[eDebate] CONFERENCES

Jeffrey Jarman jeffrey.jarman
Fri Jul 11 15:04:24 CDT 2008


A few days of voting remain.  While the topic is a central concern, we have our second opportunity to radically alter the nature of CEDA:  the creation of self-selected conferences to replace the current regional structure.  The amendment narrowly failed last year, but I am hopeful that it will pass this time.

I am writing to ask you vote YES on the amendment.

I know that making this change will be difficult for many, but I am hopeful that the fear of the unknown will not cause too many people to vote against the proposal.  To me, there are three main reasons to support the proposal.  I want to mention those and answer a few potential objections.  I also am hopeful that this email will be followed by comments of others, both for and against.

FIRST:  moving to conferences is essential if new programs are going to be recruited in any significant number.  Yes, I know a few new programs will add each year, but we can increase the likelihood that programs will return to CEDA/NDT if we can offer a space for their team.  One of the easiest means to create a space is to encourage like-minded programs to band together in a conference.  The proposal will give them voice on the executive council, trophies for their success, and the ability to re-engage in our activity on their own terms.  Some schools may create closed conferences with conference member only tournaments.  This would ensure the debates mimic the style and substance of their choosing.  Some schools will create geographically narrow conferences to limit the need to travel a great distance for equitable competition.  Some schools may join for the prestige of aligning with similar institutions in an academic pursuit.  In all cases, the entire community benefits from the addition of new schools.  Many of these programs will inevitably enlarge their participation beyond the conference after a short period of time.

SECOND:  moving to conferences provides more equitable end-of-the-year evaluations.  One of CEDA?s largest expenses is the annual outlay for trophies.  We currently recognize the top three schools in each region that earn the most points (outside of the top 10).  Our present system measures the success of programs based solely on geographic considerations.  No other educational program at any university engages in such an antiquated system.  Universities create peer institutions based on size, mission, resources, goals, and a host of other factors.  Geography is the least relevant consideration when selecting peer institutions.  Yet, CEDA demands that it is the only consideration.  We should divide ourselves according to our own interests.  For some schools, they will self-select into conferences based on pedagogical interests.  Others will select based on size of university.  Still others based on competitive interests.  Some may base their decision on additional factors.  The point is clear:  we should distribute our annual sweepstakes awards based on criteria that best suits each individual program, not the universally-imposed criteria of geography that ignores the realities of the diversity of our programs.

FINALLY:  moving to conferences will improve the functioning of the executive council.  I am a strong believer that many (perhaps most) of our institutional members do not care about the governance of the organization.  They care strongly about the topic process, but not much else.  Some, however, care a great deal.  Our business meetings, though, require the active participation of all regions, even those that are populated by programs with very low interest.  Moving to conferences will enable schools to opt out of organizational governance:  conferences that routinely miss Executive Council meetings will lose their voting privileges.  Those conferences will retain all other benefits of membership (topic voting, awards, etc), but no longer will hold up meetings because of missed quorums due to their absence.

There are many reasons why some programs may opt to oppose the proposal.  Please, share your reasons.  We can only make the proposal stronger if we know the weaknesses.

One major objection involves the difficulty in switching.  Many schools may fear there is no place for them to go.  But, all schools will have an option:  the proposal creates a permanent ?Independent? conference for all schools.  Even if a small number of conferences were created initially, all schools would be in a conference.  It is impossible to be left out.

Deciding how to form a conference will be challenging.  Should you align with schools with similar competitive interests?  Similar educational goals?  Similar budget and resources?  Stay in your region?  Schools that are members of your university?s athletic conference?  To be clear, I?m not sure who we would align with if the proposal passes.  Yet, imagine the opportunity to really decide who you measure your team against.  CEDA already guarantees that some type of measuring will occur.  The only question is whether or not the current formula, based exclusively on geography, is the best measure of what each of our programs is attempting to do.

Of course, some people may want to go to a conference, but they may find they are not wanted.  Certainly, this could happen.  Yet, the exact opposite is happening today:  schools are trapped in a system that compares their success against other program based solely on geography, and they have no way out.  My feeling is that it is better to allow people to self-select their own conference (with the possibility of excluding some), than to force people into an arrangement that does not best suit their needs.

In conclusion, let me ask those who support regions a simple question:  what organizational and/or institutional values are provided by regions?  I'm hard pressed to think of any that would not also be provided by self-selected conferences.

Thank you for considering the proposal.  I look forward to reading your replies.

Jeff

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