Orange Alert

Lois Agnew

Lois Agnew

Lois Agnew

Associate Provost for Academic Programs, Syracuse University Office of Academic Affairs; Professor of Writing and Rhetoric


Writing Studies, Rhetoric, and Composition
Office of Academic Affairs 500 Crouse Hinds Hall


Ph.D., 1999, Texas Christian University

Research and Teaching Interests

Rhetorical histories and theories, rhetorical historiography, classical reception, rhetorics of health and medicine, disability rhetorics, rhetoric and ethics

Biographic Overview

After serving as interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S) from 2022-23, Lois Agnew was appointed to the position of associate provost for academic programs at Syracuse University in July 2023. In that role she works with colleagues in Academic Affairs and across campus to support teaching and learning at Syracuse University.

A gifted leader, scholar and teacher, Agnew has been a member of the Syracuse University community since 2004. Her previous leadership roles at the University included A&S associate dean of curriculum, innovation and pedagogy (2017-22), chair of Writing Studies, Rhetoric, and Composition (2012-17), interim chair of African American Studies (2021-22) and director of undergraduate studies for the Writing Program (2007-12).

As A&S’ associate dean of curriculum, innovation and pedagogy, Agnew helped lead key initiatives to enhance and strengthen the liberal arts at Syracuse University. She was among a team that updated the liberal arts core to ensure that the curricular requirements for undergraduate students in A&S | the Maxwell School make visible the important role of the liberal arts in developing skills that equip students for professional success, as well as preparing them to respond effectively to urgent issues. She also established a professional development program to build community among teaching faculty in A&S; coordinated the development of health humanities and digital humanities integrated learning majors; and organized A&S’ annual undergraduate research festival.

Among Agnew’s academic honors and awards received at Syracuse are the 2015 William Wasserstrom Prize for Graduate Teaching, recognizing exceptional teaching and mentoring of graduate students; the 2011 Excellence in Graduate Education Faculty Recognition Award; and the 2007 Meredith Teaching Recognition Award.

Agnew’s research specializes in rhetorical history and theory, with a focus on classical and British rhetoric and rhetorics of health, medicine, and disability. She has published over 25 journal articles and book chapters and is author of two books: Thomas De Quincey: British Rhetoric’s Romantic Turn. Rhetoric in the Modern Era Series (Southern Illinois University Press, 2012) and “Outward, Visible Propriety”: Stoic Philosophy and Eighteenth-Century British Rhetorics (University of South Carolina Press, 2008), with a third book manuscript in progress: Fitter, Happier: The Eugenic Strain in Twentieth-Century Cancer Rhetoric (forthcoming with University of Alabama Press).

Before working at Syracuse University, Agnew was an assistant professor of English at Rockford University (formerly Rockford College) in Illinois. There she served as chair of the Department of English and director of the Writing Center.

Agnew received a Ph.D. in English from Texas Christian University and a B.A. and M.A. in English from the University of Texas at Arlington.

As a scholar

My work in the history of rhetoric begins with the assumption that rhetorical theories inevitably maintain a reciprocal relationship with the cultures from which they emerge. Although rhetorical theories demonstrate common areas of concern across time, they also reflect the perspectives of specific times and places. I am convinced that cultivating a sensitive understanding of history can not only enhance our understanding of past thought, but can also sharpen our critical awareness of the contemporary challenges that continue to shape rhetoric's development.

Major themes and current research

My interest in rhetoric’s role in shaping the way people understand the world has prompted my recent work, an historical study of the evolution of cancer rhetoric in the twentieth century. In my forthcoming book, Fitter, Happier: The Eugenic Strain in Twentieth-Century Cancer Rhetoric, I’ve drawn from varied archival sources to argue that the important decision to make cancer visible in the early twentieth century generated lines of argument that reflected larger cultural values. The notions of conquering cancer through war, positivity, and prevention are in some ways positive outcomes of an early twentieth-century society committed to supporting people with cancer. At the same time, they also reflect assumptions grounded in eugenic ideologies that were dominant during the same period, specifically, that modern progress can overcome all weakness, and those who are unable to live up to the ideal are somehow deficient. My research on this topic has also generated two journal articles.

I also continue my research in nineteenth-century British rhetoric, with a particular focus on the ways in which cultural anxieties during this period contributed to shifting views of rhetoric’s function.

Recent Publications

Fitter, Happier: The Eugenic Strain in Twentieth-Century Cancer Rhetoric, forthcoming with the University of Alabama Press.

After Plato: Rhetoric, Ethics, and the Teaching of Writing. Co-edited with John Duffy. Utah State University Press, 2020.

“Managing Visibility: Emotion, Mascots, and the Birth of U.S. Cancer Rhetorics.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly vol. 50, no. 3, 2020, pp. 194-202.

“Intellectual Humility: Rhetoric’s Defining Virtue.” Rhetoric Review vol. 37, no. 4, 2018, pp. 334-41.

“Ecologies of Cancer Rhetoric: The Shifting Terrain of U.S. Cancer Wars, 1920-1980.” College English, vol. 80, no. 3, 2018, pp. 271-96.

“Demosthenes As Text:  Classical Reception and British Rhetorical History.” Advances in the History of Rhetoric, vol. 19, no. 1, 2016, pp. 2-30.

“Forging Independence and Innovation in the Midst of Financial Austerity:  The Syracuse University Writing Program” (co-authored with Eileen Schell).  In “Symposium: The IWP in an Age of Financial Austerity.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 68, no. 1, 2016, pp. 191-95.

Thomas De Quincey: British Rhetoric’s Romantic Turn, Rhetoric in the Modern Era Series, co-edited by Arthur E. Walzer and Edward Schiappa, Southern Illinois University Press, 2012.

“Outward, Visible Propriety”: Stoic Philosophy and Eighteenth-Century British Rhetorics. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2008.

“Rhetorical History and the Octalogs: A Retrospective.” Introduction and Editor. Rhetoric Review 30.3 (2011): 237-57.

“Octalog III: The Politics of Historiography in 2010.” Article co-edited and introduction co-authored with Laurie Gries and Zosha Stuckey. Rhetoric Review 30.2 (2011) 109-34.

“Rhetoric, Ethos, & Unease: Re-negotiation of the ‘Normal’ in the Classroom & on the Quad.” Co-authored with Zosha Stuckey. Open Words 5.1 (Spring, 2011): 15-27.

“Teaching Propriety: Unlocking the Mysteries of ‘Political Correctness.’” College Composition and Communication 60.4 (2009): 746-64.

“‘The Day Belongs to the Students’: Expanding Epideictic’s Civic Function.” Rhetoric Review 27.2 (2008): 147-64.

College of Arts and Sciences’ Lois Agnew Appointed Associate Provost for Academic Programs

(April 14, 2023)

Agnew will support efforts to develop a curriculum that effectively meets the changing needs of students in today’s higher education landscape.

“It Was a Gift to Join This Community”

(July 6, 2022)

A conversation with A&S Interim Dean Lois Agnew.

Syracuse Professors to Receive Graduate Teaching Awards

(April 27, 2015)

Lois Agnew, Horace Campbell will be feted by A&S