[eDebate] Professional Responsibility Amendment

scottelliott at grandecom.net scottelliott
Thu Nov 20 13:11:34 CST 2008


Dear Colleagues:


I support the Professional Responsibility amendment. I won?t be at NCA. However,
I would like to raise a few key issues that I believe may be overlooked in the
drive to protect academic freedom and free speech at all costs.

(1) Predators and miscreants. Some have argued in posts that the University
policies of employers are enough to check abuse. If the person in question has
behaved egregiously enough, they can be fired. That solves the problem. This is
incorrect for a few key reasons:

a. University employers often enter into settlement agreements with professors
that allow them to exit the university gracefully and with secrecy of past
indiscretions. The professor can then get hired on at another university and
can resume his or her activities. For example, and merely a hypothetical
(cough, cough) example, Professor X coerces his debaters to purchase drugs for
them, or a coercive sexual relationship ensues. Professor X is asked to quietly
leave his university. He then is hired to coach at another school. This person
would be on the circuit with other students and there is nothing that we as an
organization can do about it. As a community, we should be able to weed out the
bad apples. But, as it currently stands, there is nothing we can do.

b.  If someone does behave egregiously at a tournament sanctioned by CEDA, there
is currently no mechanism for the Association to take action against that person
unless it is sexual harassment. Even the sexual harassment clause is so weak
that it is ineffective. So, person Y shows up to a round strung out on heroin,
or any other bad thing like literally showing your ass
there is nothing in the
CEDA Constitution that allows the community to enforce any standards or to
notify that person?s home institution. CEDA should have a process by which,
after some element of due process, it can notify the bad actor?s employer so
more action can be taken.

c.	Sometimes Universities do not take action on issues that we may consider to
be unprofessional. For example, take fabrication of evidence. It may be a big
deal to those within the community, but I doubt it is an offense worthy of
firing someone. Other examples of inconsistent enforcement abound. We need only
look at the incident that sparked this discussion to see that there were
inconsistent outcomes for the parties at issue.

(2) 	The legal liability issue. I guess it?s the lawyer in me that keeps
worrying about this point. Free speech and academic freedom anarchists in the
community just don?t seem to get it. There are real world implications our
Association?s inaction on this issue. If we have a pattern of tolerating
everything and anything, then CEDA could be liable at some level for damages.
Extending on the predators example given above, if we just have a laizzie faire
attitude towards the professionals in this activity, and we have knowledge of
their past misdeeds, and something does happen, CEDA is possibly liable. Just
being named in a lawsuit is bad enough. Defending such a suit is expensive and
could bankrupt the organization. Worse, not having a Professional
Responsibility code would hurt the Association?s ability to defend itself.
Granted, we cannot stop bad things from happening just by enacting an
enforceable set of rules. But we can show a judge or a jury that we did
everything in our Association?s power to protect students.

(3) Pathological periods. Martin Reddish, a 1st Amendment scholar wrote an
article regarding ?pathological periods.? In a nutshell, he argued that core
1st Amendment rights were in danger of being rolled back because Free
Expression was being trivialized. During pathological periods such as a war or
national crisis, the trivialization would be used as an excuse to rollback 1st
Amendment rights and other rights, even to the detriment of core free speech
(political dissent). I personally think that policy debate is about to enter
into a pathological period. In fact, I think we have seen the first volley from
the administrations at Pitt and Fort Hays State University. We have seen the
second volley from some ass Parly coach at Yale who apparently thinks anyone
debating from a land grant institution should be shot on sight. In case you
have not heard about it, the country is in a major recession. This means that
your ivory towers are about to collide with the realities of the markets and
the taxpayers in your respective states. Even the Ivy league schools like
Harvard are beginning to do cut backs in programs because their stock
portfolios have been slashed by as much at 30%.

So what is the point? The point is that allowing total and absolute freedom
within this activity
with little to no real check
risks the enemies of the
activity using the excesses to crush it. Total freedom and an ?animal house?
attitude toward debate risks having competitors for ever dwindling resources
point to these excesses as an excuse to cut program budgets. If administrators
see debate as having little value, then it is easy to cut the program in a time
of fiscal trouble.

Mere public relations saying ?well, that only happens a few times,? will not be
enough. It really does take only one bad example to ruin the reputation of
CEDA. Nobody is going to report the final round in which the competitors ended
the debate with a hug. Nobody is going to report when one debater helps
another. What will always take center stage is the equivalent of a mid-air
collision. My fear is that our community?s tolerance will be used by our
enemies to undermine policy debate.

I too have concerns about some of the language. In fact, I originally preferred
a more detailed list of behaviors subject to sanction. Regardless, the proposed
amendment allows for multiple levels of due process, investigation and appeals.
As a contrarian on many of the issues within this community, and as someone who
has been known to cuss more than a few people out, I too fear a ?witchhunt?
mentality. However, I believe the due process sections and the appeals sections
provide enough protection for individuals accused of unprofessional conduct.

Scott M. Elliott, Ph.D., J.D.
Director of Debate U.L.-Lafayette







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