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

pete bsumek bsumekpk
Mon Apr 17 11:08:24 CDT 2006

ain't no way around it.  SPEED kills--and is the "cause" of a decline in
policy debate.  don't get me wrong, i went fast--i loved going fast.  and 
it is educational, and all that.

what caused speed?--well that's what we have to deal with now.  or accept
our fate, such as it is.

slow down the debate, and bad args sound really bad--consult counterplans
for example.


---- Original message ----
>Date: Fri, 14 Apr 2006 11:53:25 -0400
>From: "William Newnam" <wnewnam at emory.edu>  
>Subject: Re: [eDebate] Reconnecting debate to the academy-topics that
reflectthe	literature  
>To: "Ede Warner" <ewarner at louisville.edu>, <eDebate at ndtceda.com>
>   I just have two quick comments regarding the current discussion.
>   First, I agree with Ede that debate has become more removed from
>   the academy and that has some serious downsides.  Mainly, it
>   hurts our credibility and it weakens our ties to scholarship.  On
>   the other hand, when debate is too closely tied to academic
>   departments, debate is also extremely vulnerable to the political
>   whims of the professoriate as well as to the zero-sum game of
>   academic financing.  This in turn, leads to my second point.
>   Two.  It is extremely difficult to identify a "singular" cause
>   for the decline in debate programs, but I think there are three
>   reasons that tend to dominate.  The first of these is economic
>   pressure.  I have been in debate for a long time and there were a
>   couple of major waves of decline in programs.  The first of these
>   occured around 1974.  We were debating an energy topic the year
>   of the Oil embargo.  Gas prices shot through the roof and
>   substantially limited travel.  Gas rationing meant that you could
>   only buy gas on even or odd days depending upon the last digit of
>   your license plate number.  This event and the permanent rise in
>   gas prices virtually gutted a strong regional debate circuit in
>   the Southeast.  Traveling to debate tournaments is expensive and
>   the high cast of energy made it easier to justify cutting
>   programs, or curtailing them so much that many professors decided
>   it was not worth it.  And, once a program is cut it is hard to
>   restore it, especially when the residual funds are dumped back
>   into an existing academic department's budget which are then used
>   to hire other professors or to buy new technology or to hire more
>   support staff.  A second wave of decline occured in the eighties
>   when state budgets for universities were being cut back.  I am
>   sure many of my peers in California can attest to the effect that
>   budget cuts in education had on programs there.  During a
>   powerful wave of anti-taxation, schools were forced to do more
>   with less and debate was an easy target for cutting.
>   A second reason for debate programs being cut is because, to
>   quote president bush, "its hard work. Its hard work being" . . .
>   a debate coach.  And, the challenge of running a competitive
>   program while trying to publish enough to get tenure is a
>   difficult struggle.  Many coaches have been lost because they
>   must publish for job security reasons and debate coaching does
>   not receive the same status of privilege.  Recognizing this, the
>   AFA crafted a tenure document for debate coaches which helped
>   some programs but not every program.  If the academic department,
>   either the department chair or the full professors who usually
>   sit on tenure committees, do not value debate, the debate coaches
>   argument for tenure could be easily ignored.  And, given that
>   housing debate in academic departments means that departmental
>   funds that go to debate are not available for other purposes
>   (including a tenured professors salary) there is a strong
>   incentive among some faculty and some departments to deny debate
>   funding.  At that point, the pressure against debate builds from
>   two directions: both the denial of tenure for debate coaches
>   because their coaching demands trade-off with their publishing
>   demands and the competition for an ever shrinking higher
>   education budget.  These pressures killed many debate programs.
>   Finally, the development of alternative forms of debate
>   definitely had a negative impact on policy debate.  The financial
>   and professional pressures I discussed above interface with this
>   development.  Those old enough to remember might recall that CEDA
>   initally began as a lower research, less time commitment
>   alternative to policy debate.  Given the economic pressures,
>   tenure issues, and poltical issues I just mentioned, CEDA had an
>   enormous growth spurt in the eighties.  But, as the competitive
>   pressure grew CEDA itself started to experience some decline. 
>   The more rigorous research demands (generated in no small part by
>   the student participants) not foreseen when Jack Howe started
>   CEDA resurfaced as they existed in policy debate.  The bottom
>   line:  better evidenced arguments won, increasing the demand for
>   better research.  Given this, and the decline of policy debate,
>   it was only natural that the two circuits would, as former
>   Vanderbilt coach Kas Kovalchek predicted as early as the late
>   70s, merge together.   The alternative of parliamentary debate
>   provided a way out of this that CEDA had provided many years
>   before.  We will see if Professor Kovalchek's prediction for CEDA
>   bears true for NPDA overtime as well.
>   I admit that some of the criticisms of contemporary practice,
>   esoteric debates, rigorous research demands, and economic
>   disparities in programs, all interact with these factors to add
>   to the pressure to cut programs.  But, I don't think that they
>   are sufficient by themselves to either prevent or, if corrected
>   (assuming that were even possible) to solve what I see as the
>   greater cause of decline of programs.
>   Instead, I think that the alternative needs to be to stop
>   apologizing for debate and being embarrased by it.  Debate, as
>   practiced in the CEDA/NDT community helps to produce great
>   students who go on to produce great work outside and after debate
>   is over in government, outside of government, in business, in
>   opposition to business, in education and in research.  If we as
>   individual programs and as a community learn how to sell
>   ourselves for the "end product" of debate and stop in-fighting we
>   can do a great deal for ourselves and our communities.  The
>   movement to enhance participation and representation among
>   previously underrepresented communities (ethnically and racially)
>   is another strong development in the value of debate as
>   empowerment and as a progenitor of civic minded activists. 
>   to continually look at debate programs and describe them as evil
>   does not help the cause.  Debate is an expensive per pupil
>   investment and the cost to the academy is great.  We have to
>   recognize and accept that and instead of pretending our problems
>   lie elsewhere, deal with it.  We have to aggressively market (I
>   hope that does not offend my anti-capitalist friends out there)
>   what debate does for the students we serve and convince our
>   colleagues that debate coaching is, unlike sports, a valuable
>   expenditure of our professional energy and time so that we are
>   more respected in the academy.
>   It might be "hard work" but it is far wiser than, to quote my
>   boss, "throwing the baby out with the bathwater."
>   this was meant to be shorter, but when I start talking about the
>   historical cycles of debate I just get so excited I can't control
>   myself . . . .
>   bill n
>   emory
>     ----- Original Message -----
>     From: Ede Warner
>     To: eDebate at ndtceda.com
>     Sent: Thursday, April 13, 2006 7:44 PM
>     Subject: [eDebate] Reconnecting debate to the academy-topics
>     that reflectthe literature
>     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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Pete Bsumek, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor/Director of Debate
Co-Director Center for Constructive Advocacy and Dialogue
MSC 2106
54 Bluestone Dr.
1276 Harrison Hall
School of Communication Studies
James Madison University
Harrisonburg, VA 22807
(o) 540-568-3386
(c) 540-421-4105
(f) 540-568-6059

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