[eDebate] Accusations of Illegal Debating

NEIL BERCH berchnorto
Thu Nov 1 21:09:56 CDT 2007


Hi, Shawn!  In order for that open discussion to take place (and you've now initiated it in multiple wide-ranging forums), it might be useful if those of us on these lists who haven't seen your teams this year could know what you're talking about.
--Neil Berch
West Virginia University
  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Shawn T Whalen<mailto:swhalen at sfsu.edu> 
  To: ncfa at lists.uop.edu<mailto:ncfa at lists.uop.edu> ; eDebate at ndtceda.com<mailto:eDebate at ndtceda.com> ; ceda-l at ndtceda.com<mailto:ceda-l at ndtceda.com> 
  Sent: Thursday, November 01, 2007 9:46 PM
  Subject: [eDebate] Accusations of Illegal Debating


  Dear Colleagues, 

  Last weekend, San Francisco State University debaters were accused of behaving illegally.   It is the first time in my 31 years of experience in scholastic debate, that such an accusation has been levied based entirely on the content and performance of an argument made during a debate. 

  Our students have employed the same basic argument since the start of the year, and I think it is unfortunate that none of my colleagues sought to raise concerns that they might have had about our arguments with me.   I have been centrally involved in my students' argument and performative choices this season and I invite those of you with concerns about them to discuss those concerns with me directly.   

  While I completely respect and promote the rights of each individual to assert and defend all of their rights under the law, I want to suggest that debate rounds might not be the most appropriate place to make those assertions.   Debate judges and debate tournament officials are rarely qualified to adjudicate these claims and debaters themselves are rarely qualified to address the full complexity of legal accusations.   These types of accusations put judges and tournament officials in a very awkward position and potentially connect them to the legal claims being made in compromising ways. 

  Our students encourage and invite a discussion of style, taste, and aesthetics but ethical and legal accusations are designed to enjoin us from inviting that discussion.   By their very nature they chill that discussion immediately given the contemporary protocols for managing these accusations in the debate community.   Legal accusations, in particular, go much further in their potential to chill these discussions. These accusations have forced us to seek the support of university administrators who do not fully appreciate the debate tournament context and who could act as censors.   We are gratified that our administrators have chosen to support our academic work, but we recognize that not every administrator would see the risk/reward calculus in the same way. 

  My students and I feel strongly that these accusations are a grave threat to our academic freedom and unless and until we are legally enjoined from doing so we will proceed making our arguments as we see fit.   I remain distressed and saddened by the lack of support that seemed to exist among my colleagues last weekend for my students' rights to free speech and academic freedom.   I hope that as educators and colleagues we can make time for a discussion about how these types of conflicts might be better managed. 

  Sincerely, 


  Shawn Whalen
  Director of Forensics
  San Francisco State University

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