[eDebate] O'Donnell post - re: topic committee

Gordon Stables stables
Thu Jun 8 23:39:19 CDT 2006

Members of the CEDA/NDT/ADA Community,

You have by now seen Tim O?Donnell?s report advocating a substantial 
revision of the slate of topic wordings. Ideally I would have introduced 
myself to you as the new topic selection committee chair in the next few 
days, complete with some of my suggestions for improving our current 
procedures. Instead, it is my responsibility to oversee the 
consideration of this proposal and any other formal consideration of the 

Procedurally, this is highly unusual, but not prohibited. The CEDA 
constitution states that the topic selection committee must report to 
the Executive Secretary no fewer than three resolutions corresponding to 
the winning topic area in ?early July.? Although there are real 
constraints on the ability for organized deliberation, there is nothing 
that prevents such action from being considered. There is also some 
limited precedent for adjusting the specific wording of a resolution, 
such as when the word ?strengthening? was replaced by ?increasing? in 
the 1997 environmental regulation topic.

The CEDA constitution describes today as no different from our meetings 
in Kansas City. We, as the topic selection committee, are still 
empowered by the charge to present a slate of topics (at least three) to 
the Executive Secretary by early July. Accordingly, we have a formal 
proposal from one our members which warrant consideration. The fact that 
the meetings are adjourned does not remove the need to consider this 
question in public view. I would like to share with each of you 
procedures to help make this more effective for all.

As the chair, I appear to have some latitude in this process, but I want 
to adopt a bare minimum of procedures. In a few weeks I will be seeking 
the entire community to consider the ideal role of this time in coming 
years. In the interim, There are two items that I believe should govern 
this process:

1) This session (i.e., today until early July) should be treated as an 
appellate process for items on the ballot. To borrow from the legal 
process that has us so asunder, this is a higher court of appeals for 
problems created by the items on the ballot. I do not believe we serve 
the community best by reopening the broad nature of our overall charge, 
to construct a slate of resolutions. I firmly believe we will be pushed 
to adequately complete this task, given the nature of our other 
responsibilities, in the next few weeks. I also feel that we must ensure 
the integrity of the open public meetings. If the meetings are simply 
another talking session for the topics it will diminish the value of 
that process and undermine a very important site of input and 

2) This session will be treated using formal rules of procedure, as 
outlined in the CEDA constitution for all CEDA meetings. A member of the 
committee will need to make a specific motion for change and that change 
will be resolved by a majority vote of the nine member committee. The 
current slate stands unless and until a new item is passed.

These are the only rulings I hope to have to make at this time. I hope 
to have procedures in place for subsequent years, but I do not believe 
we can proceed at this time in the absence of some sense of process.

This controversy has also erupted in the middle of my efforts to design 
a new web home for the Topic process. I had imagined that I would have 
at least a week into my term before needing a new site for public 
exchange, but oh well. The blogspot site, in conjunction with the 
webcast and posting of notes, worked well as an opening gesture of 
transparency. Like any first effort, however, the blogspot site was an 
interim solution. It lacked the capacity to handle the surge in traffic 
and it suffered from of the limited features associated with a free blog.

To remedy this issue, I have developed a new site to host public 
information and deliberation about the topic process. It is almost fully 
developed but this is a perfect time to launch it. The new site is 
www.cedatopic.com <http://www.cedatopic.com> and it is currently live. I 
would ask our community to continue its willingness to use a web-based 
medium four our deliberation. I am deeply concerned by our reliance on a 
email based system, especially one that is explicitly unregulated and 
subject to a volume of off-subject and routinely offensive messages. I 
have previously asked other debate organizations to reduce their 
reliance on email forums and I would be hypocritical if I did not do so 
myself. To that end I would announce that I as chair will not consider 
email based forums as representative of community input in future topic 
matters. We do so currently because we lack other mediums and it is time 
for all debate organizations to develop those channels. I hope that we 
can channel our material to this permanent and more restrained home in 
the future.

The new site contains links to:
a) a new and improved blog (complete with the ability to designate 
threads by topic allowing for easier sorting) The blog?s direct address 
is (no www) blog.cedatopic.com
b) a page devoted to the process of the committee (complete with current 
contact info)
c) our papers and other resources on the court topic
d) A page devoted to the commissioned areas for 07-08 (this section is 
still getting refined)

The new blog has a link to the old blog so we will not lose the old 
items. I hope to eventually be able to migrate the old content, but the 
link will have to suffice for the interim. I am going to disable posting 
and comments on the old site to avoid confusion. Any member of the 
community may comment on the topics and the site will include a regular 
selection of open threads to facilitate discussion.

If you had made it this far you may have wondered why I haven?t 
commented on the specific reforms themselves. This is because I view my 
most important role as the chair is to provide a set of publicly 
available standards for input and deliberation. The topic selection 
committee is formally empowered means of representative governance. It 
is not a body that can simply lead by asking for polls, but it cannot 
function without regular and substantial community input. Once we move 
past this current issue I will be actively soliciting input on a number 
of reforms related to the topic process. Ryan Galloway, for example, is 
developing a survey of community members to gain further insights into 
your views about the topic process. I consider the new website and blog 
as an initial step in the enhanced transparency of the process and I 
look forward to your perspectives on the next steps.

I would finally hope that everyone involved in the process appreciates 
the unique nature of this situation. The historical procedure of the 
topic selection committee provides a serious workload for the committee 
from the late February period until the topic meetings. Based on past 
practice, this is the one short break that members of the committee have 
to concentrate on their personal and professional responsibilities 
before the season begins in earnest in just a few weeks. I am very 
sensitive to the idea that any expectation of routine committee work in 
this time may serve as a further disincentive for members of the 
community to become involved with the committee and the process. I view 
that our charge at this moment is to balance this request for additional 
service with the question of amending these options.

Thanks for reading.



Gordon Stables, Ph.D.

Director of Debate

Annenberg School for Communication

University of Southern California

Office: 213 740 2759               Fax: 213 740 3913


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