Get to Know a Steward: Kyle Rudick

For the sixth installment in our Get to Know a Steward series, the GAU Communications Committee asked Kyle Rudick, steward for the Department of Speech Communication, several questions about his life, the difficulties of doctoral studies, his high school rep, physical prowess, table tennis and bargaining.

rudick_kGAU Communication Committee: Where you from, and what brought you to SIUC?

Kyle Rudick: I’m from a small town called Oologah in Oklahoma. I received a B.A. Ed. in Communication Education from Northeastern State University and my M.A. in Communication Studies at West Virginia University. I came to SIUC because the Speech Communication Department is regarded as one of the most prolific and rigorous research programs within our field.

GAU: Why are you getting your doctorate in Speech Communication?

Rudick: I chose Speech Communication as my field of study because it focuses on what I think is central all of human civilization—language use. There is something unique and powerful about our discipline’s emphasis on how human interactions form the bedrock upon which all other human activities are built.  Science, math, economics, literature, each of these areas (and more) can be studied from a communication perspective. Of course, this is not to say that the Speech Communication discipline serves the same function as other disciplines. A biologist, for example, is interested in the evolution of mayflies whereas I’m interested in how a theory of evolution (as a collection of symbols used to craft a particular way of seeing reality) shapes the ways that people think and talk about the world around them.

GAU: You’re a doctoral candidate. How tough was it reaching candidacy?

Rudick: Tough, but immensely gratifying. In our department, we are required to write three conference/publication ready manuscripts within 30 days in order to pass our exams. So it’s a pretty stressful affair. However, after I passed my exams, I submitted my papers to various regional and national conferences in my field. All three were accepted and two were featured on top paper panels. I credit my success to our department’s focus on graduate-student mentorship and research. Our professors are an amazing group of scholars.

GAU: You edit Kaleidoscope: A Graduate Journal of Qualitative Research. What is the most common mistake grads make when submitting a paper to your journal?

Rudick: I think the most common mistakes involve writing in two ways.

First, I don’t think most graduate students recognize how much work goes into writing a publication-ready manuscript. I know I certainly didn’t when I started my program. Graduate students write a paper for a class, get good feedback on it, and think it is ready for publication. The truth is that instructors often evaluate class papers on their relevance to course content in addition to things like scholarly contribution and rigor. As such, most papers that are written for coursework are often too historical (i.e., their literature reviews are too comprehensive) which translates into either a bloated submission or a paper that is light on analysis because it’s too heavy on review. Graduate students need to read a few articles that are published in the journal (preferably ones related to their topic of study) and follow similar organization schemes. It ensures that their work (which is often quite brilliant and cutting-edge) is not rejected out of hand because it’s not written toward the journal’s tone.

Second, most submissions I get are not accompanied by a good cover letter. Sometimes it’s just “please accept this. Signed, Somebody” or it’s a copy/paste of their abstract. A good cover letter should clearly identify (1) the history of the paper (e.g., has it been shown at a conference?), (2) the contribution the paper makes to the discipline, (3) how the paper “fits” the mission/aims of the journal, (4) if it’s under review at another journal (which it should NEVER be), and (5) contact information. Writing a letter like this shows editors that you have carefully chosen their journal for submission, which increases the likelihood that a mixed review will be a “Revise and Resubmit” rather than a “Rejection.”

GAU: On a more self-deprecating note (for you), if we may, what is the most embarrassing mistake you’ve made as a TA in the Department of Speech Communication?

Rudick: Oh geez, well I’d like to keep my job…just kidding. I’d have to say that my mistakes often come from expecting first-year students to behave like my peers in graduate school. That is to say, I expect them to schedule their time, read, discuss, and write at a graduate level and am often disappointed when they don’t meet those unrealistic goals. Sometimes I have to apologize to classes when I realize that I am getting frustrated when, for example, no one is contributing to class discussion because no one read the material. It’s pretty embarrassing (but I think in a good way) for a teacher to stand in front of 25 students and give an honest apology.

GAU: In your Black Friday piece for the special edition of the GAU Advocate, “Saying ‘Just Stay at Home’ Does Not Solve the Problem,” you recounted your high school glory days to make a point about personal responsibility. Could you provide us another vignette from Kyle Rudick’s past that evinces your boyhood physicality to convey another moral lesson in story form, Aesop’s Fables-like?

Rudick: Well, I certainly wouldn’t call them glory days. And I really think I should be a bit more careful with stories like that simply because they may implicitly glorify violence or a kind of destructive masculinity.

I really can’t think of one off the top of my head, but I would like to talk about why I used a story and what I think it means for unions. I think that, especially academic unions, expect a form of rational debate between administrators and employees, where reason prevails and the best argument wins. I think that what is really at stake is not the arguments per se, but how the institutions that are represented in those arguments—the union and the university—are portrayed. So disagreements between these institutions are not a matter of who presents the best reasons, but who can cast their institutional aims (for unions: workers’ rights and for the university: profitability) in a way that sways the public to side with them. I think the union must do a better job of showing how our aims are the best for who the public cares the most about: undergraduate students. Healthcare, pay, funding, all of these things are not good for just workers, they ensure that the best employees are gathered and retained which have immediate and positive benefits for undergraduate students. So I use stories because I think it’s a form of communication that resonates best with the public. Most people don’t think in terms of statistics, worker’s rights, or appeals to a common humanity. They care about, and resonate most with, plain language that shows them that we do our best to give their children our best. I really believe that we have to do a better job at understanding and talking to the public we serve if we want them to see our struggle as a struggle for their interests. Otherwise, they see our work as the unjustified demands of a bunch of greedy, underworked academics.

GAU: As GAU steward for the Department of Speech Communication, do you anticipate having to use your aforementioned physical prowess to advance the cause of social movement unionism? In lieu of flexing your sinewy musculature, how else might you contribute to union goals – and how have you already?

Rudick: Haha, most certainly not. I float like a butterfly and sting like a butterfly.

I think my chief contribution to the union is based on my training in Speech Communication. I draw upon a lot of research about public speaking as a way to understand how to best talk with the people in the community about things that are important to the health and vitality of the university. Like I said before, I don’t think that union energy is best served by trying to reason with university representatives. They have an institutional role as well as an institutional obligation to protect profitability, which is at odds with the interests of students. I know that undergraduate students recognize that being taught by a sustainable, healthy, productive workforce ensures that they have a meaningful degree rather than just a piece of paper because so many of them joined the faculty strike three years ago. We just have to get that message out to more people so that we don’t have the same situation that we did back then (i.e., the university stalling bargaining for years in an attempt to wear down opposition).

Our energy is best used trying to work with community members to show them that we are the ones that truly care about student success, retention, and achievement. So this year, Benny LeMaster and I spearheaded the Legislative and Political Action Committee as a way to work closely with different groups within the community. We have had a lot of good feedback from groups on and off campus about trying to get the union more involved in the day-to-day affairs of Carbondale and the university. My hope is that, moving forward, we get a lot more union volunteers to help with things like community clean-ups, protesting other forms of discrimination (e.g., racial, gender, or dis/ability), and training for solidarity and self-advocacy within institutions.

GAU: You and Benny LeMaster, Legislative and Political Action Committee chair, won bronze in the table tennis doubles tournament at the mini-Olympic competition sponsored by the International Student Council that took place at the Rec back in November 2013. Tell us what was going through your mind as the competition heated up and the ping fused with pong in intense battle for a podium spot?

Rudick: To be honest, I was just trying not to embarrass myself (and failing miserably). Luckily, we faced a team that was gracious enough to teach us the finer points (and rules) of table tennis. The students that we played and watched were all really good at the game as well as being wonderful people. Even though the Olympics are put on by the International Student Council, they welcome U.S. students to join so I really encourage other union students to sign up next year. Many international students want to make connections with U.S. students and it’s important for our union to recognize and appreciate the diverse cultures that make up the university.

GAU: Together with Benny LeMaster, you have also done yeoman’s work for LPAC. What is the most important accomplishment of that committee, and did your table tennis experience prepare you for such challenging – and perhaps equally rewarding – union work?

Rudick: I think the most important work that anyone can do in the union is to spread the word about the great things that our organization does for students and the university. I have been really lucky that President Matt Ryg let Benny and I work on a committee that focuses primarily on that topic. I really think our biggest accomplishment was working with the International Student Council. Many international students do not have a lot of interactions with U.S. students and, as a result, don’t get a chance to know how the union can help protect them against workplace discrimination (which they are often the target of). After Benny and I talked to the Council, we crafted a short flyer based on their concerns and many international students were gracious enough to translate it into their native languages. It’s really great that people can read the flyer in their native tongue whenever they want on the GAU website. Over a dozen different languages are represented! I really hope that the union continues to find ways to reach out to international communities on campus.

GAU: The LPAC devotes a lot of time and energy to future bargaining issues now. What is the most pressing issue the committee continues to work on, and will the GAU bargaining team need some of your high school bravado and/or table tennis panache when they sit down at the table to push for such issues so crucial to democratizing the University in order to create more equalitarian conditions for Graduate Assistants?

Rudick: Our most pressing issues are healthcare, fees, and pay. Let me talk a little about each without getting too bogged down too much in details.

Our healthcare does not meet the needs of many graduate employees (e.g., employees with spouses, employees with children, trans-identified employees, etc.) nor does it cover many basic necessities of a productive workforce (e.g., prescription co-pay, dental, or optometry). As such, graduate employees are one illness or injury away from being unable to fulfill their duties. This situation is not in students’ or the university’s best interests.

Fees, as we all know, are too d*** high. Right now, after taxes, fees, and paying for the average rent in Carbondale, the average graduate employee is left with under $200 a month to pay for bills, food, clothes, and medicine. This leaves many graduate students to take out loans or find additional employment to make ends meet. Either way, it is destructive to employee morale which means graduate employees are less effective at their jobs.

Pay has not kept pace with inflation or graduate fees in the last decade. Like the problem of fees, this makes it difficult for graduate employees to be effective workers because illness or injury can ruin their financial lives. As such, it is important that the university see that when graduate employees are well-cared for then we are free to give our best to students and SIUC.

I think I can safely say that graduate employees love SIUC and the students we teach. We just want to be free to show how much we have to offer to the mission of this university. In the end, I hope there’s no need for a bargaining team. My wish is that university administrators see that graduate employees are suffering and that our plight adversely affects students pursuing their undergraduate degrees. If they can recognize this then I don’t think it far-fetched to hope that all of us can find meaningful common ground that promotes the longevity and vibrancy of our university.

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