Affirmative Speaker

Kathleen Whitmire, PhD, CCC-SLP
Director of School Services
ASHA
(At the time of the debate, the author was Chair,
Department of Communication Disorders,
The College of Saint Rose, Albany, New York)


 In the five minutes that I am allowed, I wish to supplement my team member’s arguments from the undergraduate program viewpoint, by outlining four points which support the proposed statement from the perspective of graduate programs.  I believe that the quality of our graduate programs and the preparation of our future colleagues depend upon the acceptance of this proposal.

 First, our graduate programs rely upon comprehensive undergraduate programs to give our students a foundation for the demanding, rigorous graduate level experiences they need in order to be adequately prepared for the challenges and complexities of the market that they face today and in the future.  This foundation must include, at the least, theoretical foundations of communication disorders and coursework in clinical methods.  Our faculty at Saint Rose has repeatedly found that graduate courses in specific disorders are substantially diluted when there are students in those classes who have not taken an undergraduate course covering the basic-level information in that domain.  Because we are therefore limited in our ability to provide advanced information at the graduate level, our students are then limited in their ability to effectively participate in graduate clinical practica.  Clearly, this dilution of the graduate curriculum has serious negative consequences for the preparation of our students.
 
Second, I have not heard one argument that our programs are redundant and need to be pared down.  In fact, most of our programs are struggling to find reasonable ways of providing our students with the full breadth and depth of training needed to face today’s client base.  Rather, many of the conversations about modifying our undergraduate programs have sprung primarily from concerns that a number of our undergraduates are not getting admitted to our graduate programs.  This has led some to argue that we therefore need to offer a more generic undergraduate education.  I disagree with that line of thinking.  This is an admissions problem, not a program problem, and should be approached as such.

There are viable solutions to our graduate admissions problem that focus on enrollment solutions, not curricular modifications.  For example, some colleges and universities have rigorous requirements for remaining within their undergraduate communication disorders programs, so that those students who do not have competitive grade point averages will choose other majors while still at the undergraduate level.

 And finally, an undergraduate degree in communication sciences and disorders -- and not just communication sciences -- is excellent preparation for a variety of disciplines.  We needn’t make unreasonable accommodations or detrimental compromises because some of our undergraduates will pursue other career paths.  Their knowledge of individuals with special needs will serve them well in a vast number of careers within the sciences, education, and human services.

 In summary, I urge our undergraduate programs to offer our students a solid preparation in communication sciences and disorders, to allow our graduate programs to offer the rigorous advanced training that our students will need as future scientists and clinicians.  Where admissions problems exist, let us address them with admissions solutions.  But don’t tamper with our curriculum.  The cost to our graduate programs, to our future colleagues, and to our clients is much too great.

Rebuttal

 One of our opponents in today’s debate has characterized undergraduate courses in clinical methods as “cookbook” courses that teach students to take commercial materials off the bookshelves.  If anyone in this audience is teaching students to do that, the problem is not your curriculum -- the problem is your teaching.  Clinical methods courses should be demanding courses that challenge our students to think about clinical issues from a scientific perspective.  If that is not the case in your program, then you need to examine your expectations for that course and the individual teaching it.

 Our other opponent today suggested that we look to the field of psychology as a model for our own programs.  She noted that psychology programs typically offer undergraduate courses in normal psychology only, reserving courses on disorders for the graduate level.  Let me point out to you that one must have a doctoral degree to practice as a licensed psychologist.  If you wish to open discussions on the notion of requiring a doctoral degree to practice as a speech-language pathologist, then let those conversations begin.  However, until we are prepared to have those conversations, I suggest that it would be inappropriate to use psychology as a model.

 Our opponents today have called for more scientific rigor and critical thinking within our undergraduate curricula.  I applaud that.  However, I am appalled by the obvious assumption implied by this argument that coursework in disorders does not include scientific rigor and critical thinking.  That is exactly where scientific rigor and critical thinking should be taught.  Our undergraduate students’ training in our field should incorporate a solid scientific base in normal communication processes as well as a basic knowledge and understanding of communication disorders, in order for us to teach them to think about fundamental issues within our disciplines.

 Some argue that an undergraduate degree lacks enough credits to allow for coursework in both normal and disordered communication as well as a broad-based liberal arts education.  Again, I disagree with that argument, based on my personal experience.  Just do the math.  Our undergraduate major at Saint Rose is 62 credits, which includes 12 credits in normal communication processes as well as comprehensive coursework in disorders and a clinical practicum experience.  This still allows 60 credits in liberal arts and sciences, which is quite adequate for a meaningful sampling of studies in various disciplines and recommended electives such as linguistics.  Yes, our program is rigorous and demanding, but isn’t that the point?

 In closing, I must say that I remain convinced that our undergraduate programs must be preprofessional in their focus, to allow our graduate programs to adequately train speech-language pathologists, audiologists, and speech-language-hearing scientists.  To do anything else would be irresponsible.