Badly behaving debaters

Via my google read, I came across this Chronicle of Higher Ed article, “Debate Coach Fired and Team Suspended After Mooning.” Here are the first couple paragraphs of the article:

Fort Hays State University fired a professor and debate coach on Friday, just weeks after video surfaced on YouTube of his dropping his shorts in front of judges at a national tournament. The university also suspended its debate team, one of the best in the country, over concerns that the collegiate-debate circuit had become too uncivilized.

The coach, William Shanahan III, a professor of communication, got into a shouting match with a judge—and at one point briefly dropped his shorts and exposed his underwear—during the national tournament this past spring of the Cross Examination Debate Association.

The New York Times had a similar article. And here’s a pretty good commentary on the piece, “No ifs, ands, butts about civil debate.”

Curiously, both articles lack a couple of key links. First, there is the video– yes, actual video at the debate– of the event in question:

There are a variety of different remixes and such on YouTube too. It wasted my morning, I can tell you that.

The actual mooning event happens quickly (I didn’t see it the first time through) and at about the 36-37 second mark. Though the video goes on for quite a while after that. I watched about three minutes and then scanned through the rest. To be honest, I can’t really tell what the argument/fight here is about– I am guessing a disagreement about a decision. One article I read said it happened after the quarter final round. Note that the screaming match involves people saying “fuck” quite a bit.

And it turns out that Professor Shanahan has a blog, though he hasn’t updated it since June.

To me, it looks like these folks have just gone kind of nuts, cracking under the pressure of a big tournament, and– this is just a guess– sleep deprivation. These late tournament rounds often don’t begin until well into the evening after a full day of competition. And you have to remember that debate at this level is as much of a competitive and intense an event as the game to play into the “final four” at the NCAA basketball tournament. When I was in high school and college debate 20+ years ago, I saw plenty of arguments where an occasional “f bomb” was thrown. So in the broad sense, I don’t think the idea of a near brawl breaking out is that weird.

Still, just as you don’t routinely see basketball coaches throwing chairs across the court, you don’t usually see arguing coaches/debaters dropping their pants, if even briefly.

I also think this video is ample evidence of something that every academic already knows: just because you are a professor and you have a PhD doesn’t mean you are above behaving badly.

3 thoughts on “Badly behaving debaters”

  1. Well:

    1) It wasn’t debate, it was CEDA.

    2) It sounds like the coach deserved to be suspended.

    3) I think the most interesting issues was the discussion of the strike sheet. It’s apparent that this was not about just this round.

    4) ‘College debate has changed radically in the past 20 years, say its leaders. In fact, Mr. Shanahan had been a pioneer of what he calls a “revolution” in debate. An activity that once focused on policy issues, he said, now also engages philosophy, and has been influenced by postmodernism and other theoretical disciplines. “The activity has advanced, in my opinion, in a way that it’s difficult for nonparticipants to understand,” he said. “For many it’s difficult to even recognize it as the activity of their youth.”‘ Yup.

  2. Actually, I judged at a CEDA tournament a number of years ago– gosh, I guess it would have been over 16 or so years ago now– and it seemed quite similar to policy debate to me, despite all the stuff about “we do philosophy/ethics.” At one time, CEDA was the territory of smaller and “less intense” programs because they had two topics a year, one for fall and one for winter. I don’t know if that’s still true or not. In any event, the differences between CEDA and NDT/policy debate at the college level were hardly night and day.

    As for the “stuff of their youth:” the movie Resolved makes a pretty compelling argument that the activity of debate began to change into an activity that people outside of it wouldn’t exercise in the mid-1960s. The debate in this contemporary movie looked pretty recognizable to me, but if one’s youth was in the 1960s instead of the 1980s, maybe not.

    I do think that this dude should have been suspended and probably fired (as he was ultimately, btw). I think the woman he’s arguing with ought face some punishment too. And I think that in the age of YouTube, one ought to be aware when there might be a video camera lurking about.

  3. Regarding _Resolved_ being recognizable: maybe. But it seemed to focus largely on an implicit assumption, a paradigm, if you will (Steve knows that’s a term of art in debate), that debate is a form of social action. The real default paradigm (as opposed to the paradigmatic arguments we all made) in our time was that debate is a game. I cam away from _Resolved_ with powerful emotional memories for my youth, and a feeling that if I were starting today I would have quit as a freshman.

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