[eDebate] huh?

V I Keenan vikeenan
Thu Jul 19 15:22:49 CDT 2007

Quick response to Stefan (and here, Neil, we'll stop at 112 in a row.
better?  hell materialist feminism is what got me involved in this crazy
activity, so why stop now . . .), maybe others by the time I type.

If changing the NDT rule has no popular support, then there is probably not
much of a chance of a non-policy resolution winning anyhow.

Ah, changing the NDT rules.  I think Stefan is just wrong about his
conclusions here based on the structure of such a vote (and I think we're
usually wrong about concluding what the populous thinks, but here I have a
rational).  First, the NDT Committee, who votes on changes to the standing
rules, is not the same as popular support.  The simple answer is that the
NDT doesn't take a popular vote the way we discuss with the CEDA membership
constitutional changes - the Committee reps vote (that's the 9 district reps
and the 4 regional(?) reps).  Now, this is not to say the Committee members
are undemocratic - I've personally witnessed many people in the position,
especially District Reps, take their "representative" responsibilities
seriously and try to gage the "popular" support of proposals before casting
their votes.  I've also heard about the times they didn't get responses
back, or people failed to attend local meetings in which issues were
discussed.  But the truth is that the NDT Committee vote cannot be seen as a
reflection of "popular support" either because the mechanism doesn't
necessarily require the search of "popularity" nor does it guarantee
participation of those represented.

Second, the very nature of Stefan's request to "attend" the NDT meetings
makes assumptions about the way programs work which seem at odds with the
likely "constituents" of the proposal that are being marshaled (outside of
the prominent directors already supporting the proposed topic coalition) .
If I want to "propose" to the NDT Committee, I have Option 1: have proposal
made by my District Rep.  Functional, but not the level of explanation that
Stefan is probably asking for and I would add probably the best way to
guarantee the vote is lost.  Or to make sure you're at the bottom of the
agenda so the proposal is delayed, happens later in the year, and therefore
needs a larger number of votes to be implemented in the same amount of time
(a standing rule can either be changed by receiving a simple majority in two
consecutive meetings or a 2/3 majority in one meeting - getting 7 twice is
just more probable than 9 at the first go round for something this bi).  Or,
Option 2: attend Committee meeting myself.  Except that these happen at Wake
or maybe NCA (the last 2 years the NCA meeting was "unofficial" or
preliminary, and assumes as a coach/director my full time job is in academia
and I can attend the conference), Northwestern, and the NDT only.  At Wake
and NW, the meeting is DURING rounds, so I better a) have the money to
travel like this, b) have the coaching to cover rounds like this so I can be
available, and c) not have a conflict like a regional tournament for my
novices that I should go to.  Or I'm a crazy person who pays to go to
tournaments I have no teams in for the sheer joy of the NDT experience (get
the joke, win a prize).  Basically, NDT Committee meetings by their timing
and structure are not conducive to widespread democratic feedback at the
time or participation by those on limited budgets nor the participation of
those outside the circle of individuals who are required to be there.  Not
that it can't be done, but it takes some planning, and such a request while
well meaning, indicates a lot about our assumptions about which tournaments
and how we should be participating in this activity.

Additionally, as has been pointed out, non-policy resolutions can still have
policy implications.  If the controversy area and the wording were
open/engaging enough, there may be debaters/squads that would in fact favor
debating that topic and could still eat the policy cake too - at which
point, I wonder why it couldn't be a policy res in some way (a la Korcok's
proposal) if teams chose to interpret it that way.  I guess I'm just
honestly curious what is the clear brightline that makes something so
obviously not a policy res that it would inspire the NDT population to
challenge it.  Is it not mandating USFG action; is it not mandating a
action (which means alt actor topics are okay and wouldn't be challenged)?
This is more my own lack of knowledge/experience - I'm a merger baby who
started on the Mexico topic - but it might be useful in determining how
"panicky" we have to be about this clause in the first place.

Just looking at Andy's latest question and Jarman's response - Andy's
question implies that maybe he sees a call to "affirm future and
governmental change" as having "non-policy" possibilities?  Jarman's
response seems to indicate that "governmental change" is the definition of
"policy" res.  If the res implies government change by the nature of the
topic - say because something like prisons are administered by the state and
so prison reform or abolishment would have to be enacted by the state - but
does not mention a state actor, could it be a "policy" res? (More particular
questions on this issue below if you care . . .)

I'm also wondering - how would the NDT go about invoking this rule about not
selecting the same topic?  Who would have to start the process?

As for the questions:
My suggestion is a discussion about what should be the organizational goals
of CEDA/NDT debate?

Are the goals of the two organizations different, and if so, are the goals
exclusive of one another? If there can be some consensus here, then actions
can move us toward becoming a community again. If not, we will continue to
splinter, and everyone loses.

I agree with Patrice's original observation that it's not necessarily a
CEDA/NDT divide, which is why I wonder above if we need to make one in this
quest for a new kind of topic.  If you haven't read it in a while (or ever),
Article I, Section B. of the NDT Charter says:
B. The purpose of the National Debate Tournament shall be to encourage the
growth of programs of excellence in forensics education in institutions of
higher education in the United States; to conduct a National Debate
Tournament which shall be equally committed to encouraging the opportunity
for quality debate for students of all institutions of higher education by
maximizing the number and geographic representation of participating schools,
encouraging the highest standards of debate excellence by maximizing the
competitive quality of participating schools, and encouraging the highest
standards of educational excellence by conducting a tournament consistent
with the educational objectives of intercollegiate forensics competition.I
underlined (if you can see it - damn archive format issues) a few things
that allow me to continue to believe in the possibility of the NDT and
working together with CEDA.  My fear has always been, as it was once stated
to me, that many things become "CEDA's Job" (recruitment of NEW programs was
the issue being discussed with a committee member for that quote) and that
when CEDA tries to act on these goals, it can be told "no" by the NDT.
Tradition can be good, but bullheaded obstinacy because you can't see other
possibilities is somewhat contrary to what we're trying to teach.  But it
seems to me, that there is nothing in the charter that prevents CEDA and the
NDT from exploring goals together and it is up to those who implement those
choices to decide if that's what they really want to do.

More often, we divide not because of CEDA/NDT, or even
policy/value(critical), or traditional/performative, or "this was the golden
age"/"that was the golden standard", or "I hate the conflation of
performance and critical in discussion"/"you people are ruining the
activity", but because sometimes we end up arguing "more debate" versus
"better debate" rather than seeking the perm of "more and better
argumentation". (See, debating counterplan theory can occasionally be good
if you look at it the right way - it's the only time we teach students
consensus of proposal rather than opposition.)  I am encouraged by the
coalition building not just because I am genetically programmed it seems to
like coalitions, or just because I believe in the aims of the group, or
because it's nice to see that something comes from all this "policy"
education so people learn how to be political, but because it means we
haven't gotten so far into  being argumentative that we sometimes can't
reach out to find the common ground.  I often feel our instincts, honed by
this activity and the forum in which we engage, lead us to always disagree,
rather than look for consensus where it does exist.  This discussion has
been a nice change.

okay, I meant to be quick, but wasn't.  Slow day in offices in Manhattan I
guess.  That's my two cents for "our" organizations.  If you have a moment
and are really passionate on the policy/non-policy topic question, I'd
appreciate your feedback (backchannel fine) on what's below, or the above
wording "brightline" question.


the sidenote:

Some of this is interest in the current conversations about the
topic/process/coalition building.  Some of this is "professional
development" on the cheap . . .

If you don't know, my day job is now running a scholarship competition at
NYU that is basically a giant debate tournament with a modified cross-ex
structure (same speech order, shorter times) judged by faculty (so,
non-debaters mostly) open to the whole undergraduate population (business
students, theater students, parli, policy, ie, Model UN, and novices
UNITE).  The first year our topic was "Resolved: The United States should a
adopt a policy of universal community service for all its citizens." (This
was BEFORE last year's hs topic - I'm just damned prescient). Some people
had specific implementation proposals, some had ethical contentions -
basically the rules are present arguments under the topic and refute.  I
hear there were even "t" debates in rounds - that's not community service,
that's not all citizens, aff burdens, etc.  Students familiar with "policy"
debate didn't feel the topic mandated plans or policies uniformly, many
actively avoided "plans", many wrote them to avoid potential "disadvantages"
from the neg.  Many people with no exposure to policy debate instantly
thought of the resolution in terms of policy action, many thought of it in
terms of competing values.  I guess my question based on this experience is
if norms have as much to do with how a "topic" is debated as the wording
itself?  In our first year, there were no "norms" to go by.

In our second year, I "trained" students to include more policy
considerations because of feedback, but even "Resolved: The United Nations
should be given the power to levy taxes to establish a meaningful standing
peace force of significant size" didn't automatically generate affirmatives
with specific tax plans (but when they did . .  damn the Tobin tax).  It DID
generate LOTS of counterplans (duh).

So my question related to our larger discussion - if I told debaters they
have to have a plan, and the plan includes government action, isn't it a
policy "debate"?  And wouldn't my neg preparation about the issue  be true
on any incarnation of the topic - including a non-governmental
implementation advocacy, as long as my only generic strategy weren't "state
bad"? I'm still evolving how much "direction" I give students in training
for the competition on their approach.  I also have to vet the wording of
the topic (I don't pick it, just amend if the research makes the "sides"
unbalanced), so I'm also playing with my feedback in that area.  Seemed a
good time to get some input.

Vik Keenan
Director - Baruch Debate, CUNY
Assoc. Director - New York Coalition of Colleges
212/992-9641 or 347/683-6894
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