Students triumph over Deans in debate

Students and deans discussed whether American colleges and universities should be prohibited from instituting satellite campuses in countries that do not respect freedom of speech during a special “Debate the Deans” event that took place Wednesday, Oct. 9 in the Library Auditorium

“Debate the Deans” was originally started by Benjamin Rifkin,  the dean of Humanities and Social Sciences, who was one of the two deans participating in the debate.

“The purpose is to help build interest in debate on campus and at the same time to help build community,” Rifkin said.

Deans Rifkin and Keep prepare their arguments. (Courtney Wirths / Photo Editor)

Rifkin, along with William Keep, the dean of the School of Business, supported the prohibition of satellite campuses in freedom of speech countries, which they do not have. The pro-side consisted of two members from the Society for Parliamentary Debate: junior biology major Prashanth Palvannan and junior physics major Andrew Miller.

Rifkin thanked Keep for his participation, as well as the Society for Parliamentary Debate and the audience, and began the night presenting his “against” side.

Rifkin noted that this debate was not merely talking about legal declaration, but actual practice.

Two of the Dean’s main points were that not only does building satellite campuses take away money and resources from the home campus, but it also impedes on the education of students enrolled due to its oppression of tyranny.

“Tyranny can coerce curriculum concession,” Rifkin said.

Tyrannical influences the kinds of professors staffed, students enrolled and subjects taught. Keep later mentioned, “Sexuality, religion and politics become off-limit topics.”

The “against” side made it clear that while they do support students traveling or studying abroad, high capital costs of satellite campuses would hinder students enrolled in American university’s education quality.

Palvannan, on the “pro” side, argued that satellite campuses, providing education for youth, would create agents of change in oppressive regions.

“Universities are inherently liberal in nature,” Palvannan said. “They offer and accept discourse.” These intellectual discussions, Palvannan said, will lead to progressive reform in the oppressed region.

“Regardless of where they are born or governed, they are born under the right to education,” Palvannan said.

Palvannan said satellite campuses will allow oppressed individuals to not become prisoners of their birthplace.

“Influencing youth of the region can have long term change,” Palvannan said.

Satellite campuses can provide progressive activities such as student government or student newspapers, according to Palvannan. Rifkin later said the notion of these campuses having these extracurricular activities is “absurd.”

Miller argued that nations want to keep educated individuals within their country.

“Satellite campuses allows students to be educated in their home environment, so they can change their home environment,” Miller said.

Disputing the Dean’s worry about censorship on these campuses, Miller noted that since satellite campuses are not financed by any local or state government, government censorship would not be an issue.

“The host country is resistant to change,” Keep said, supporting his opposition stance. “They do not want advocates or agents of change.”

Therefore, host countries would not be supportive of this type of liberal learning. Keep also noted that anti-freedom laws in oppressive countries are reinforced. Consequently, students practicing liberal education would suffer the appropriate punishment.

“Education does not automatically lead to progressive freedoms. That is an assumption,” Keep said.

Keep supported his theory by referring to Thomas Jefferson’s original view of the French Revolution. What began as a fight for freedoms in France, however, became the devastating Reign of Terror.

“I am the only one here who has lived, studied and worked in a totalitarian society,” Rifkin said in the last round. “It’s not just freedom of speech, but freedom after speech.”

After each team presented their opposing final arguments, no hard feelings seemed to be present, as the students were declared the winners. The four debaters posed for a picture together, side-by-side.

“Regardless of the content of our remarks, the important point of the evening is that we came together to discuss an important issue and enjoyed the process of analytical argument,” Rifkin said. “This is, after all, the heart of the College’s mission: academic freedom, critical thinking and intellectual inquiry.”