[eDebate] defending debate

Steinberg, David L dave
Thu Aug 14 09:48:02 CDT 2008

Some humble ramblings (and I will get to updating the calendar later today....)

I believe that Paul's observations are on point and well stated.

It seems to me that the responsibility for us to present ourselves and our programs in professional and positive ways consistent with the mission of our institutions is not new.  Thankfully, because we do not seek or receive much attention, we usually remain far enough below the radar for the abuses Malcolm mentioned (cursing, drinking, driving while exhausted) and for the peculiar nature of our debates (speed reading, sidestepping the topic, various performances) to go relatively unnoticed.

The "exceptional moment" may be to us one anomoly, but it may be all it takes to bring us into the attention of others important to our continued support.

We have received incrementally more attention lately.  I do not worry about rants on racist or ideologically based blogs being taken seriously by people important to me.  And for the most part, mainstream media attention has been relatively positive.  Thankfully, the AP report and news bit I saw about Bill was sketchy, and focused primarily on the mooning in something of a humorous way (though not complementary to Bill).  I don't think my Dean spends a lot of time on You Tube.....  But I do know that deans, department chairs, presidents and provosts do communicate with each other.  Years ago I first heard about the UCLA van crash from my Dean who had learned about it from his USC counterpart....   The point I am trying to make here is that we enjoy less anonymity and are not as far below the radar now as we once were.

Without reference to the CEDA Nats incident, we as a community and culture have extablished some patterns which combined with increasing visibility and calls for acountability, may come back to threaten us (as outlined by Malcolm).  My thought is not so much that we defend, but rather that we preempt by positive promotion.

Yes, the activity will almost certainly survive.  But individual jobs and programs suffer each time an administrator, fellow faculty member, or alumni (whose support we need) lessens their respect for who we are and what we do.  And isn't part of our job to reach out to those people?  This can impact reappointments and considerations of travel budgets, promotions, and institutional status in concrete as well as subliminal ways.  My primary concern is for our jobs and our positions within our institutions.

Malcolm's comparison to athletic coaches is not well chosen. Because they are in the spotlight of public and institutional attention, they have to consider their behavior and public image all the time.  My friends who are athletic coaches sometimes avoid going to the supermarket, because they have a dress code when they do so, and they will be recognized by strangers as one of the coaches.  When the UM and FIU football teams fought at the Orange Bowl, jobs were on the line.  And coaches, faculty, and administrators all the way to the University President were called upon to defend Intercollegiate Football as consistent with the mission of the university.  The previous UM baseball coach was widely criticized for having a drink in an airport bar with a 22 year old team member who had already graduated.  The were on the way home from the College World Series; the player had been drafted.  The incident was used as one excuse by the University to fire the coach.  Every time a UM Football player gets a traffic ticket, the team is referred to as thugs, and critics call for the death penalty for the program.  Bobby Knight has survived despite significant criticism, but how many less outstanding coaches have not?  And whenever he throws a chair or grabs a student athelete, or some other high profile coach is found drinking with students or strippers, or even using racist or sexist language, yes, there are discussions about the nature of amateur athletics and whether they have a place in our institutions of higher learning.  Fortunately for them, along with the negative attention, they also generate positive attention, significant revenue, and even student applications for admissions, so their programs are rarely at risk.  There is a much stronger presumption in favor of athletic programs than debate.

Yes, I think we should be able to defend debate, but also take steps to ensure it is defensible.  What I mean by this is mostly individual.  If we personify professionalism as we know it as directors, educate our students, represent our institutions positively, and work to achieve the institutional mission of our employers, we should be able to do so.  Our professional association also has a role in this, as do our (individual) graduate programs.

And whenever possible, rather than DEFEND, we should PROMOTE debate.  When I began this journey, I never imagined how much of my job would be involved with educating others outstde debate about the value of debate, and promoting my program and the activity of competitive academic debate.  And it took me many years to understand the decision-making processes made within the institutions.  We should all be able to recite our college or university's mission statement, and explain in detail how we fit within the published strategic plans of our departments, colleges, and universities.  The benefits Paul listed are a good start, and the famous Parcher document is outstanding, but all of that needs to be tailored to the audience, which is not that hard when you apply it to mission statements and strategic plans.  Its like reading the judging philosophy before the round.  My guess is that Mike Hester has done a masterful job of this, as his titles attest to!  Mike, if you have documents like the Parcher one which you can share, I think many of us would benefit from that.

I also think that CEDA can provide more proactive leadership through development of a well thought out prescriptive code of conduct which we can promote, use as a teaching tool, and apply, not just burry somewhere as another document.  And Paul is absolutely correct that we will all benefit from more professional debate educators (usually PH.D.s), who have a stake in the academy.

And no, Malcolm, not kidding.

David L. Steinberg

Director of Debate, University of Miami

P.O. Box 248127

Coral Gables, Florida   33124

305-284-5553 (office)

305-284-5216 (fax)

305-926-8498 (cell)

dave at miami.edu<mailto:dave at miami.edu><mailto:dave at miami.edu>

Go Canes!

From: edebate-bounces at www.ndtceda.com [edebate-bounces at www.ndtceda.com] On Behalf Of Paul Johnson [paulj567 at yahoo.com]
Sent: Wednesday, August 13, 2008 4:50 PM
To: M G; edebate at ndtceda.com
Subject: Re: [eDebate] defending debate

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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