While there is wide agreement that the cost of college education has risen far faster than the incomes of most Americans, there is some debate as to whether the quality of the product has kept pace with the price. Not surprisingly, almost all who argue that it has (college administrators, professors, and populist politicians) are deeply invested either ideologically or financially in the system itself. More objective observers see a bureaucratic, inefficient, and hopelessly out of touch ivory tower that is bleeding the country of its savings, and more tragically, its intellectual acuity.
Nowhere is this more clearly illustrated than in the demise of collegiate debate. This once courtly rhetorical sparring ground for class presidents and lawyers-in-training is supposed to be forum for ideas, proofs, and conclusions. And while traditional debates did not typically offer high drama, they did teach students how to produce objectively superior arguments, a skill that many types of potential employers would value. But more recently, debate has succumbed to the worst aspects of moral relativism, academic sloth and politically correct dogma that have transformed it into an unintelligible mix of performance art and petty politics. It's not a debate, but we pretend it is.
The 2014 National Championship of the Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA), one of collegiate debate's governing bodies, made headlines as the first to include two all-African-American finalist teams. The winning team, from Towson University in Maryland, was the first ever comprised solely of African-American women. The results were heralded as a triumph for minority achievement in a field traditionally dominated by white "elites." But this success has come at a great cost: A dramatic change in the rules of the game. The championships, as well as dozens of the CEDA sanctioned debates and championships, are easily found on YouTube. I challenge anyone to watch any of those "debates" and describe the ideas and arguments that participants are supposedly addressing.
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