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To save or to strand: Professors debate their value based on department

A version of this article appeared in The Rotunda (archive).

On Tuesday, April 12, the Raft debate between four different Longwood teachers, each representing the different types of majors on campus. In this debate, three of the four teachers had to make an argument as to why they should be allowed to be on the raft, while the rest should stay shipwrecked on an island. This was Longwood’s fourth annual raft debate, a debate tradition that has had success at many other universities, such as William and Mary.

Dr. Bill Abrams of the math and computer science department moderated the debate. Dr. Julian Dymacek represented natural sciences from computer science, the humanities, sociology and fine arts were argued by Dr. Jeffrey Spicer, an English professor, the department of business, economics, education and human services was supported by Dr. Christopher Jones and Dr. Alec Hosterman from the communication studies department played devil’s advocate, and argued that everyone should drown. Once the arguments were over, there were rebuttals by each professor and the audience then voted by clapping.

The debate opened with Dr. Jones arguing in favor of his department. He went over some of the mistakes he made last time, such as when he twerked during the debate and was giving a strict talking to by the dean. He admitted that he could not compete with the other departments, and cited the achievements of the other departments. He did not feel that he could compete with people who have published plays, taken their students on archeological digs, or talked about medieval torture on NPR. He also felt that staying on the island would be better than life back at home, because he would be eating lobster and listening to Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville” rather than eating fast food and listening to “I Can’t Feel My Face” by The Weeknd. Instead of brining himself back, he argued that the other departments should receive the funding.

The next argument came from Dymacek, who explained what computer science is, and the algorithms used in his field are also used in everyday life, even if a computer is not involved. An interesting point he made tied in with Longwood’s vice presidential debate. He said that picking a new president is determined by an algorithm, “which allows us to systematically go through and count those votes, and we can decide who the winner is.”

This even comes into play when tying shoes and baking, as those are all algorithms.

Spicer opened his speech by referencing Donald Trump, saying that he would build a better raft and get the fish to pay for it. He continued by talking about language and how it “is a way of not being alone.” It allows other people to have an influence on us.

“You say stuff, and it flits across the room in little vibrations and crawls into other peoples’ heads through their ears…real ‘Wrath of Khan’ type stuff,” he stated

The ideas that are placed into peoples’ heads because of this then force them to reevaluate their own perceptions, said Spicer.

After the three teachers had spoken, Hosterman spoke in favor of leaving the raft and making them all sink or swim. He asked if people really wanted to send back a computer science professor, and asked how many in the audience were in computer science, to which most of them raised their hands. He said that all of the departments were equally important, and that one “cannot separate one discipline from the raft.” He gave examples of each department’s gifts. The sciences, for example, tell us what to do “if we run into choppy waters, or how we survive if we run out of Chik-Fil-A and Charley’s crab dip.”

After Hosterman, the teachers issued rebuttals. Spicer said that language makes all the other disciplines possible, and everything comes from language. Dymacek says Hosterman is pessimistic, and Jones calls Dymacek insane. Hosterman said that a new raft needs to be built for those who come next.

Dymacek, a first year teacher at Longwood, won the debate, and said that he came up with his argument when he thought about what he would say when someone asked him why he was in computer science. While the debate is supposed to be comedic, this is how Dymacek feels about his career. Out of the other debaters, he found it hard to pick a favorite. The devil’s advocate, however, he found to be a very fun, ‘burn it all down’ performance. They are “all very interesting arguments” to Dymacek, however.

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