of the course syllabus, from its often-relegated position as textual object to a more interactive and complex subject of our discipline. The course syllabus is an example of an occluded genre, operating behind the scenes while serving commitments and obligations of a dominant ideology. This position as an occluded genre offers opportunities for composition instructors to thoroughly examine what our syllabi are really doing. By further exploring how we think about course syllabi, we can contribute to the development of our own teaching, as well as the teaching styles and practices of new teachers of composition. This dissertation draws on theories of power, authority, genre, and discourse community construction in composition scholarship, as well as a study component, in which I have collected course syllabi from graduate student teachers. These individuals, graduate student teachers, hold multiple stakeholder positions in the university, and operate as teacher and student simultaneously. This dissertation argues that syllabi allow us to further understand the praxis of composition, providing foundations by which new individuals entering the field frame their pedagogical goals and initial representations of themselves as teachers. This dissertation is divided into five chapters. Chapter One reviews published scholarship that often frames the course syllabus as an inert object, a transparently instrumental genre. This chapter also furthers the understanding of the syllabus as a material and ideological subject of composition, an inherently narrative subject in interpretations of its construction and dissemination, and a subject bound up in the embeddedness of multiple audiences. Chapter Two examines developments of theories of power, authority, and genre, and explores the extent to which the course syllabus serves professional academic discourse. Chapter Three analyzes implications of the data collection processes, specifically the reluctance of individuals to participate in this study, reflecting similar departmental and institutional tensions between what is considered publicly available and what is considered more privately guarded. Chapter Four studies sample composition course syllabi collected from graduate students in Rhetoric and Composition programs, using these documents to study how, when, and under what circumstances graduate student instructors make authority, genre, and discourse community formations implicit or explicit in their syllabi. Chapter Five argues that these reexaminations of the course syllabus's place in the discipline of composition can help refashion the graduate student teaching practicum.