• Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory, Department Chair of Communication Studies, Furman University

Sean Patrick O'Rourke is an associate professor of rhetoric and oratory at Furman and chair of the Department of Communication Studies. He received his J.D. and Ph.D. from the University of Oregon. O'Rourke teaches courses in the History of Rhetoric, Contemporary Rhetorical Theory, British and American Public Address, Freedom of Speech, the Ethics of Rhetoric, the Rhetoric of Law and Justice, and the Rhetoric of the Mass Media. O'Rourke's articles and reviews have appeared in Legal Studies Forum, Rhetorica, Journal of the American Forensic Association, Southern Communication Journal, Communication Reports, Journal of the Early Republic, The American Journal of Legal History, Rhetoric Review, Rhetoric Society Quarterly, Advances in the History of Rhetoric, Canadian Journal of Rhetorical Studies/La Revue Canadienne d'etudes rhetoriques, The Forensic, Court Call, and Free Speech Yearbook, as well as several anthologies and conference proceedings.

Title Description

Writing in the Workplace

This module is designed to supplement Sean O’Rourke’s courses on oral communication. In keeping with his general approach, this course assumes that effective communication is an art of making appropriate rhetorical choices, and that one of the most important choices one makes is selecting the most fitting mode of communication, oral or written, for a given message. Participants are taught that written communication in the workplace should complement, supplement, and reinforce oral communication. They learn the criteria of effective written communication, the writer’s seven deadly sins, and the elements of informative and persuasive writing. Using these concepts, students compose and revise a policy memo, a statement of objectives, a mission statement, and/or a draft proposal. The goals of this module are to promote clear and cogent writing, to deepen executives’ understanding of the place of written communication in professional life, and to foster the effective interaction of written and oral communication.

Policy Persuasion

This is an advanced course in which participants skilled in public communication learn the more refined art of persuading others on matters of policy. Participants are given a framework for policy analysis (including basic assumptions governing policy change and debate about policy adoption), study the stock issues common to all policy questions, learn what constitutes good reasons for adopting or rejecting a policy proposal, consider the role of ethics and emotion in policy argumentation, and undergo strenuous practice in policy persuasion and debate (including making one’s case for change, defending the current policy, asking and answering questions, and practicing refutation). This course is especially important for participants who engage regularly in public hearings, internal committee meetings where policy is set, and/or public debates over company/agency policy, and whose work involves policy assessment at any level.

Constructive Argument and Debate

In a pluralistic society, government agencies, small businesses, public interest groups, and corporations must be prepared to respond constructively and creatively to the controversies in which they find themselves. This course provides participants an introduction not only to the art of argument and debate, but also to strategies and frameworks with which they can strive to keep the debate from deteriorating into name-calling, shouting matches, diatribes, or eristic (argument for argument’s sake). Participants will study the rudiments of argumentation and debate theory, practice constructive argument, learn appropriate responses to destructive argument, and practice debate under the instructor’s guidance.

Communication in Controversy

This course is designed to introduce participants to the challenges of communicating ethically and effectively in the midst of often highly volatile conflict and controversy. Participants are exposed to theories of controversy and conflict management, provided with frameworks for analysis of communication situations, and guided through their practice of communication in controversy. The goal of the program is to increase participants’ appreciation and understanding of the dynamics of public controversy and to empower them to communicate effectively and ethically within those dynamics.

Thinking on Your Feet

This course is for the speaker who welcomes the very important challenge of learning how to think and speak clearly, cogently, and creatively in the most demanding situations. More than a skill, thinking and speaking on one’s feet is an art that requires people to understand and rapidly assess their rhetorical situation, their own abilities and positions on the question(s) presented, and their options for response. If you have often found yourself thinking, long after the moment has passed, of all the things you should have said (but didn’t!), this course is for you. You will learn several ways to analyze and assess the situation and your audience, an inventory for rapid appraisal of your position(s), and methods for determining your response. In addition, you will have the opportunity to practice “thinking on your feet” under the guidance of expert tutors.

Communication Ethics

This course examines the ethical issues raised by the use of persuasion in contemporary society. Our concerns will include the range of ethical responsibility in human communication, the origins of ethical standards, the problems inherent in the art of ethical criticism, and the strengths and weaknesses of the various perspectives on communication ethics. The goals of the course are to alert you to the moral dimensions of human discourse, to stimulate your moral imagination, and to explore, in theory and in practice, the questions raised by the application of ethical standards to persuasive speech. That being the case, our time will be divided between reading and discussing these issues on the one hand and observing and criticizing rhetorical practices on the other.

Facing the Media

In today’s media-saturated society, leaders from many walks of life (government, business, education, law, etc.) must learn to face the media and to do so effectively. This course is designed to help contemporary leaders manage media appearances with intelligence, grace, and poise. John Armstrong is the director of the Television Studio and Communication Lab at Furman University. He has worked for CNN and several network affiliates and regularly teaches courses in Broadcast Journalism and Mass Communication. Sean O’Rourke is currently chair of Communication Studies at Furman, where he teaches courses in Public Speaking, Persuasive Speaking, and Argumentation and Debate. He was the director of the Public Speaking Program at the University of Oregon and was also a six-time national champion in intercollegiate public speaking and debate. The course teaches civic leaders how to speak effectively to the media. The course covers camera savvy, answering questions, and thinking on one’s feet. Participants will spend considerable time speaking in front of the camera and reviewing their performances.

Public Speaking and Presentations

This course is based on our assumption that organizational health and productivity is increased as communication is improved. Hence, this course offers participants an introduction to effective communication, exposes them to the “pitfalls” of ineffective communication, provides a “communication inventory” so that participants can assess their communication strengths and weaknesses, and furnishes ample opportunity for guided practice in public speaking and presentations. All practice sessions are critiqued, and suggestions for improvement are offered. The goal of this course is to deepen participants’ understanding of public communication and to improve their communicative performance.

University of Oregon
University of Oregon

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