Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Dominic Tierney, Political Science Professor and, for the night, paladin of the Social Sciences, kneaded his neck. The RonPaulians- an evil alien race– were threatening to destroy the planet, and Tierney was waiting to step to the podium and argue that the Social Sciences was the division best equipped to persuade the aliens that humanity should not be destroyed. His competitors in the debate– sponsored by the Peaslee Debate Society– were Biology Professor Amy Cheng Vollmer, representing the Natural Sciences and Music Professor Michael Marissen, representing the Humanities. Amy Cheng Vollmer was concluding her opening speech, making her case that the Natural Sciences were superior to the Social Sciences and the Humanities. She cited statistics that showed that Natural Science students take more classes outside their disciplines than Humanities and Political Science students, and concluded, to applause, “So our students are more broadly trained.”
Tierney stood up, rolled his shoulders and took his place at the podium. It was go time. He paused, surveyed the audience, and spoke some of the night’s most dramatic lines. “We are facing a very dangerous moment for mankind.” Provost Tom Stephenson, debate judge and moderator, was likely a RonPaulian sleeper agent, he said. The situation was grave. “To those with the tough jobs of defending the Natural Sciences and Humanities, remember this: “In space, no one can hear you scream.”
Tierney then leveled the argument that would ultimately win the night. The Natural Sciences wouldn’t persuade the aliens of humanity’s worth because if the aliens had the capability to destroy our planet then humans are technologically far behind. Relative to theirs, our Natural Science expertise was nothing. “We’ll show them a television and they’ll show us a teleporter,” he said. And, Tierney argued, there was no reason to believe that the aliens would have any respect for the Humanities or human art. “Can you imagine a RonPaulian looking at modern art? [Now impersonating a RonPaulian] I don’t like it. Kill them all!” Tierney argued that only the Social Sciences had insights that the RonPaulians clearly lacked, such as a notion of human rights, or strategies for peaceful resolution of disputes.
It was a tough act to follow, and, at first, it wasn’t clear that Music Professor Michael Marissen, representing the Humanities, was up to the task. Marissen began fiddling with a projector and gave a couple nervous hiccups as he waited for his PowerPoint presentation to begin. Then he collected himself and began a lengthy declamation against the two other disciplines. There is no reason to expect the RonPaulians would be impressed by the social sciences. In fact, he said, “We may reasonably assume that they are puzzled by our use of the word “science” in the social sciences.” Tierney, at this, gave a big fake laugh, temporarily reclaiming the spotlight. Marissen pushed forward, pointing out that the course on Mozart that he taught was the most popular at the school, and that the aliens had only to listen to Mozart’s music to realize the power of human culture. Plus, the librettos in Mozart’s music demonstrate that “Glory is in heaven.” He paused, then added, “Where the RonPaulians come from.” The timing of the second phrase was spectacular, and the audience convulsed with laughter.
Next came the ten minute back-and-forth, where the debaters had the opportunity to ask one another questions directly. Debate centered around whether the Natural Sciences or the Humanities would be more responsible for a CD player playing beautiful music that persuaded the aliens of humanity’s worth. When Tierney argued that neither CD player nor music would be useful, Vollmer snapped, “We don’t need the RonPaulians to destroy the world. We have the social sciences.” At that, something in Tierney appeared to snap too, and he sat the next couple of minutes of the debate in brooding silence.
Students had the opportunity to ask questions of the faculty, and by then Tierney had recovered his cool. When asked how he would improve the prospects of peace between the two races if the crisis could be averted, Tierney said, “I’ve been meaning to making a few amendments to the intergalactic constitution.” Principally, “No more destructions of planets.” Marissen responded that Tierney’s notion was “beautiful, but tremendously naïve,” but Tierney had made his point.
The professors delivered concluding addresses, with Marissen playing the audience a recording of “What a Wonderful World,” all the while providing commentary about how the song encapsulated all the wisdom derived from the Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, and Humanities.
Provost Stephenson then had the unenviable task of judging which professor won the debate based on audience applause. He concluded that Tierney, representing the Social Sciences, had won.
Tierney was gracious about the victory, mostly because it was clear to everybody but Stephenson that Marissen and the Humanities had earned the loudest applause.
Students, however, were divided on who had the best arguments, in part because the debate was supposed to focus on which division ought to be preserved if the RonPaulians would only preserve one, but instead was focused on which division was best equipped to persuade the RonPaulians not to destroy all of humanity.
Nonetheless, each division had its partisans.
“[Marissen] successfully incorporated social and natural sciences, showing they stem from the humanities,” said Ashley Gochoco ’14, one of the students with a sign. “Music is the universal language,” added Ted Goh ’14.
Cariad Chester ’13, representing the Natural Sciences, accused Tierney of plagiarizing A Few Good Men. “Eighty percent of his speech was a Jack Nicholson quote,” he said. “Amy Vollmer was the only one who answered all the questions that were posed,” agreed Nina Kogekar ’13.
Chris Fernandez ’12, a Sociology/Anthropology major, said he wasn’t sure who won the debate in terms of the audience applause, but “Tierney had the best argument.”
What did Tierney, the debate’s declared winner think? “It was a tie,” Tierney said. “The real winner was the liberal arts.”
Hanna Kozlowska ’12 contributed reporting.
Photos by Kat Clark ’12.