Keynote Address from the Tahoe Conference on Academic Debate

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In an age of fierce controversy over globalization, terrorism, immigration, and education, colleges are being called upon to serve as incubators of discussion and debate. The media have posited colleges as sites ripe with potential for citizenship training (Bacow, 2005; Ehrlich, 2003; Vinovskis, 2005); yet often highlight existing impediments such as a lack of senior faculty presence in classrooms and climates that are hostile to diverse opinions. Critics charge that the best professors rarely teach, and that even when they do they eschew controversial topics such as religion because they are ill-equipped to lead discussions on those issues (Vinovskis, 2005). Professors and college administrators have been caught in the crossfire of quarrels that unnecessarily pit free expression against tolerance (Annab, 2004; Brown, 2006; Ensslin, 2005; Fischer, 2006; Gravios, 2006; Leo, 2004; Rojstaczer, 2004; Waldron, 2006). Noted scholars have lamented that important ideas are being lost because of misguided decisions to abandon controversial texts in favor of less contentious readings (Brier, 2006; Harpham, 2006; Kellman, 2006). Nascent speech codes have been defended as indispensable for minimizing rhetorical violence and participant exclusion despite their frequent employment to Contemporary Argumentation and Debate, Vol. 27 (2006) 49 exclude traditionally disenfranchised voices (Gravios, 2006; Fischer, 2006). Amidst the cacophony of criticisms, colleges are attempting to deliver more civics and debate instruction. For instance, citizenship training is re-emerging from the ashes of its former glory (Colby, et. al., 2003; Sax, 2004) and finding its way into Public Affairs and Political Science courses (Rice, 2004; Ryan, 2006). Pedagogies aimed at immersing students in famous political debates of the past are taking root at colleges across the United States, most notably via the Reacting to the Past curriculum developed at Barnard College and implemented at more than 25 colleges (Carnes, 2004; Carnes, 2005; Hughes, Stevenson, & Gershovich, 2006; Lee, 2005; Light, 2004; Slater, 2005). Meetings of college educators such as the International Society for Exploring Teaching and Learning (ISETL) and the Teaching Professor Conference are featuring workshops designed to assist professors as discussion leaders and debate moderators. 1 Finally, colleges are implementing new debate initiatives such as collegiate Ethics Bowls and NYU's highly celebrated Zuckerman Forum debate scholarship competition. These innovations are drawing upon the power of organized, competitive debate to serve as models for "exchange[s] of diverse viewpoints" ("Most valuable polemics…," 2005, online. See also Zuckerman Forum, 2006). Because many of these programs draw upon existing policy debate practices, resources, and personnel, they offer a unique opportunity for debaters, their coaches, and debate administrators to shape discourse about the future of campus debate initiatives. This newfound privilege begs the question: can competitive policy debate stand up to the charges lobbied at modern post-secondary 1 Recent presentation titles include: "Diversity & civic engagement in
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