Plans on the Jan/Feb Lincoln-Douglas Topic | Champion Briefs
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January 25, 2017

Plans on the Jan/Feb Lincoln-Douglas Topic

By Adam Tomasi

Rest assured: plans are here to stay, this topic notwithstanding. The Jan-Feb resolution's wording is straightforward yet apparently hostile to specification. In particular, the phrase "any" seems to problematize an affirmative's attempt to defend anything less than the whole resolution. After some thought, I believe that the resolution poses no innate barrier to plans. The negative can contest the affirmative's narrower grasp on the resolution, but the topicality debate is not unwinnable for the affirmative.

For reference, the resolution reads: "Resolved: Public colleges and universities in the United States ought not restrict any constitutionally protected speech."

Though the resolution says "any" constitutionally protected speech, I believe the affirmative should still get to define which categories of constitutionally protected speech they'd endorse. Whatever categories those are, so long as the affirmative argues we shouldn't restrict any of it, then plans are fair game.

For example, if the affirmative argued that college students have an important interest in maintaining independently-run student publications, they can advocate that public colleges and universities in the United States place no restrictions on the written word (as far as the written word is constitutionally protected).

Another example would be an aff which argued that student voices are undermined when colleges restrict their activism to "free speech zones." The affirmative, in this case, can advocate that public colleges and universities in the United States remove all place-based restrictions on constitutionally protected campus speech.

Two notes for clarity:

1. I don't believe the affirmative should get to specify any more than this. The topic would be far too large, as well as difficult for the negative, if the affirmative got to defend lifting some restrictions on some kinds of speech, leaving most restrictions on that speech intact. The affirmative needs to remove all restrictions on whatever speech they've specified.

2. By "plan," I just mean a specific proposal for what public colleges and universities ought to do. Though the topic is not about state action, I believe the affirmative can still propose a "plan" of action.

This vision for the topic will hopefully constitute a happy medium. The affirmative should not be held to the entire resolution in every debate, as debates would get stale. I do believe that this topic, written as it is, provides for some really exciting philosophical debates; this is not the plea of a Policy debater to mangle the topic and satisfy my biases. However, to have the best debates about applied ethics, we need to give the affirmative some leeway to specify.

Applied ethics is concerned with using "philosophical methods to identify the morally correct course of action in various fields of everyday life" (Wikipedia). This kind of examination is what Lincoln-Douglas Debate is all about, much to the chagrin of debaters who merely refute the framework and drop the contentions. The most rigorous and interesting debates on campus speech will require us to engage with specific scenarios and controversies, and the application of rules to circumstances.

I disagree with the view that, because of the resolution's grammar, the affirmative's plan must logically conclude in (or indirectly imply) the whole resolution. This view is propagated by a popular but rather overused T argument (and demonstrates the influence of certain debate articles on people's strategic decisions, which I hope to correct). Restricting the affirmative to a fundamentalist view on constitutionally protected speech limits the range of reasonable opinions the affirmative could defend. Maybe someone is legitimately opposed to free speech zones, yet does not believe that there are legitimate reasons to tolerate hate speech. Like any reasonable person, the affirmative should get this leeway. The negative should have to craft a solid defense of free speech zones, rather than expect to read the hate speech NC every debate.

My view is not that the hate speech NC is unbeatable, and that the affirmative needs to render it irrelevant every debate. In fact, I believe there are solid arguments on both sides of the hate speech debate. That being said, I also believe that the affirmative should have the right to innovate. One of the strategic benefits of reading a plan is that you can "no link" the generic negative arguments on a topic. This innovation by the affirmative ends up inspiring the negative to innovate, because they have to adapt their strategies to the most popular plans on the topic.

The innovative potential of debate is what makes debate so exciting. I've debated for many years because of my continuing fascination with new and creative arguments. I've never gotten "burnt out" because there's always more to read, more to strategize, more positions to master. In high school debate, I really diversified my repertoire of arguments because I believed that the mark of a skilled debater was their ability to defend a whole variety of positions. If you look at my archived work on, you'll see that I read a lot of different, often unconventional, stuff.

To me, debate's potential comes from these exciting possibilities. Allowing some leeway for plans on the Jan-Feb resolution will improve its educational value.