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Rhetoric Society of America - End of the Year Greetings!

2014 has been an outstanding year for our Association and we have a great deal to celebrate. As I reach the end of my first year in service as your president, I want to write a brief note to share with you some of our successes over the past year. I also write with an eye towards the future and so will share some of the challenges facing our Association as well as some initial plans being developed by your Board to overcome these challenges and continue moving our Association forward.

Perhaps our biggest success of the year was our outstanding biennial national conference, held in San Antonio last May. Not only was this the largest conference in our Association’s history – with 1,233 registered participants – it was also, by most accounts, one of our most successful. The conference evaluation survey found that 90% of our attendees were satisfied or very satisfied with the program and 66% found RSA14 a better conference experience than other comparable conferences. This success is due entirely to our outstanding membership: the people who presented excellent work, attended stimulating panels, and volunteered behind the scenes (although, the margaritas probably didn’t hurt!). Of course, the survey did reveal some areas of concern – the size of the conference continues to be an issue as does attendance at panels. Fortunately, our 2016 biennial conference is in the remarkably capable hands of Greg Clark, Cara Finnegan, Roxanne Mountford, and Jenny Rice. I am confident they will build upon the success of RSA14 and make RSA16 even better.

Our journal, Rhetoric Society Quarterly, continues to be a premier venue for rhetorical scholarship and is one of the Association’s on-going success stories. The 2014 special issue, edited by Michelle Ballif, explored “untimely historiographies” and brought together scholars from across rhetorical studies. We also had a very successful search for a new editor for RSQ and are happy to have Susan Jarratt taking over our journal once James Jasinski ends his term.

2014 also saw a new Executive Director selected for the Association. Jerry Hauser, former President of the Association, stepped into the Executive Director position after Fred Antczak ended his time in this crucial role.

Another major success in 2014 has been the great work of our Development Council. Thanks to their tireless efforts, and the generosity of our membership, I am pleased to announce that RSA’s three Endowed Funds have now reached a level where they will receive matching funds from the Association and become available for use. The three Endowed Funds are:

  • The Edward Corbett Fund – designated to support new initiatives;
  • The Janice Lauer Rice Fund –designated to support graduate students involvement in RSA; and,
  • The Michael Leff Fund – designated to help graduate students attend the Biennial Summer Institute.

We continue to seek donations to these important Funds and encourage you to consider making a tax-deductible contribution to the fund of your choice or the Association in general.  Click here to make a donation now.

As 2014 comes to a close, we are encouraged about the prospects of 2015. The 2015 Summer Institute, being hosted by our friends at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, is already shaping up to not only be the biggest Summer Institute in our history but also one of the most robust. With seminars on topics like transnationalism, science, race, and field methods, as well as workshop topics including reconciliation, transgender studies, political communication, and neuroscience, the program for the 2015 Summer Institute should have something for everyone in our Association.

The future for our Association continues to look bright, but it is not without its challenges. Recently, the Board conducted our Association’s first membership survey with an eye towards getting feedback on some of the strategic issues facing us. Overall, the results of the survey were surprisingly positive. 95% of the members responding ranked RSA an excellent association and 55% describe RSA as their primary association.

The growing importance of the Association to our members, combined with our growing membership, creates unique challenges for our future. As many of you know, the Association has seen tremendous growth over the past decade. Our membership is larger, more diverse, and more multi-generational than ever before. The responses to our membership survey revealed some of the issues arising from this strong growth. Some members voiced concerns that with its increasing size, the Association runs the risk of becoming more impersonal and less supportive of individual members. Other members expressed a desire for the Association to be more actively involved in supporting members in all phases of an academic career, whether graduate student or aspiring administrator and whether tenure-track or contingent faculty member. Still other members expressed a desire for the Association to take more of a lead in making rhetorical scholarship visible not only in the United States, but also in our connection with rhetorical scholars from around the globe.

Recently, the Board met for its regular retreat and our agenda was largely driven by the issues raised in the membership survey and in other feedback we’ve received. In response to the strategic issues facing us, the Board has made several important decisions:

First, we are creating a series of taskforces designed to craft suggestions for specific sets of issues. These taskforces include:

  • A Policies and Procedures Taskforce – this taskforce will work on reviewing current RSA bylaws, policies, and procedures to suggest changes in our structure and guidelines;
  • An Events Assessment Taskforce – this taskforce will work on reviewing our major events (Conference and Summer Institutes) and make suggestions for changes in these events, new events, etc.;
  • A Public Relations Taskforce – this taskforce will work on developing strategies for promoting RSA, rhetorical studies, and the work of our members to a wider public;
  • A Media Taskforce – this taskforce will work to help RSA with strategies for developing and utilizing media materials including interviews with members, webinars, mini-lectures, etc.

Second, RSA is working to make it easier for members to become involved with the Association. Those wanting to volunteer to help with RSA committees, run for a position on the Board, or help with an event can now register their interest on the RSA website:  Click here to let us know your interest. And, of course, members are always encouraged to volunteer by directly contacting me or our Executive Director.

You can also support RSA simply by shopping at Our Association has been registered with the Amazon Smile program and can receive .5% of eligible sales if you select RSA. For more information visit Amazon.

Finally, in response to member interest, we are working to expand the scope of our very successful Career Retreat and provide more opportunities for career development during the RSA national conference. Cheryl Geisler has graciously agreed to work with the RSA16 leadership team to develop plans.

These and other initiatives are being pursued in the hopes of continuing our Association’s strong tradition of promoting rhetorical studies and providing a point of connection for scholars from a wide variety of disciplines. As many of you may know, 2018 will be the Association’s Fiftieth Anniversary. In moving towards this milestone, we can all simultaneously look back with pride at how far our Association has progressed and look forward toward an exciting future. (We have also created a special Fiftieth Anniversary Taskforce to begin preparations for this milestone anniversary led by the incomparable Pat Gehrke).

I wish you all a good end to 2014 and a joyous holiday season.


Kendall R. Phillips

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