STAYING AFLOAT IN THE LIFE RAFT DEBATE
Winner of the Life Raft Debate, Chuck Pazdernik of Classics
It is 2012, and the world has ended. There is one life raft prepared to take a select group to safety, and there is only one vacant seat. First featured on NPR’s This American Life, the Life Raft Debate asked a professor or department chair from each respective major to justify why their discipline would be the most vital in post-apocalyptic rebuilding.
Grand Valley State University’s Ola Nwabara and Ralf Hugger from Liberal Studies brought together eight disciplines at 6 p.m. Monday night under Cook DeWitt’s roof to duke it out for the final spot on the hypothetical life raft in GVSU’s very own Life Raft Debate 2011. In the end, the Classics department ended up winning the final seat on the raft.
Using three elimination rounds, the Life Raft Debate started out by giving each discipline five minutes to plead their case. Five finalists were chosen by audience applause power for the second round.
The second round – or the devil’s advocate round – asked finalists compare and contrast their discipline with those of other finalists and to advocate against their rival disciplines. Then, fueled by audience-posed questions, two final disciplines went head to head in a final, fate-deciding debate.
From sex, beer and cannibalism to the creativity of art and design as a vehicle for humanity, disciplines argued their cases with overwhelming feedback from the packed audience.
Elena Passarello, visiting professor to the Department of Writing, came in a close second by using sex jokes and the emotional appeal of the written word to win over the student-based audience. But in the end, Charles Pazdernik, chair of the Department of Classics, secured his discipline’s spot into the new world by using the wisdom of the Greeks and Roman to justify his survival.
“The Greeks and Romans pose big questions about what it means to be human beings and to lead fulfilling and meaningful lives,” he said.
Among the other panelists were Ed Aboufadel from mathematics, Amy Russell from natural biology, Kelly Parker from philosophy, James Greene from art and design, Kirsten Bartels from liberal studies and the sustainability initiative’s Bart Bartels.
“The presenters all did more than justice to their respective disciplines, and honestly it was just about impossible to gauge the applause from one to another,” Pazdernik said. “The Life Raft Debate format provides a framework for considering those questions in an original and compelling way. It’s wonderful when students engage with them and respond to them, and that’s what happened on Monday night.”