Last Year, This Year

Research Bar
Research Bar (Photo credit: Rice-Aron Library)
Gearing up for a new semester here in frozen New York City. Just got back to town after an extended trip to Houston to hang out with my family and my new nephew. Don't worry, we haven't started working on prepping motions yet. That starts next year . . . 

Happy to report that I was published in the  Monash Debate Review's latest issue opposite Shengwu Li on the question of information slides. From what I can tell, the piece has generated some good discussion, although I am sure there's quite a bit more about the other excellent pieces on motion selection and fairness, as well as research obligations and privilege. 

Rereading our exchange, as well as digesting quite a bit of American football courtesy of my brother-in-law and his amazing sports knowledge (something I seriously lack) got me thinking about an addition to my piece I would make if we had the space. I would say that information slides are like NFL protective gear - helmets, pads, and other such gear was designed to solve a problem. The helmet was designed to prevent injuries to players, but its existence changed the way people play the game. This addition now causes even more dangerous results than it was meant to prevent. The information slide can be seen in a similar way - gear introduced to the game in order to prevent harm from occurring. However the presence of this gear means that players will - no, they must - incorporate the presence of that gear into their play style. This ends up creating situations where more harm happens. It is interesting to note the social pressures behind such harmful play styles - as we were having a conversation about NFL safety at a busy sports-bar restaurant, you could hear the crowd cheer and collectively "ooooh!" at really hard hits, then all attend to the screen for the obligatory 4 or 5 slow motion replays of the hit. Once the style is formed as a result of the introduction of the gear, it's hard to find the argument for its elimination to be very compelling. Well, so much for the infoslide debate - you should check out our pieces and see what you think about our arguments.

Overall, this is a fantastic issue, possibly the best one I've read, and I'm so pleased to be included among all this great work. It goes to show that debate, as we've known in the US for a while, is a great platform for the generation of excellent scholarship. Unfortunately, we've abandoned this idea in the US, relegating debate to the land of contract hires and adjuncts, as well as graduate TA work - almost to a nearly full-time status. 

I am in conversation with a couple of folks about this matter - for the need to defend the existence of a debating program is as high as it has ever been. Programs are eliminated without much of a thought or opportunity for defense. Think to that scene from the film Ghostbusters where the researchers return to campus to find their office being cleaned out and you get the picture of where we are headed as universities continue to feel the pinch of austerity, low enrollment, or both.

A solution I am working to instill is the idea that debate programs should be the "ad hoc" undergraduate research program of the university. This means that debate club serves the function of being a center for the development and mentoring of scholarly research for undergraduates. Most places do not have such a center, and many universities rely on the individual advocacy or interest of a few professors to carry on this work. More and more though we see universities sponsoring on-campus undergraduate research days, and using undergraduate research success in advertising materials. If debate can help the university in this area, seen as vital to the competitive success of the university these days, then debate clubs and programs can enjoy security as well as some more opportunity to engage in tournament travel. More to come on this here as I think out loud a bit more about how it should be structured. St. John's University Debate will be conducting some experiments in how we approach the praxis of running a university debating program along such parameters as well.

Finally, I believe I have an essay forthcoming in the journal Contemporary Argumentation and Debate. Not sure when that's supposed to come out, but it's a review of the three BP/Worlds debate textbooks that have been published over the past few years - the rise of BP in America - and my thoughts about them. I'll post a link here when it comes out. 

Lots done and lots to do this new year. Lots of discussion to be had about debate in the public sphere, such as the upcoming Bill Nye debate as well as the tragic school shooting that was perpetrated by a disgruntled ex-debate team member. And oh yea, classes start soon. So I should stop procrastinating and log back into Blackboard!

Stay warm, and thanks for all the reads last year!


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