[eDebate] AFA and CEDA Professionalism Standards

Jim Hanson hansonjb
Fri Nov 14 13:16:14 CST 2008

I initially read through the afa professional conduct policy to defend it with some alterations. I still come at this issue from that perspective--that we should have expectations against abusive behavior.

but having read through the policy, I am stunned at how outdated the entire policy is. there are multiple expectations in the document that are not followed in our community on a routine basis (e.g. coaches may not research evidence for teams except for "show how to do it" purposes--that's something most of us know BUT DID YOU KNOW THAT judges who do not write written ballots shall be censured, and that 5/7 (odd numbered) round tournaments are against the rules).

and specific to this issue, this newly suggested policy needs major revision if the afa really cares about the first amendment and about its role in our professional lives and programs.

jason and others have raised a number of very legitimate concerns. I'm going to state two more that I have:

1. the afa becomes a police force for individual school policies. I have major concerns with this both in the sense that it subjects all of us to differing standards (which of course is expected) but now the afa interprets these school policies; I can't imagine the afa being in a good place to enforce a policy from my school or any school as they don't know the full meaning of the school's policies nor the way such policies are utilized at the school. not to mention, now the afa will censure someone for a violation--but not another person--because of differing school policies.

but worst of all, what if the school's policy is one that we as a community don't support. say a school has a policy against displays of gay/lesbian love. as I understand subsection 5 (the last sentence is missing "shall be deemed unprofessional conduct"), the afa would be required to enforce that school's rule. that is not what the afa should be doing. it should NOT be involved in enforcing school policies. schools should enforce their own policies. 

5.     Forensics educators shall act in accordance with their own institutional obligations. Failure to adhere to employer's policies (e.g., a person suspended or terminated for violations of university sexual harassment policy, substance abuse policy, fiduciary policy or academic responsibility policy may be subject to sanctions by the AFA).

2. the document provides no definition of what shall be deemed unprofessional conduct. jason made this point but I want to make it really clear because the document appears to say what unprofessional conduct is but it doesn't. the document says: "behaviors . . . that violate the community standard of a healthy educational environment shall be deemed "unprofessional conduct." that is it. no guidance, nothing.

in 3, the document appears to say that "behaviors which belittle, degrade, demean, or otherwise dehumanize others" "violate the community standard of a healthy educational environment" but the wording does NOT say that. the two are not explicitly connected. this is a serious shortcoming. (and jason and rae lynn and others are right that the wording itself is too vague although I think it is close to being okay)

further, as I said, having read through the afa document and with all due respect to the committee members--a number of whom I know, I am _seriously_ concerned about a lack of organizational understanding about how our community operates. when the afa is using this new policy to punish someone for inappropriate behaviors, with a document that says judges should be censured for not writing out a ballot, I think the entire enterprise is called into question.


3.      The AFA acknowledges the district and national tournaments sponsored by the association are designed to promote responsible and effective discourse. The AFA recognizes that behaviors which belittle, degrade, demean, or otherwise dehumanize others are not in the best interest of the activities sponsored by the AFA. Such behaviors interfere with the goals of forensic education.

 4. All participants in an AFA sponsored event shall recognize the rights of others and communicate with respect for opponents, colleagues, critics, tournament hosts and audience members. Behaviors by any tournament participants occurring at an AFA sponsored event that violate the community standard of a healthy educational environment shall be deemed "Unprofessional Conduct." Unprofessional conduct is subject to sanction(s) by the AFA.

3. I think the afa should do two things to rescue this effort:

a) examine the fighting words doctrine (and not just its immediate wording of inciting violence, lawlessness or inflicting injury--but the full context of it--for example, that the behaviors must be directed at specific individuals). hostile work/educational environment would also be good--and all of this considered in the context of debate--the exchange of ideas which happens in and out of the debate itself.

b) meet/work with the policy debate community to remove a number of sections of this document so that it actually matches what we do so that we can have some confidence that this document reflects the ACTUAL community practices and beliefs we have.

while I still support a policy, I urge the committee to make _major_ revisions to what they are doing, and seek our input in this process through another set of revisions--rather than just having a vote to do something.

jim :)
hansonjb at whitman.edu

From: Jason Russell 
Sent: Thursday, November 13, 2008 8:11 PM
To: edebate at ndtceda.com 
Subject: [eDebate] AFA and CEDA Professionalism Standards

After extensive conversations with individuals on the inside of this process, I'd like to provide the general membership of the list with some things to think about.  

The urge to act is strong. Many feel like the organizations' inaction in the face of the incident involving Bill at CEDA nationals must be remedied by new standards for conduct. In the absence of a strong case against any action, these deeply flawed rules will likely be enacted or at least proposed to us, warts and all. Some members of the organization are hungry for alternative solutions. I have proposed several to those I've spoken to, such as better PR (perhaps a full-time professional) rather than new standards, guidelines for professionalism rather than standards, non-punitive standards rather than punitive standards, etc. I'm frankly not sure that we do need to "do something". 80 years of competitive debate and one mooning is probably a pretty good track record. Maybe the exception disproves the need for the rule. I bet moonings are more prevalent in regular university environments than they are in debate (a PR person would find this info out for sure and publicize it). Regardless, the organization needs to hear both of these things -- why we shouldn't act and how else we could. Let them know. Otherwise, this is what we'll get. 

Some of the leadership is frustrated that some of us don't want them to act. I've been told that this is a head in the sand strategy, that change is coming, that money is drying up, etc. I haven't really seen any information directly tying programs other than Fort Hayes to professionalism, but I'm told it's there. I know that the Fort Hayes president is making waves with debatable degrees of success in his area. Will rules help? I don't know. I doubt it. I know the Fort dude wanted us to do something, but what? Do we have a rule that works here? Can we even make one that would deal with this situation? Does the new rule deal with it? I think this is entirely speculative. Can't we make a rule that's more specific and less categorical, less subjective? Is the "community standard for educational health" -- the "i'll know it when I see it" porn standard -- the best we've got? We need to ask very specific questions about why we think these rules will fix problems. 

We don't have to believe that the status quo is perfect to believe that the disadvantages of a bad rule outweigh it's advantages. We're going to be pitched a "try or die" scenario -- I think we really need to resist this packaging of the issue. I've been told that debate is "out of control"; I dont see it. A debate coach made an admittedly regrettable decision in an emotional outburst. But debate, overall, is as civil as we'd be happy with it being, given its nature. We could make some suggestions for future hard cases, but should not rush to establish a broad new rule that has enormous consequences for peoples' futures. 



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