Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Will There be a Debate? [SK]

I'm scheduled to debate Nadine Strossen (President of the ACLU) at Grand Valley University tonight. Event organizers went out of their way to advertise it as a debate.

Question is, will it be a one?

Prior to every debate, I submit to debate organizers a standard format that looks like this:

1. Each speaker gets 20 minutes to present his/her opening arguments
2. Each speaker gets 7 minutes to cross-examine his/her opponent
3. Each speaker gets 10 minutes to offer a rebuttal to his/her opponent's opening arguments
4. Each speaker gets 5 minutes for a closing speech
5. Each speaker will address 10 questions from the audience

Including the questions from the audience, the entire debate format is about 90 minutes, which leaves ample time for each speaker to make a case, challenge his/her opponent's case, and clarify arguments through cross-examination. In addition, each speaker may present whatever materials he or she wishes and everyone gets equal time to make their points.

Despite repeated phone calls and emails aimed at confirming the format, we (The LTI staff members) heard nothing until late yesterday afternoon--one day before the scheduled debate. (The delay was not the fault of the pro-life students helping to organize the debate, but someone else allegedly responsible for setting the agenda for the evening.) We've now been told the formal part of the debate will last only 40 minutes, followed by 20 minutes of questions from the audience.

Perhaps there's a reasonable explanation for the delay in communicating the format, but if that format prevails, we no longer have much in the way of a robust debate, but rather joint pro and con presentations, with little chance for rebuttals and questioning. Perhaps things can be changed for the better, but if not, those attending might get a whole lot less out of the evening than they bargained for.

Let's hope we can negotiate a better format.

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