[eDebate] Reconnecting debate to the academy-topics that reflect the literature

Ede Warner ewarner
Thu Apr 13 18:44:23 CDT 2006

In all likelihood, we can't save Oregon today.  If we could, we would.  But tomorrow it will be someone else.  But we do have the power to engage in practices that can prevent the next one.  Why do I say this?
1)  The connection between debate and the academy has been destroyed.  Newnam concludes in his article that the debate about debate has been had forty years ago, and those fighting switch side debate and debate activism must have lost.  Why?  Because of the way debate is practiced today.  It's ironic that sometimes what we think is a short term victory in a battle only sets us up for a longer term loss in the war.  Forty years ago, hundreds of debate programs were firmly entrenced inside academic units, being run by Phd's and connected strongly with departments.  You can count the number of those programs left on a couple of hands.  Many programs have non-tenure track faculty or master's level personnel running them, are completely outside academic units, or are inside but constently fighting for resources and support from a majority of folks that have never seen a debate, and will never (at least if the coach or director can avoid it).  As the exposure through CSTV and books and articles grow, so does the risk that the wrong administrator will actually see what we do.  I get the impression that Oregon never had through and through support by adminstrators or faculty for CEDA/NDT policy debate.  And if Josh is right, that Jackie and I can't persuade others that our call for change has merit, then what happens if CEDA/NDT can't persuade a critical mass of administrators and faculty to continue supporting debate.  I'll concede that all of this is antedotal and speculation based on my observations.  But that brings me to...
2)  The need for study.  These edebate discussions (and I'm certainly guilty of this) become antedotes and speculation with little solid research to support claims, although many of the claims are easily verifiable.  We could write down five different types of topics and ask people without debate experience to rank their favorites as just one example.  We could survey administrators and faculty about their perceptions of what they think policy debate should look like and whether or not they feel policy debate does this.  Newnam cites articles by Murphy, Murrish, McBath, Cripe, Gow, Graham, Rive and others about the need for debate to not just engage logos and the need for less expert debating.  His conclusion was that since expert debating and competitive debating survived, these folks must have lost.  But the academic question is what happened next?  Did they become department chairs or administrators and withdraw their support for debate?  Did they continue to coach and just stay disgruntled?  Were they the early pursurers of all of the "retrograde" ideas promugated now by the left like critical argument and performance?  Once their call was lost, was a larger consequence the loss of academic mainstream political support?  You see, while they may have lost the ability to influence the activity, we don't know what impact their response had on the activity, especially if they stopped supporting it?  
3)  Debate conventions to create competitive equity have destroyed a connection to the literature and as a result, a connection to the real world, especially in policy making.  My argument is that debate conventions to create more affirmative or negative ground, also began to divorce debate from the literature.  Here are a few examples:
      a.  The "meet need" aka "plan meet advantage" aka "solvency takeout".  Because of the way we evaluate impacts, debates almost always can't be won on this argument.  "The USFG has tried to do this 17 times and failed" won't win a interscholastic debate, although it could certainly win in the Kentucky state legistature.  The fact that it doesn't win in our debates, forces us to move away from the literature.  Feasibility or workability is often the sole consideration in passage of a policy, but not for us.
      b.  The PIC.  Intended to destroy the small affirmative, it instead has destroyed the "big stick".  You can't run affirmatives with multiple plan actions, at least that is what three topic committees have told me, too easy to pic out.  The irony is, many believe this is true EVEN (point of emphasis, not disrespect) when the literature supports multiple actions.  Why?  Because if I got one article, saying that one of the three things is bad, it will likely trump any larger comprehensive solution.  So although the negative doesn't have evidence saying we can get the same big advantages if we do it without one of the components, our game is set up to shift the burden back to the affirmative to each component separately as well as together.  Again, not consistently with the literature.  
       c.  The goal of limiting ground.  We ended up with an Africa topic that had a mechanism (development assistance) that didn't jive with the area (Greater Horn) we selected.  How did that happen?  Because the overriding concern was to limit the ground.  This is not a committee problem, as they are given 2 ? days to figure out how to mix and match different components to create a topic (an unrealistic task).  
        d.  why this won't change any time soon?  The topic committee we have is overwhelming trained and supportive of selecting topics in this manner.  Last year, I chose to support their choices and work to make those choices the best they could be, because I thought that was my role as 2nd vp.  I too, would much prefer three broad topics:  1) that the USFG should substantially change it's policy towards change; 2) that the USFG should substantially change its trade policy with China; 3) that the USFG should substantially change its human rights policy with China.  But again, why not study.  There will be antedotal claims that these topics destroy debate, as well as claims for the more narrow topics.  But define what is important to the activity and actually study the impacts.  Take five years, selecting topics of different sizes and study the impacts those topics have.  Or again, try to find a ground solution that leaves the literature in tact, even if that means we have to reconceptualize current debate theories and practices to do so.  
The priority should be to 1) decide what the heart of the literature is (sometimes easier said than done); 2) create topics that allow for discussion of that literature; 3) realize that the community will create competitive ground as a response to any imbalances in the topic, it always has.  If the policy literature on a topic has at it's heart the "meet need", then debates should be won or lost on that issue.  The further you move from that as a standard, the further you move debate from the literature, which spirals to the academy.  And from there, you have no support for programs.
When department chairs, deans, provosts, and faculty are persuaded to see the beauty of what we do, whether or not THEY HAVE debated, then we will start gaining programs.  Before you start dissecting my arguments, keep the holistic point in mind:  support in the academy means recruitment and retention of programs.  
If we already have that support, then why do we lose program?

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