[eDebate] defending debate

Paul Johnson paulj567
Wed Aug 13 15:50:32 CDT 2008

debate, unlike academia, basketball, and football, does not already have prearranged social currency that guarantees it a place in society. as it is programs are being cut, participation is dropping, and people who witness our high speed throwdowns are simultaneously intrigued and put the off- the latter more than the former I am afraid.

and to some degree everyone of those activities does have to defend itself. football programs riven with violence have been shut down, college basketball programs that birthed point shaving schedules have been cut, and departments that can't put the kibosh on sexual harassment do find themselves on the wrong end of the dean (and also, academia is not exactly kicking ass and taking names these days, as it finds itself defending itself against outsiders who claim that its machinations are nothing more that a form of pretentious voodoo-- an argument, I should note, that debate is vulnerable to as well)

we have to be able to "defend debate". debate teams have reasons for being, and directors and faculty liasons for teams should have thought through debate's relationship to students and its mission both within the university and without it as well. one thing the towsons and missouri states can probably agree on is that in some form, debate is worth saving and defending for the critical thinking and research skills that it teaches. like any other school expenditure, debate will struggle to survive if a coherent and cohesive case can not be made for the benefits it provides. 

Debate provides several material resources any administration would love to have:

Prestigious alumni- debaters go on to do amazing things as lawyers, judges, businesspeople, community organizers, campaign heads, congressional staffers, and on and on. Debate has Larry Tribe, football has Gerald Ford. Advantage: debate.

Prestigious Victories- it means something for a program to be able to compete against prominent institutions and defeat them in debate. Obviously this is more of a one way street for non-Ivy League schools, but a good one.

Pedagogical benefits- debaters are fundamentally more well rounded critical thinkers with research skills. They are not necessarily smarter or better than others, but debate teaches two things that anyone needs to get by in nearly any job- a refusal to take for granted conventional wisdom that dominates, and an ability to figure out where conventional wisdom should lie.

Problems- our activity costs a ton of money and doesn't make much back. We have to convince administrators that the non-material benefits of debate are worth the investment. Thats hard. Sure, you get some wealthy alumni here or there but by and large, debate doesn't make departments money. Thats why having a coherent case for a debate team is an utter necessity.

Producing PhD.'s with an interest in directing a program and ensuring there are tenure track jobs tied to debate programs with manageable tenure requirements is imperative. The work of a head debate coach is as vital and useful as any academic production, but is not rewarded as such within the schema of the modern university. More people who love debate need to get higher terminal degrees so that institutional footholds for teams are tied to more than luck and competence. Having someone embedded within the institution with leverage and power cannot be underrated. Debates mission can not be winning alone, otherwise, we all lose.


--- On Wed, 8/13/08, M G <malgorthewarrior at hotmail.com> wrote:

> From: M G <malgorthewarrior at hotmail.com>
> Subject: [eDebate] defending debate
> To: edebate at ndtceda.com
> Date: Wednesday, August 13, 2008, 2:40 PM
> Are you kidding me? Get ready to defend yourself?  When a
> fight breaks out at a football game no one has to defend the
> sport.  When a ref gets caught cheating in basketball no one
> has to defend the sport.  When a professor gets caught
> sexually harassing a student no one has to defend academia. 
> What happened was the exception, not the norm.  I'm
> sure if you convey that to your administrator, she/he will
> probably understand that debate isn't a mooning contest.
>  There is no reason that 1 person doing something
> controversial is all the sudden a reflection on
> 'normal' debate.  
> If every activity had to justify its entire existence based
> on an exceptional moment, rather than its norms, there
> wouldn't be any activities left.  We've had debaters
> get completely naked, we curse like sailors, drinking is
> rampant at any given tournament, and a good chunk of
> directors drive a van full of debaters for 10 hours on 4
> hours of sleep.  These are all events that are just as
> "bad" that happen often, and they don't
> threaten the activity.
> I feel like we will survive a mooning.  If the worst
> example of bad behavior I ever saw in college was a
> dude's ass I might be in a better spot right now.  
> malgor
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