Life Raft Debate

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There are only

until the
19th Annual Life Raft Debate!
Thursday, October 13th, 2016
7:00 pm

Start treading water...

The Life Raft Debate

An Event that Spans Two Centuries (and two millennia)

In the Life Raft Debate, we imagine that there has been a nuclear war, and the survivors (the audience) are setting sail to rebuild society from the ground up.  There is a group of academic-types vying to get on the raft, and only one seat is left.  Each professor has to argue that his or her discipline is the one indispensable area of study that the new civilization will need to flourish.  At the end of the debating, the audience votes and the lucky winner climbs aboard, waving goodbye to the others. 

 Each professor gets to give an introductory account of his or her discipline, then give a brief rebuttal to the others, and, finally, the audience votes all but one panelist off.

The Life Raft Debate occurs each Founders' Day at 7 pm.

Here's the 2015 lineup:

Robert Barone--History
Michael Patton--Philosophy
Michael Walker--Theater
Gregory Longo--Psychology
Amiee Mellon--Marketing

Scott Varagona--Devil's Advocate




What's  New

bullet And the Oar goes to:

The Devil's Advocate: Dr. Scott Varagona!

Dr. Varagona

After a spirited clash between the 5 contestants, Scott Varagona spent several minutes pointing out the shortcomings of each of the participants and their chosen disciplines, ending with an impassioned plea for self-reliance on the raft and beyond. While the disciplines may equip you to face challenges, in the end, you must face them yourself. Dr. Varagona asked, “How many of you would show up to your first day at a new job with one of your professors in tow to help you face the challenges?”

The win makes Scott, already a winner in a discipline with multiple wins, the first person to win two Life Raft Debates.

However, since he was not representing any discipline, the Life Raft Debate still awaits its first person to win twice in the same discipline. Nonetheless, Scott’s three consecutive appearances on the panel yielded a pretty spectacular result.

Oh, wait…he drowned 2 out of 3 times. Oh well. It is still nice to win twice, I guess...

Emcee Steve Parker made the appropriate pre-debate explanations and thanks and then introduced the participants. The debate started with Robert Barone defending his win in History. He urged continuity of leadership and stressed that a group divorced from knowledge of history was a group doomed to fail. In the course of the evening, he also partially disrobed and recited Poe’s The Raven. A baffled and perhaps frightened audience applauded wildly.

Next, Michael Patton pled his case for Philosophy. Well, actually, he went right into mocking the efficacy of the other disciplines. He finally made a case for Philosophy by claiming that the audience was on the verge of making a mistake on the order of electing Donald Trump by being led by emotion and passion rather than by reason. He cited Aristotle’s advice to let reason be one’s guide when it is appropriate, as it certainly is in matters of life and death

Claiming that there would definitely be drama on the boat after the catastrophe, Michael Walker insisted that Theater was the most needed discipline. Theater, he explained, dealt with such diverse need as the rituals surrounding birth, death and celebrations, the understanding of history through historical drama and comedy and the telling of stories that strike instinctual chords in all of us. Additionally, the practice of the theatrical arts teaches scheduling, critical thinking, logistics, memorization and a host of other needed skills.

After that, Gregory Longo did battle for Psychology by going dark. He pointed out that the catastrophe that got us here has left almost everyone dead. We are all emotionally devastated and need Psychology to find peace and well-being as we move forward. He also claimed that his discipline studied the things we will need to keep the human race going in our new home—proper child-rearing techniques and the psychology of attraction and love, needed for procreation.

Finally, Amiee Mellon took up the cause of Marketing. She argued that Marketing makes the world go ‘round by determining what gets bought and thus stoking the fires of the economy, without which we’d be in real trouble. Marketing is what shapes peoples’ behavior, and we can use it to make life better in the new world. She touted some very successful marketing campaigns that were near and dear to all and finished with an original, Minions-accompanied rap song about marketing. Say what you will, but the crowd bought it.

And last but not least, Robert Barone took the mic to argue once again for History. A veteran of the very first debate, Robert announced that the oar had been stolen from him back in 1998 and that he was back to become its rightful owner. His impassioned defense of history claimed that without history as a guide, we would repeat all of the mistakes that have plagued the world to date, including the mistakes that eventually destroyed the world. With his thoroughgoing knowledge of history, Robert said he would be able to steer the nascent society safely through the perils the lie ahead. Plus, he gave a brief yet compelling demonstration of his own physical fitness and ability to stretch.

608 in-house votes were cast by a crowd of over 800, along with many votes received on Twitter, and when the counting was done, Dr. Varagona won by a large margin.

100 people followed Lily Elmore’s live tweets, 48 different viewers watched the live stream, including a crowd of 20 watching from Eclipse Coffee and Books.

This may not be my most complete re-hash in LRD history, but it was hard to take notes and participate from the stage. It is never possible to capture the magic that is the Life Raft Debate in a few mere words, so please watch the video of the whole shebang on YouTube here.

Like us on FaceBook and follow us on Twitter at #UMLifeRaft!


Thanks to:

Jay Cofield and the crew providing the video coverage
Lily Elmore (for live tweeting)
Marion Brown and her minions
Kristen Gilbert for vote counting via scantron
Steve Forrester
Steve Parker
Palmer Staff
SGA (for funding)
Philosophy club members (president Jacob Robertson)
All participants, past and future )
And last, but not least—All the great audiences!

If you missed the debate this year, watch it here.

bullet The Life Raft Debate on This American Life!


Mighty Mouse

Save the Day
Broadcast: Mar-12-2010

Stories about one person single-handedly taking charge of a situation gone wrong - including one man's mission to rescue two kids who were kidnapped by alleged murderers and taken to Mexico, and another about a professor's mission to keep the educators of a liberal arts college from extinction.


Download the mp3 of the Life Raft Debate segment from the This American Life episode "Save the Day" by clicking here. You can get the whole podcast episode on the This American Life home page.

This American Life will air a segment on UM’s Life Raft Debate during their episode “Save the Day,” which premiers this week. The episode will focus on the 2007 debate, during which Jon Smith scored the first-ever victory for the Devil’s Advocate.

If you cannot join us at Eclipse Coffee & Books Saturday at 2:00 pm for the Premier Party, the broadcast information is below or you can check your local listings.

We are also planning an event on campus once school resumes where we will rebroadcast the show and hear from some special guests. You can find the promo for this week's here:

This American Life on Facebook

bullet Watch the FREE webcast at 7 pm sharp!
(or anytime)
bullet Check out this coverage in the Shelby County Reporter


Life Raft Debate Tidbits:
bulletThere has never been a repeat champion
bullet Only Mathematics has won three oars
bullet 79% of the Champions have come from the College of Arts and Sciences
bullet 7% have come from the College of Fine Arts
bullet 7% have come from the Administration
bullet 7% have been civilians

Of the participants in the 16 previous debates,

bullet 57% have been from the College of Arts and Sciences
bullet 22% have been from the College of Fine Arts
bullet 10% have been from the College of Education
bullet 4% have been from the Michael E. Stephens College of Business
bullet 3% have been from Administration

1% have been “civilians.”

bullet 1% have been Alumni

Who's Representing?

bullet 73% of the programs of instruction at the University of Montevallo have been represented in the Life Raft Debate.

Key Milestones- Past Winners
Click on a name to learn more

bullet 2015 No One--The Devil's Advocate Prevails!
bullet 2014 Robert Barone-History


2013 Scott Varagona-Mathematics

bullet 2012 Brett Noerager-Biology
bullet 2011 Kevin Hope-Physics
bullet 2010 Stephanie Batkie-Medieval Literature

2009 Benton Tyler-Mathematics

bullet 2008 Scott Turner-Political Science


2007  No One--The Devil's Advocate Prevails!
bullet 2006  Philip C. Williams-University Presidency
bullet 2005  Zack Foster-Culinary Arts
bullet 2004  Wilson Fallin‑History
bullet 2003  Stephen Parker‑Sociology
bullet 2002  Michael Patton‑Philosophy
bullet 2001  Luke Hardt‑‑Theater
bullet 2000  Pennie Ticen‑English
bullet 1999  Mike Hardig‑Biology
bullet 1998  Michael Sterner- Mathematics
  more ...

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This work by Michael F. Patton, Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.