[eDebate] My thoughts about topics/topic process/merger

Ede Warner ewarner
Sun Jun 11 21:54:09 CDT 2006


I'll start here:  I have fundementally disagreed with how topics have been selected for the last seven years, as well as what the majority in the "communities" see as a "good" topic.  Some years I've attended the meetings and been very vocal in my disagreements and other years I've stayed silent and simply based our argument strategies around my disagreements.  As much as I generally agree with Jackie and the way he sees the world, he will likely see this post as a disagreement.  Perhaps he will see me as a sell out or a suck up as well, but I hope not.  I will try to do what I've always done:  speak with conviction and rationally about the issues as I see them based on my experiences and beliefs, and often those beliefs have usually coincided with Jackie.  This time they do not.
 
The Topics/The Topic Process/Merger:
Jackie is not the only one with predictive value.  I got only two responses to my post of May 22 where I called for the topic committee to discuss it's role prior to meeting in Kansas City:  a backchannel from Jackie and one from Steve Mancuso.  My later post that called for a discussion of evidence for the assumption that topics needed to be written with absolute certainly as opposed to history's decision to write most topics with reasonable predictable ground.  Steve is being bashed on both sides.  With ADA representatives calling for a tightening of the topics and Joe saying that we don't have a list versus areas, but rather areas versus areas, the argument is being advanced that the topics are too broad, allowing for affirmative flexibility, while on the other side,  Jackie argues that Steve's lack of respect for areas created topics without sufficient affirmative flexibility.  I'm unclear how both can really be true.What I see is a compromise position taken by the committee, in particular Steve, to create a list of cases that allowed for several areas to be discussed.  Ideal to either side:  obviously not.  Is it historical in it's effort to bring together a variety of different areas of social importance under a common mechanism?  It set a precedent in my book:  the decision to discuss VAWA and race in common topics was important and relatively unique (Title VII being the lone exception).  Whether the single area topics selected narrowed the content to race, education, plenary power, executive authority, and/or first amendment, they all suffer from the same problem:  the coalition created by the lists would be smaller in terms of content.  My recurring problem with the way topics have been constructed is they reduce the content area so much that the "heart" of the important controversies that prompted people to vote for the topic, usually as expressed in the topic paper, are lost.  This topic committee stayed truer to the topic paper, in terms of producing a slate of topics (first amendment aside) that stayed close to what the paper argued for, and most of the submitted research called for, from the overrule discussion to the areas chosen on the different lists.  No one can argue that the lists don't stay true to the breadth discussed in the topic paper, and that is responsible leadership.I think both Jackie and Steve made the same mistake.  Steve and his directed research of the committee, and I'll defend that he comes to the meeting as prepared as anyone, came to the meeting with an idea of what it said and consequently what he wanted it to produce.  The only suggested I made to him was that he discuss his views of his role and that of the topic committee publicly, which he chose not to.  Jackie, who I don't doubt did his research as well,  came to the meeting with an idea of what topic areas he wanted to write.  The difference, Steve as Chair, had the legitimate authority to implement his agenda.  I thought Steve would have been well-served to publicly, or at least discuss privately with the committee, his agenda and what he wanted the ballot to look like on the front end.  And the committee should have voted on that agenda prior to doing his business.  In Jackie's case, I'm not sure what rights he he has not being a committee member and why the Chair has a responsibility to listen.  In fact, the appropriate move for an outsider would seem to be, get a member of the committee on board and willing to fight for his issues, and they do the fighting, which again should have occurred prior to the work on any topics.  Anyone on the committee could have said:  "Before we begin, I want to discuss what our product is going to be?"  If there was disagreement, a vote could have been taken on the front end.  The bad topic process has nothing to do with merger.  I was banging heads with Chairs of the topic committee when my close friends Whalen and Achten were running it:  they were both CEDA blood through and through.  This is about process.  The charge of the committee is too big with not enough time to do what it does.  Frankly, in 2 ? days, you can't and shouldn't write any new topics.  Our community should vote for an area, then have interested parties submit topic wording papers, followed by another vote by the community on those papers.  The last move should be the 2 ? days by the committee to only refine and clean up those wordings which then should appear on the ballot for a final vote for the topic.  That makes the charge of the committee substantially more reasonable, and stops the tendency to try and research new ideas, and new wordings on the fly...That 2 ? days is really at most 20 hours of work, and with a lot of discretion, it becomes easy to not get the slate done in that time period.  That would also reduce the need for political strategies to affect the outcome.As someone who came from NDT, but identifies with the CEDA Mission statement more than most, I'll say this:  the problem is apathy in the CEDA organizational politics, not a NDT takeover.  To their credit, the NDT folks get involved in issues they have self-interest in, use their votes wisely and participate.  To my detriment, I ran, won an office, and quit.  The criticism made against me was:  quitting will never create change- something I've said to many disgruntled high school debate coaches, college coaches, and debaters.  But I didn't heed the meaning of that warning for myself.  I wish that I was still in the organization and I wish that I had been a vote at that committee meeting.  I could have affected change more as a member of the committee, than as an outsider.  Jackie in his posts acknowledges that he hasn't served in any official capacity.  And maybe he can't win office, who am I to judge?  But I'll say this:  no matter where you are on the political spectrum, any of us can more effectively use the process to get the things we want.  Steve Mancuso gave me an institute job at a major Nationally competitive high school camp, when NO ONE would hire me but Bill and Melissa :-)   He made race and diversity issues central issues in his institute before it was cool.  And while we certainly haven't always agreed on method, I know his heart and trust that he makes more than a sincere effort to incorporate his beliefs in his day to day actions.
 
Jackie, I love who you fight for and how you fight, but in this case the elephant isn't a conspiracy, but rather, a bad process that allows and in fact, demands a lot of latitude and discretion to get the job accomplished.  That doesn't mean I agree with everything Steve does, but by now, everyone in this community should know that I rarely agree with everything anyone says...that's not my style or how debate has trained me to live.
 
Finally, if I had to choose CEDA or the NDT, I'll say this:  I've fought harshly and vigorously with the intercollegiate debate community in it's entirety, but I fight for a purpose.  I've thought about leaving many times and wouldn't tell anyone else they shouldn't leave.  But there must be a reason for me to stay.  Having my students compete and engage the NDT schools and traditionally CEDA schools offer important educational experiences, and while sometimes similar, the pedagogical value is in the difference and often in the struggle.  I hate this activity and I love it.  DuBois called this double consciousness.  I have it.  Sometimes it makes it difficult to stay and other times just as difficult to leave.  I too, Jackie have wondered why people blindly follow national level competition to their personal detriment.  I've often never understood the collective choices made by the community.  Simultaneously, the value of having my students engage and compete against the best of the best from Emory, Dartmouth, Michigan State (traditionally CEDA? now), Harvard, and Northwestern are important in challenging stereotypes.  Educationally, I wouldn't give anything for the debates we've had against Oklahoma, Chico State, Ft. Hays (traditionally NDT? now), and Vanderbilt.  So it is my preference that we fight it out as best we can and try to organizationally stick together.  Does that mean I won't feel like leaving tomorrow?  Of course, it doesn't.  

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