An Exit Interview with Bill Gholson

Bill Gholson is from Hoopeston, Illinois. He graduated from Eureka College and came to Southern Oregon University in 1994, after completing a Master’s and PhD in English at the University of Oregon. A former high school English teacher, he has served as English Department Chair, directed the University Writing Program and the Master’s in Management program and has published on Kurt Vonnegut and on rhetoric. In 2017 he was a winner of the Outstanding Teaching Award at Southern Oregon University and he retired at the end of 2017.

Ed Battistella: How did you make your way to Oregon and to SOU?

Bill Gholson: My wife earned her PhD at the University of Illinois and took a job at the U of O. We moved to Eugene. I continued teaching high school for three more years in Monroe, Oregon and then made the decision to apply to the English PhD program at U of O.

EB: Do you remember what you taught in your first year at SOU?

BG: I had a two course releases for directing the writing program, so I taught one course in Wr. 122.

EB: What else stands out from your first years?

BG: One of the things that most graduate programs in composition and rhetoric will teach you is that you should never direct a writing program before getting tenure. But, Don Reynolds, Chair of the English program called me up and asked if I would direct the writing program right away. Of course I said yes. Taking the job meant that my wife and I would both get to teach in Oregon, although we taught in separate towns for the first seven years I was here.

EB: How has your teaching evolved over the years?

BG: I am not afraid of letting a class go where it goes.

EB: You recently turned to writing poetry? How is that going?

BG: Well, I hope to spend more time on it now that I am retired. I love playing around with the lines and the language.

EB: You are known—renowned actually—for continually developing new courses. Is there anything you still wish you could teach? Or teach again?

BG: I love teaching topics courses for the very reason that I can teach new topics every term. I’d love to teach Moby Dick again.

EB: What were some high points of your time at SOU?

BG: Directing the University Colloquium; working with students; winning Distinguished Teaching Award. Teaching with an amazing group of professionals who are way out of my class. Surviving, barely, my term as chair, and developing rhetoric courses for the creative writing program; along with Tom Nash, designing the Decker Writing Studio; petitioning for and creating the new position of Creative Writing Director; joined WPA; held state-wide composition conference on the SOU campus.

EB: What’s your favorite thing about the academic life? Your least favorite?

BG: I love the freedom of designing courses and of more or less having the freedom of my own classroom. So, freedom is my favorite thing. Second would be having inquisitive students. My least favorite thing is the new mania for measuring and monitoring outcomes. I consider this a low point for education. Students should understand what the expectations for a class are, but the kind of evaluations going on today are more complicated than ever. I think the complicated nature of the outcomes and the forms for outcomes and the forms for the forms for the outcomes becomes the reason for teaching. I really hate that administration has less and less faith in their faculty and more and more faith in the mathematization of the world. Also, I think it is too easy for bullies to cause internal problems in programs without any recourse for the bullied. I speak from experience.

EB: What are your plans, post-SOU?

BG: My plans are nebulous. The decision to retire a little early came so quickly. I have a million books I want to read. I really would like to publish at least one book of poetry and I hope it is my book of morning consolations.

EB: Thanks for talking with me. Don’t be a stranger.

BG: Thanks for talking with me. What was your name again?

About Ed Battistella

Edwin Battistella’s latest book Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels was released by Oxford University Press in March of 2020.
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