Author Topic: Topic Committee Ballot  (Read 23157 times)


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Re: Topic Committee Ballot
« Reply #15 on: December 02, 2012, 05:54:27 PM »
thanks, Jonah.  a couple i think might help draw some variation to the surface:

If the community tends to vote for the smaller version of a series of similar topics, how do you propose we provide a diverse set of wordings with meaningful choice?

And, could you talk about your sense of the differences between the three types of topics in the four-year rotation?

Should I take the same question slate as Jonah, or do you want to give us individualized questions?


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Re: Topic Committee Ballot
« Reply #16 on: December 03, 2012, 02:16:14 PM »
Nooch fever, nooch fever.
We know how to do it.
Gimme that nooch fever, nooch fever.
We know how to show it.

"If the community tends to vote for the smaller version of a series of similar topics, how do you propose we provide a diverse set of wordings with meaningful choice?"

I don't fully agree with your premise.  I think the smaller version often gets chosen, but it seems like there has been some important movement in the other direction.  In the voting for this years topic within the stem choice offered by 1-4 the phrase "financial incentives" was chosen over the more limited "grants, direct loans, loan guarantees, and/or tax incentives" and including nuclear and solar power beat out just fossil fuels and nukes.  Topic #6 which included all renewable energy sources got 2nd place.  I think there is a significant voting constituency that would not reflexively choose the most limiting topic as long as there was justification that the larger topic more clearly enabled effective affirmative action and spoke more centrally to core topic controversies.

I also don't think that a preference for limits is at odds with offering meaningful choice.  If you're correct that people tend to choose the most limiting topic, than a ballot with 6 versions of the same basic mechanism isn't very helpful.  Offering different options that maintain some parity in terms of limits allows people to give greater consideration to other factors.  

"Could you talk about your sense of the differences between the three types of topics in the four-year rotation?"

The most important difference for me is between legal topics and the non-legal topics.  A lot of people have had bad experiences with legal topics but one of my all time favorite topics was the Title VII topic (the United States Federal Government should amend Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, through legislation, to create additional protections against racial and/or gender discrimination.).  It was awesome because it provided somewhat of a break from huge apocalyptic style advantages.  Affirmatives were able to talk about tangible issues of systemic oppression while still reading a plan.  NDT champions Gottleib and Sparacino read an aff that applied Title VII to the military and had a primary advantage about sexual harassment and assault.  They sometimes read a narrative.  Team of the decade Bailey/Ghali read an aff that promoted the ability of women to breast feed in the workplace.  Texas ran affirmative action.  Dartmouth applied Title VII to discrimination based on sexual orientation.  There were great case debates about the effectiveness of legal action to address issues of discrimination, and while the neg still ran big stick DA's like politics and biz con, the aff was able to win on a consistent basis that their advantages outweighed even if they didn't have an extinction impact.  I would approach legal topics form the perspective that they are best when they provide an opportunity for students to learn about the way that the legal system does/can shape our lives and the lives of people we care about in observable ways whose relevance should be easily identifiable.

Thanks for the questions Kevin.

« Last Edit: December 03, 2012, 02:21:46 PM by jonahfeldman »


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Re: Topic Committee Ballot
« Reply #17 on: December 03, 2012, 06:25:14 PM »
And, could you talk about your sense of the differences between the three types of topics in the four-year rotation?

The real question here is clearly "legal" topics.  I think we collectively have an adequate sense of what constitutes international and domestic, so it's probably boring for me to try to hammer out non-controversial definitions.

I see three different possible definitions of a "legal" topic.  All deserve consideration.  I don't want to overcommit to one answer, because voters have to resolve this dilemma through feedback.

In broad outline, I care more about making a good topic than making one that's clearly super-legal.  "Reasonably legal" is fine with me.  At the same time, the topic rotation amendment passed, so I'd want to hear from legal zealots before deciding what goes on a slate.  

The details make this clearer -


"I think a legal topic is...

Choose one of the following.

a. the sort of topic that would actually be debated in a courtroom.  This is described well by Will Mosley-Jensen here:

NOTE: I think this post *descriptively* nails what's distinct about legal debates.  However, this would be a huge sea change in the way we conduct debates, so I'd really need to hear from a big constituency before throwing a topic of this nature on a slate.  I'd also want to hear from schools that are keenly interested in building questions philosophy or social justice into the curriculum [1]
- because this type of topic might be very appealing.

b. a topic that would definitionally require Supreme Court or federal court action.

NOTE: I do not favor this type of topic, because counterplans.  It would certainly be "more legal" than c. and "less legal" than a.  Seems like the worst of both worlds to me.  Absent some grassroots action from a mob of angry litigation buffs, I don't want to put either a court actor or a court-specific verb in a legal topic.  This would appear to be the real difference between the two most recent legal topics.  Overrule overcommitted the mechanism and everyone appears to have suffered as a result.

c. Legal-ish.  Reasonably legal. The bulk of the solvency evidence comes from law reviews.  There's a large amount of litigation over core affirmatives.  We're still debating about public policy, though.  It's possible for Congress or a constitutional amendment to do an ambiguously worded plan, so the most annoying CPs probably don't compete.

NOTE: I'm into it.  This is my thing if I'm left to my own devices.  Ideally, a slate of legal topics would have some version of a. and some version of c. for voter choices.  I'd predict and prefer that c. would win, but value meaningful choice over my preference.

If the community tends to vote for the smaller version of a series of similar topics, how do you propose we provide a diverse set of wordings with meaningful choice?

I don't think my answer meaningfully differs from Jonah's on this one.  If that seems like a weak cop-out, feel free to ask more questions to get better differentiation.

Thanks for the questions!  Keep them coming (in small-ish chunks, hopefully.)

[1] In keeping with Jackie Massey's recent post, I understand that questions of both philosophy and social justice are omnipresent within debate.  Schools do make choices about what they prefer to foreground, and certain topics foreground and predetermine certain choices.  "Resolved: you can never step in the same river twice" is much different in emphasis from "Resolved: the USFG should ratify the CTBT."  I'd probably have a good time coaching on either topic.
« Last Edit: December 03, 2012, 06:42:05 PM by antonucci23 »

Adam Symonds

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Re: Topic Committee Ballot
« Reply #18 on: December 04, 2012, 06:08:10 AM »
1. If the community tends to vote for the smaller version of a series of similar topics, how do you propose we provide a diverse set of wordings with meaningful choice?

IF the community tends to vote small, then I think the ballot options ought to be cognizant of this reality and not offer "small, medium, and broad" versions of the same resolution. If the premise is true, then it would seem that this formula does little to offer meaningful choice. Instead, a slate of different styles of resolutions would make more sense to offer real differences between ballot options. For instance, a floor/ceiling approach such as I mentioned in the previous message might be one way to go; another option might be an elegant (rather than narrow, debatable) wording which high school topics often offer. Bottom line, I think lists are a poor way to offer diverse topic options, because they only tack on another list segment to offer "choice," while the core of each option remains the same.

Of course, this premise may not be true, as Jonah pointed out, because solar and wind got in and financial incentives beat the specific mechanism list. I think it's still an open question whether this marks a community tendency to not vote for the smallest topic, however. There were a lot of folks that thought renewables had to be in the topic, which gave this topic ballot a specific counter-movement against the tendency for small topics. This may very well just be a one year phenomenon that disappears quickly and we will return to smaller topics.

2. And, could you talk about your sense of the differences between the three types of topics in the four-year rotation?

The domestic and foreign topics should be pretty well defined at this point, right? I see legal topics as cross-cutting both domestic and foreign areas, with the goal being to access a different literature base than we typically do. Enough college debaters head straight to law school that I think one solid educational purpose of legal topics is to expose debaters to the literature that they will be researching if they pursue a career in the law. Toward that end, as long as the topic is steeped in law reviews and other legal literature, I think we're meeting the burden of such a topic area. I think the goal of generating a topic that focuses debates on legal literature can also avoid the problems of actor and mechanism that we ran into in the last 2 legal topics.

Like Jonah, I have a lot of fond memories of Tile VII, specifically the distinct literature base and the types of advantages it produced, but let's not forget it was about 90% Courts CP and Politics DA. It's a cautionary tale about demanding that a legal topic dictate the actor. The topic subject matter was sufficiently different that it forced different literature bases, which led to original advantages. I think those were detailed above. However, the forced mechanism of aff legislation was suboptimal as the original advantages were typically counterplanned away. So I'm not sure a legal topic should dictate the aff actor.

The later legal topic suffered more from the notion that "overrule" was an overarching mechanism that could generate neg ground. The lumping of several diverse, but hugely controversial court cases together under the rubric of overrule proved to be a problem as well, as it largely generated unrelated topics rather than a cohesive whole. Negs gravitated towards what little "overrule bad" ground they could find and, as a result, the negative arguments that most teams settled on (constitutional amendment cp + Justice Kennedy's political judicial capital) were completely absurd.
« Last Edit: December 04, 2012, 06:26:00 PM by Adam Symonds »

kevin kuswa

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Re: Topic Committee Ballot
« Reply #19 on: December 04, 2012, 05:06:17 PM »
Enjoying these replies--very thoughtful and interesting.  It looks like there are a number of people who would be outstanding committee members, this will be a tough vote.  Keep sending out the comments.  Kevin

ps--I hope we get some legal topic papers this time around so we can start thinking about the best formulations.

Paul Elliott Johnson

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Re: Topic Committee Ballot
« Reply #20 on: December 11, 2012, 12:17:53 AM »
Topic Committee Representative Election

Dr. Shanara Reid-Brinkley

Apologies for posting so late…here are my thoughts:
I’ve engaged in some very public critiques of the policy debate community over the past five years. While I think the critical analysis, that my academic work has added to the conversation about the current practice and future evolution of debate has been important, I’d like to do more than just poke the bear. Many of the discussions surrounding the shifts in argumentative forms in debate and the resulting clash of civilizations has produced a productive conversation around central community concerns including topic selection and judging. Our public debates about these issues are often contentious, but we have reached an important moment in that conversation. Many of us agree that we need to begin considering new possibilities and experimenting with alternatives. I decided to throw my name into the topic committee rep pool because it is important to not just create pressure from outside organizational structures, but to begin to create pressure on the inside as well.
I’m willing to ask the hard questions during topic committee deliberations. Topics that engage social justice issues or reduce our commitment to USFG agent topics will receive rigorous consideration if I am a member of the topic committee. I will ask what room the topic creates for alternative debate methodologies as a critical means of vetting potential topic options. We are so concerned with constructing a restricted notion of the available topic research area that we re-produce the same heg, politics, etc., debates over and over again. My goal as a committee rep is not to prevent these issues from being discussed, but they should not crowd out other considerations for topic construction. If we must sacrifice some of those impact areas to create more topical ground for alternative arguments, I think we should be willing to do so. Just think about it, a topic that would allow alternative teams to be topical would go a long way toward further reducing debaters dependence on framework. Not that I am attempting to remove framework all together from your competitive arsenal. Instead, I’m wondering if we take away the strategic impetus for its use, would that encourage teams to more thoughtfully engage alternative debate methodologies and the literature bases that support them. I won’t re-hash the arguments I made in the puttingthekindebate interview, but in debate terms, cross-apply the discussion and critique of research and knowledge making practices I discuss there.

In addition, let’s just be honest. We need a diversity of representation at the organizational level. The limited number of people of color this community retains at the graduate and professional levels makes it difficult to produce racial/ ethnic organizational diversity. But more importantly, we need a diverse representation of argument styles and forms that characterize contemporary debate competition. My academic work and tutelage has been significant to the development of race-centric teams specifically, and performance debate, in general. I hope that offers me some qualification to participate in the topic committee’s deliberation.

Shanara Reid-Brinkley
Assistant Professor
Director of Debate, WPDU
Department of Communication
University of Pittsburgh