ASU emeritus professor lauded for 'profound rethinking' of field

portrait of Sharon Crowley, emeritus professor of English

“I can say with no hyperbole that professor Sharon Crowley is the reason that I do what I do,” said Kirsti Cole, a 2008 graduate of Arizona State University’s doctoral program in English rhetoric, composition and linguistics.

Cole, an associate professor at Minnesota State University, pointed to the strong mentorship she received from Crowley, now a professor emeritus at ASU, as fundamental to her current success.

“My work in feminist rhetoric and methodologies, women in the discipline, and the path that I've taken in my career thus far are all inspired by Sharon's advice, which was given with a generosity and honesty that I can only hope to pass on to my students,” Cole said.

“She was more than a mentor, and I still reflect on her advice when I think about my future as an academic and scholar.”

This past March, Sharon Crowley received the 2015 CCCC Exemplar Award, a national lifetime-achievement honor from the Conference on College Composition and Communication, an arm of the National Council of Teachers of English, which is the leading professional organization of English language arts teaching.

The award recognizes a person “whose years of service as an exemplar for our organization represents the highest ideals of scholarship, teaching and service to the entire profession.”

“Sharon Crowley embodies the true spirit and practice of an exemplar, for she has done nothing less than lead a profound rethinking of our field,” said the CCCC award committee in its statement on the award.

The academic discipline of rhetorical studies examines how people communicate to persuade others or argue a viewpoint. Though many are familiar with what is now termed “political rhetoric” – speech used to win a campaign or influence the electorate – rhetoric is also employed by individuals in their everyday interactions. Rhetoric can be “broadcast” interpersonally or communally, orally or visually, bodily or textually.

Crowley’s ground-breaking scholarship in the field of rhetoric was recognized long before this most recent award. Her book, “Toward a Civil Discourse: Rhetoric and Fundamentalism” (2006), explored the chasm between liberalism and Christian fundamentalism, closing with her hope that a sympathetic rhetorical means could be used to open dialogue between the two camps.

The book, which Crowley called her “swan song,” garnered high praise and multiple honors, including the Gary A. Olson Award by the Association of Teachers of Advanced Composition (2006); the Outstanding Book Award by the Conference on College Composition and Communication (2008); the David H. Russell Award for Distinguished Research in the Teaching of English by the National Council of Teachers of English (2007); and the Rhetoric Society of America Book Award (2008).

Academics both in and outside ASU point to her work as inspiration for their own scholarship.

Professor of English Shirley Rose, who is director of ASU’s Writing Programs division, said, “Sharon Crowley has been an exemplar of how to do intellectually rigorous and fearless work that matters in the world and has served as a role model for several generations of scholars in our field, including my own.”

Crowley taught in the rhetoric and composition program in the Department of English, an academic unit in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, from 1998 until her retirement in 2008.