[eDebate] eDebate Digest, Vol 27, Issue 16

Art Kyriazis akbiotech
Tue Dec 18 15:31:37 CST 2007

To Mr. O'Donnell and Mr. Kittredge of NAUDL:

I am very happy, delighted indeed, that Oprah Winfrey, a former debater 
herself, has bankrolled and produced a film about the Wiley College 
Debate Team national championship of the 1930s.

However, the factual record is that Wiley College defeated the 
University of Southern California for the championship, and not Harvard 
University.  The website of the film clearly states that the debate at 
Harvard and the championship round at Harvard is entirely fictional and 
a figment of the collective imaginations of the writers of the film and 
possibly Ms. Winfrey herself (beating USC wasn't good enough?  Wiley had 
to beat Harvard?).

As a Harvard Debate Alumnus, I am somewhat disturbed that the film 
fictionalizes in this manner.  While I am certain that James Farmer Jr. 
et al. the Wiley debaters were outstanding, the notion that the Harvard 
Debate Team in 1935 or any other year would have been weaker than USC or 
Wiley is ridiculous.  Harvard, along with Northwestern and Dartmouth, 
has won numerous NDT championships, and when they have lost, it has 
usually been on 3-2 panel decisions that were close or hard-fought.

More pertinently, the NAUDL website states flat out that Wiley College 
defeated Harvard for the debate championship in the 1930s.  It actually 
simply repeats the fictive movie version of history as if it were truth, 
instead of carefully distinguishing that the actual winning round was 
Wiley v. USC, and that the movie version is fiction.  For a trained 
group of debaters, this is an unforgivable error.  NAUDL should be 
cautioned from making such a horrible error and then passing it on to 
their readership in such an awful fashion.  This is the kind of sloppy 
thinking that debate, logic and philosophy are designed to prevent, not 
encourage.  Perhaps the film version of the Great Debaters does not have 
a sufficiently large disclaimers on it as to the fictive nature of its 

In any case, because Will Smith is not in it, it probably won't be seen 
by that many people...

More generally, of all the universities in the nation, Harvard 
University was probably the one place in 1935 that was most actively 
working on civil rights.  It was the alumni university of President 
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the source of 90% of the cabinet members 
who served with FDR on the New Deal, and more importantly, the election 
of 1932 and the New Deal marked the demographic shift of african 
american voters away from the Republican party, to whom they had been 
loyal since the Civil War, to the Democratic Party, whom they now voted 
for due to economic and social reasons, and because FDR spoke to them 
and adopted policies which were pro-civil rights.  The New Deal cabinet, 
influenced profoundly by Harvard ideas and Harvard theories, did more to 
advance African-Americans than any presidency before it in the past 75 
years; and Harry Truman, FDR's successor, finally did enact substantial 
Civil Rights reform as well as integrate the army, etc.  Again, these 
were all ideas pressed from Harvard academics serving in the FDR cabinet.

Consequently, the enemy in 1935 wasn't Harvard.  It was the rest of the 
country, particularly the south and west. 

Were I filming this piece, I would have fictionalized it as follows;  
Ronald Reagan leads Eureka College into the quarters, Richard Nixon 
leads Whittier College into the semifinal round, and Wiley College 
defeats Reagan in the quarters, Nixon in the semis, and George Bush 
Senior of skull and bones and Yale University in the finals on their way 
to the national championshionship. 

See how much better this version of the film would have been?   Wiley 
and James Farmer Jr. and Tollson defeat three archenemies of civil 
rights.  We could even have altered the facts a little and make William 
Rehnquist Nixon's debate partner at Whitter.  That would have really 
been good fictional debate.  They're dead.  You can defame them.

Dr. Arthur Kyriazis
molecular biologist and sometime debate coach

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> Today's Topics:
>    1. 4 rounds available at TX swing (Ruth Zisman)
>    2. The Great Debaters & Community Building -	See:
>       http://www.thegreatdebaters.org/ (Timothy O'Donnell)
>    3. USC 'Alan Nichols' Tournament updates (Gordon Stables)
>    4. Rounds for sale Cali Swing (Martin Harris)
>    5. ndt rankings update--SAT 8PM DEADLINE (Jim Hanson)
>    6. Changes to Fullerton invitation (Bruschke, Jon)
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
> Message: 1
> Date: Fri, 14 Dec 2007 14:27:08 -0500
> From: "Ruth Zisman" <ruth.zisman at gmail.com>
> Subject: [eDebate] 4 rounds available at TX swing
> To: edebate at ndtceda.com
> Message-ID:
> 	<cb273e0712141127w318395c7v624dad6b6e3798b6 at mail.gmail.com>
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> sherin varghese from bard college has 4 rounds at UNT and UTD to sell. email
> me at zisman at bard.edu if you need judging.
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