[eDebate] Accusations of Illegal Debating

Joe Keeton dissonince10
Fri Nov 2 10:44:07 CDT 2007

I disclose now.  I have neither seen nor attended a tournament this year with SFSU, and I agree with others that it is hard to know whether our arguments are valid because the facts of the situation are vague.  
Since we are talking about legal issues and the facts of a situation are supposed to be neutral, there should be no harm in sharing.  In other words provide us the structure of the negative argument run against it.
I believe (hope) we as the debate community have progressed to the point that an argument can be presented and evaluated without passing value judgment (unless the impact to the argument was more toward the value side but I don't know because you won't tell me).  
That said I will rebut specific statements from your original email as I have construed them.
you write: 
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. 
This is how I construe the situation based on the information provided.  Your team runs a hetro normativity/queer theory argument that involves an acted out scene involving both partners that has simulated sex scenes/graphic content.
I assume the construction of the negative argument to be: your performance violates sex harassment law and thus should be rejected.  
If I more or less summed up the gist of the arg then I strongly disagree with your assertion that we as a debate community are not qualified to evaluate that argument.
1.  I would hope that the negative team would provide a framework with which to evaluate the round.  They could find court decisions about public performances in the legal world to cite as precedent, or do something else.  The point is that if negative provides a framework to prove their claim that your performance violates the law then why am I not qualified to vote on such an arg?  Or a better question why do you feel that you should be allowed to shut down an entire line of argumentation simply because you refuse to defend yourself in the legal framework.  It can easily be done and the fact that Matt Stanard mentioned in another post that he doesn't believe your team crosses the line only proves that the line is arbitrary and can (and should) be debated out.  You can claim you are reasonable, that your free speech rights outweigh, or provide any other counter framework that you see fit.  
2.  The debate above sure sounds more interesting to me then T-USFG, and I don't see why the claim that you violate the law should be excluded as a possible negative strategy on a tournament level because you don't like it, and are more or less saying we are collectively too stupid to judge it.  This implicates more broadly into in that you are trying to create a community wide norm of exclusion of certain arguments because you don't think the community can judge it.  Can't wait to see how this one grows if allowed to stand.
You write
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. 
1.  Only if you believe in the law.  Allow me to offer a bit of strategy here, if the argument run against your hetronormative/queer theory aff is that it is against the law and by implication we should privilege the law over individual claims from the hetronormative community, then am I the only one jumping at my keyboard at the thought of some of the cards you could read back?  I can think of more then one person who talks about the laws biopolitical impact on the particular community you identify with and why that's bad.  Being able to claim those cards in a debate might favor your teams.
2.  This implicates in the broader point that instead of crying about the argument that your team?s performance violates the law and should be rejected to the point that you want the community to collective ban the arg; your team should go put together a frontline and rebut the arg head on.  We've already flushed some out in the post.  
But if you?d like a recap you could
1.  Your wrong forum arg where it should be (as just one of many on the flow as opposed to some quasi-community norm). 
2. We don't violate the law/are reasonable (I'm pretty sure Stannard will vote here).  
3.  Our free speech/academic rights outweigh the law assuming we do violate California's statue on the law (and if the tournament took place outside of CA then you have some jurisdictional defenses you can make too).  
4.  Impact turn, privileging the law over individuals is bad (y'all can take it from there as you see fit).  
Do the above and the negative team may not go for the arg in the debate and you have some offense depending on how you expand point 4.  You do this and negative teams will evolve or stop running the arg.  In other words instead of trying to get us to collectively shun args you don't like, go out and cut a frontline and let the game police itself.  I'm more then happy to defend this route as opposed to establishing this norm of exclusion that you promote.
You write
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. 
1. See here is where some context would really help.  Are you saying that your team felt so strongly about some procedural that you went to your university legal administrators?  I've got to be honest without knowing the articulated impact in the round your response seems like an overreaction.  I really doubt that some team was going to report on you (assuming there is a theory under which you violate sexual harassment law) and even if they do that is far short of the legal burden of proof to mean much of anything and I really doubt some school is going to devote a portion of their budget to pay a lawyer to push the matter.  
2.  I'm also interested in what your university administrators said about the legal issues.  Did you talk about case law in the event you have to make a defense?  Did they reassure you that there is no merit to the claim?  I think if you really want to have a discussion of these issues, and you believe that we as a community aren't informed enough currently to evaluate them, then it would seem reasonable to get some info.
You write
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.
1.      Great.  If you are saying that unless barred by court order San Francisco State will continue to travel and make the args they see fit then I couldn't be happier.  
2.      If someone is trying to legally bar your team from attending a tournament, that needs to be identified and fought right now.
You write
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. 
1.  I hope that I have provided a counter to "how these types of conflicts (the claim that your 1ac violates the law) might be managed".  You say we should we are too stupid to apply the law correctly and so we should just ban the arg at the community level.  
I deny that we as a community are too stupid to apply the law and believe that your arg is nothing more then the wrong forum claim which should not become anything more then #1 on the flow in the 2AC.  Add some more args discussed above and your team could respond with a multipoint block that contains easily extendable offense.  You do that and negatives will stop making the arg in other words come correct and the game will police itself, we have no need for new norms.
Thanks for reading,
Joe Keeton
NY Coalition
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