Student debaters address national issues

As the nation prepared to hear the presidential candidates debate foreign policy last week, the UAA debate team prepared arguments on another issue: energy.

Four varsity debaters argued the proposition that President Bush’s energy plan was preferable to Sen. John Kerry’s plan Sept. 29.

Provost Ted Kassier addressed the crowd prior to the event and emphasized the university’s duty to act as a forum for debate.

“Civil discourse is on the wane in the United States,” Kassier said. “One of the most important roles of the university is providing a place where civil discourse can take place.”

Before an audience of more than 30 people in a Professional Studies Building studio classroom, Rose Helens-Hart, a journalism and public communications student, and Michael Rose, a political science student, argued for President Bush’s plan.

The team discussed Bush’s plan to gain independence from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries by allowing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and importing more Canadian and Mexican oil while researching alternative energy sources.

“The United States doesn’t have control over whether the price of a gallon (of gas) is going to be $2 or $4,” Rose said. “At any given time OPEC can decide that they’re going to start cutting the supply of oil and that means that United States citizens and citizens across the rest of the world will be forced to pay higher prices.”

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Tom Lassen and history student Chris Kolerok argued in favor of Sen. Kerry’s “20 in 2020” campaign. The plan proposes switching 20 percent of America’s energy supply to renewable sources such as hydrogen cells and biodiesel by the year 2020.

“We want to move away from all foreign oil,” Lassen said in response to arguments for President Bush’s plan. “Russia, Canada, Mexico and Iraq are not states yet and I’m pretty sure they won’t be in the future. Therefore, it’s still foreign oil. We’re still perpetuating our dependence on foreign oil.”

The event, sponsored by the Center for Advancing Faculty Excellence, was conducted in a parliamentary debate style. Normally, teams find out what topic they are arguing about 20 minutes before the round, but because this debate was a non-competitive special event, the teams had longer to prepare.

During the round each student had seven minutes to make arguments and address those of their opponents.

“They came across very passionately for their sides,” said audience member Jessica Adema.

As part of parliamentary style, the debaters were allowed to request points of information, rising intermittently to interject questions. The speakers can choose to hear the question or rebuff it. The debaters also knocked on the desks in front of them and called out, “here, here” to show agreement.

“I’ve engaged in a couple of different styles of debate,” Rose said. “I’d have to say this is my favorite. It can be an incredibly gratifying feeling in competition when you can throw someone off. That interaction is a lot of fun.”

This semester the debate team plans to take part in three competitions as well as conducting debate workshops in Anchorage and Sitka.

In the question and answer session that followed the event, topics included alternative energy sources and global warming.

“There ought to be more discussions like this,” English student Monica McClellan said. “I don’t think a lot of people really understand, or stop and discuss these policies. Instead they make up their minds about candidates based on really shallow assumptions.”