As a member of the Department of Law and Society here at HBU, I teach a course on “Argumentation and Advocacy”. I have been putting my students through their paces with weekly assignments and presentations on argumentation strategies this semester. They will also have to debate each other at the end of the class. They are a little nervous. However…there is a select group of university students preparing for the debate of their lifetimes this week. How do I know?
As an undergraduate student I was a policy debater at Washburn University in Kansas and I competed at the National Debate Tournament (NDT). While a graduate student at the University of Iowa, I was also a member of the A. Craig Baird Debate Forum. I assisted the Iowa team with coaching and judging. I also participated in public debates for the on-campus community.
Now I am going home (so to speak)… to the NDT… at Iowa. I am representing HBU as an alumna of the forum. Yes, just so you know, I will take my stuffed Husky for a “selfie”.
For the first time in the history of the NDT, the University of Iowa is hosting the national tournament the weekend of April 2-6, 2015. This is significant because the former Iowa coach Professor A. Craig Baird helped to found the NDT in 1947.
Iowa has had a long history in American collegiate debate. Next year marks the 155th anniversary of the first formal organized debate on the campus by the male Zetagathian Society in 1861. It is the oldest student activity on the campus. In addition to the Zetagathians, the Irving Institute for men was established. The women on campus had their own groups: The Erodephian Society and the Hesperian Society. Each society sponsored public debates throughout the year in Iowa City and it is estimated that more than a thousand people attended each event.
Professor Baird took this rich history to the next level when he arrived on the Iowa campus in 1925. He had both female and male students on his teams. He also had one of the first African American debaters on his team. He believed in (as he said in a commencement address in 1952) “The Responsibilities of Free Communication”. In this address he argued that “Ours is a government of talk….Only thus can we have mature opinion and responsible action”. To accomplish this he advocated for civility, facts, and rational thinking in public debate.
I agree with him as I am a public sphere scholar. I believe that reasoned debate is the hallmark of a democratic public sphere. I believe that “the force of the better argument” and not the “brute force of a loaded weapon” is the best way for societies to solve their problems. I have argued for this in presentations all over the world.
Professor Baird was born a Hoosier in 1883 and participated on the first Wabash College (Indiana) inter-collegiate debate team. He also studied at Columbia University, McCormick Theological Seminary, and Union Theological Seminary. He taught speech and debate for more than 60 years. He wrote or edited more than 30 books on the subject of public discourse.
This weekend, Iowa is bringing back alumni of the A. Craig Baird Debate Forum for a reunion at the tournament. I am excited to reconnect with all of my colleagues at Iowa. I am honored to recognize the legacy of Professor Baird. Additionally, it will be exciting to watch the debate rounds as the 2015 group of university students battle it out to become the winner of the NDT.
I will let you know how it all turns out when I get back to Texas!