Series of Debates Revitalizes Adrian Campus Debate Culture

A recent series of debates on controversial legal and ethical issues, sponsored by Adrian College’s Institute for Ethics and George W. Romney Institute for Law, has been reviving Adrian’s long history of open dialogue and civil debate about controversial topics. The first, which took place on Feb. 21, featured Professor Paul Monero of Hillsdale College and Adrian Professor Jim Spence debating the topic of abortion and the legality of Roe v. Wade.

Later, on March 25, a second debate took place between Professor Steven Dulan of Adrian College and Associate Dean Richard Broughton of UDM Law School on the topic of the Second Amendment.

The debate series has been spearheaded by Faculty Chair and leader of Adrian’s Institute for Ethics, Professor Antonis Coumoundoruros, and Romney Institute Director Dr. Nathan Goetting. The issues of abortion and the Second Amendment were specifically chosen because of the intersection between ethics and law that they represented. 

Coumoundoruros and Goetting plan to hold approximately three debates per semester going into the future, focusing on topics like the Black Lives Matter movement, LGBT rights and other polarizing issues.

Adrian College has a long and storied history concerning debate, dating back to before Adrian even opened its doors. In 1834, students at Lane Seminary in Cincinnati held a series of debates on the issue of slavery and abolition, and the only member of Lane’s Trustee Board to support the student body’s right to debate was Rev. Asa Mahan, who would later become Adrian College’s first president. 

“Adrian College is historically an abolitionist school, and what is more of a controversial issue in 1859, when Adrian opens, than slavery?” Coumoundoruros says.

In the same year that Adrian was founded, the Star Literary Society was formed, a club that debated similarly controversial issues like John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, immigration, and the Mexican-American War. More recently, in 2012, Adrian College’s academic faculty organized debates on topics like gun control in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting.

For Coumoundoruros, the debate culture of Adrian College is a continuation of the type of dialogue that first became prominent in Ancient Greece, when figures like Socrates encouraged discussion of deep philosophical questions like morality, happiness, and justice.

“It’s about the pursuit of truth and being able to discuss hot-button issues in a civil manner, putting the knives away and just talking,” Professor Coumoundoruros says.

Professor Goetting, on the other hand, says that he didn’t have Adrian’s history in mind in the creation of a debate series.

Adrian’s debate club in 1935 (Courtesy of Adrian College Archives).

“It’s a tremendous history, but debates should be taking place on any college campus, regardless of their history or traditions. If I worked at a college where there had never been a debate before, that’s something that I would always like to introduce,” Goetting says.

For Goetting, learning to participate in a civic process in a mature way should be an objective of every college student. He expresses dismay at many colleges, in his opinion, depriving their students of the opportunity to witness debates on important issues. 

He and Coumoundoruros made a point to seek out what they describe as “accomplished, thoughtful professionals who knew about the issues in the topics they would be debating,” in order to present what they hoped would be a model for participating in civil debate for students at Adrian. 

While Goetting and Coumoundoruros hoped to find a female perspective to debate the topic of abortion, scheduling conflicts among those who they hoped would help debate made the debate occur between only two men, which led to some criticism. 

The debate series offered attending students a chance to challenge the speakers in a question-and-answer session.

“When they opened up the floor, that’s when the atmosphere changed, because then you could see the preparedness change,” freshman Datoka Norris, who attended the abortion debate, says.

“A guy in front of me brought up the word murder, and then the air just sort of left the room, but both speakers handled the debate pretty well. There’s a lot of interest among the student body coming to these debates, which I think is even better than enthusiasm,” Norris says.

“So far, I think it’s gone very well, and I’ve been impressed with the questions that the students have asked. That’s the most joyous part of this process, is seeing how engaged the students have been,” Goetting says.

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