[eDebate] Finally some decent press

Richard A. Garner ragarner
Sat Aug 16 09:20:10 CDT 2008

digg it...

On Sat, Aug 16, 2008 at 8:41 AM, Joe Koehle <joe_koehle at yahoo.com> wrote:

> By Jamie Gumbrecht <jgumbrecht at ajc.com>
> The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
> Saturday, August 16, 2008
> A YouTube video of two college debate coaches in a screaming argument
> exploded in popularity this week, shoving aside outsiders' notions of
> civilized policy debate in a matter of eight minutes and 55 seconds.
> The fight was old news and hardly a big deal to the debate community, made
> up of top-notch students and dedicated coaches who spend months and years
> preparing lengthy arguments about Supreme Court rulings and foreign policy.
> In a competition of smart, passionate people, such an argument was unusual,
> but not unexpected.
> It was the outside world that was shocked by what the video showed: Fort
> Hays State University coach William Shanahan and University of Pittsburgh
> coach Shanara Reid-Brinkley screaming obscenities and pointing fingers.
> Shanahan drops his loose khaki shorts. A debater sobbing and others pushing
> the professors apart. Shanahan, in bare feet and a ponytail, railing:
> "Sometimes people care so much that it bubbles over. I'm not ashamed of my
> behavior."
> Michael Hester was at that March debate competition. In the video, he's the
> red-headed judge who laughs as the fight begins. He's the director of debate
> at University of West Georgia and judged the two-hour match that Shanahan's
> team lost to Towson University.
> Even among friendly teams, Hester says, the tension can lead to fights.
> There are fewer than when he started debating in 1989, and they're usually
> less dramatic than Shanahan and Reid-Brinkley's, but he wasn't surprised.
> And since the argument was personal, not directed at students, judges or
> other spectators, he wasn't worried. People who tried to break up the fight
> didn't know the "hotheads" well enough to see that they were venting, Hester
> says.
> "It's like if there was a conflict at the family reunion, Aunt Jane would
> say, 'Y'all stop, we're supposed to love each other,' and others would say,
> 'It's because we're family, we can fight,' " Hester says.
> But by Friday afternoon, the video had more than 160,000 views and a
> YouTube rating of four-and-a-half stars out of five. It spawned hundreds of
> bitter, divisive online comments, spread misinformation and details without
> context and spurred reaction far outside the debate community.
> Intensely competitive
> The incident is under investigation by universities. Shanahan and
> Reid-Brinkely did not return calls or e-mails to their offices, but other
> debaters and coaches defended them and debate competition: Tension can lead
> to outbursts, but it doesn't usually look like the professors' ballroom
> scrap.
> Consider the activity: It's intensely competitive, more sport than
> extracurricular, and it's based on arguing.
> During the eight-month competition season, debaters travel almost every
> weekend. About 200 colleges and universities have competitive teams that
> spend an entire year researching millions of pages on the same topic. In
> competition, they speak fast, sometimes 300 words a minute, to form the most
> thorough, persuasive argument, or to tear down the evidence of another team,
> often made of longtime friends from another school. A debate takes about two
> hours, and judging can take one hour; all the time, anticipation builds, and
> sometimes it's not pretty.
> "It's just a game," says Aimi Hamraie, who won the National Debate
> Tournament while at Emory in 2007. "Most of the things we debate about are
> not things we've really made up our minds about. Most people don't make it
> very personal."
> 'People love to overreact'
> The infamous YouTube video is like a fan fight at a baseball game, debaters
> say; it's an occasional row that gets a lot of attention, but doesn't
> represent the entire sport. It's also proof that even hyper-educated, savvy
> people with a talent for debate can get caught up in emotion.
> "The best arguments they could make were one person using an expletive, the
> other showing their butt," Hester says. "This was an argument in the
> schoolyard sense."
> The public reaction unsettles the relatively small community of debate
> competitors and alumni; they know each other, and call the feuding
> professors by their first names, Bill and Shanara. Within the community, the
> behavior seems juvenile, but there's no talk of forcing the professors out
> of their jobs.
> "It says something unfortunate about our culture. People love to overreact,
> and then it's 10 minutes later," says Kevin Rabinowitz, a former University
> of Georgia debater and a 2006-07 winner of one of its highest honors, the
> Copeland Award. "People get their kicks, then it's on to the next story."
> Melissa Wade, the director of forensics at Emory, says the video and the
> reaction to it offer a chance for self-reflection.
> "You watch them grow and make mistakes and be overly invested in an
> argument and realize it's short-sighted," she said. "It's more than
> competition. There is a passion there that is profound."
> Passion that sometimes bubbles over.
> Among about 200 competitive collegiate debate programs, some of the
> strongest come from Emory, Georgia, West Georgia and Georgia State
> universities, says Melissa Wade, Emory's director of forensics and a
> director of the National Debate Project.
> After months of research on a single topic (this year's involves
> agricultural policy), the teams travel to tournaments where they can be
> asked to argue for or against an issue.
> The research is exhaustive. Undergraduates must often cite eight to 10
> sources for a paper. A debate team just starting its research will have
> 3,000 to 5,000 sources. ("Professors really enjoy debaters," Wade says.)
> Using research, delivery and the rules of the game, they try to persuade a
> panel of judges to agree with their arguments.
> It's nothing like the uptight debate of history classes, or even the
> presidential debates, says Aimi Hamraie, who had a full debate scholarship
> at Emory and won the National Debate Tournament with her partner in 2007.
> Upcoming presidential debates will likely see each side build itself up,
> then tear the other down by appealing to emotion and ideology. "Pretty
> funny," Hamraie calls them.
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