[eDebate] Accusations of Illegal Debating

Ede Warner ewarner
Fri Nov 2 16:05:18 CDT 2007

Hello my dear friend,
I'm not sure that most of the discussion has addressed the fundamental
question, but let me try.  There are three distinct categories at work
here:  crimes, acts of harassment, and offensive speech.  Understanding
the distinctions seems important before any policy course is selected.
Crime- Other than the "threat of sexual assault" (I'm pretty sure this
isn't a crime in and of itself) nothing that approaches a crime has been
mention.  I'm not sure that a threat of sexual assault is sufficient
evidence to be charged or convicted of sexual assault either.  Frankly I
don't know, but I strongly suspect that it's not enough.  Threats and
attempts may or may not be the same thing.  Given the context of a
debate round, I suspect that no prosecutor would see that as sufficient
evidence alone.  There have been crimes at debate tournaments, although
I suspect most of them have occurred outside of the competition round
proper.  Perhaps your students engaged in indecent exposure although
that hasn't been discussed outside of Neil's example.  But generally, I
don't think anything illegal took place.
Harassment- While I can't speak to CEDA's policy nearly as eloquently
as Jan did, I can say that my time helping to develop a racial
harassment policy at Louisville, similar to the existing sexual
harassment policy, makes it difficult to do inside of a single speech. 
Most of these charges require a process to occur first.  Whether it's
offensive comments by someone, followed by an acknowledgment of the
nature of the offensive, followed by the comment or action to be done
repeatedly thereafter.  Parts of these procedures usually include things
like informal mediation or informal of certain procedures prior to a
formal charge.  This seems consistent with what Jan's post said about
CEDA's policy.
Offensive speech- The culture of NDT/CEDA debate is built on offensive
speech, both inside the competition round and outside.  As just one
example, Elliott's speech is protected all the time through silence by
others in this community.  But there are many, many others.  I have
certainly been guilty of purposefully trying to offend most in the
community from time to time.  The only question is who is being
offended?  Sometimes it's judges being offended by losing teams after
debates, sometimes teams offend each other, and sometimes coaches offend
their own students and vice versa.  Currently, the regulation of
offensive speech is defend yourself or perish:  judges can choose to
intervene, debaters can choose to challenge issues they find offensive,
and coaches can make regulate students and be regulated by their higher
level administrators.  Now as to whether that should be the cause, and
whether or not the community should find new and different ways to
regulate offensive speech, I don't know:  depends on what the purpose
and goals of the activity are.  
But to confuse a crime or even the allegation of a crime with offensive
speech does in fact run contrary to everything this community has
generally theoretically defended over my 25 years in it.  But when
application of said theories begin, it does seem more and more, that
selective choices are being made to censor speech when folks disagree,
contrary to those theories.  What I do know is that if this community
doesn't make some effort to formally gather a stronger hold on a set of
formal priorities beyond what appears to be mostly competition, these
selective forays into make believe: like making believe something is a
crime and then using that as a threat to walk out of a debate contest,
will create a problem for the activity.  The community lacks any common
goal or objective outside of competition and that is a long term problem
for any group or organization.  In the end, this group will come
together to end the hypocrisy by itself or external pressure will likely
create that change.
Ede Warner, Jr.
Director of Debate Society/Associate Profes
sor of Communication
University of Louisville
308E Strickler Hall
e0warn01 at gwise.louisville.edu 


From: Shawn T Whalen <swhalen at sfsu.edu>
To:<ncfa at lists.uop.edu>, <eDebate at ndtceda.com>, <ceda-l at ndtceda.com>
Date: 11/1/2007 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
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. 

Shawn Whalen
Director of Forensics
San Francisco State University
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