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There are only

until the
18th Annual Life Raft Debate!
Thursday, October 8th, 2015
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 2014 lineup:

Scott Varagona--Mathematics
Samantha Webb--Literature
Stacy Bishop--Kinesiology
Jeremy Carlson--Law
Robert Barone--History
John Stewart--Administration




What's  New

bullet And the Oar goes to:

Dr. Robert Barone of History!

Dr. Barone

Best. Debate. Ever.

Yes, that’s right, there is a consensus emerging among long-time Life Raft Debate aficionados that last night’s 17th Annual debate was one of the best in LRD history. It was certainly hard to decide whom to vote for. With a packed Palmer auditorium, attendance was estimated at over 800 and there were at least 50 more people watching the debate live at

If you missed the debate, you can still watch it there. Trust me, it’s a doozy.

Defending champion Scott Varagona starting things off with an impassioned plea for continuity of leadership, claiming that the constant change in leadership over the last sixteen years had not done us any favors. He claimed that he had kept us all alive for a year so far and deserved a second year for everyone’s sake.

Close on Scott’s heels we were treated to John Stewart’s broad-ranging defense of the need for an Administrator on the raft. Claiming the ability to feed us, shelter us and to help us repopulate the world, John said without a strategic plan, the rafters would dissolve into chaos very quickly. He extolled his seafaring skills, his teaching abilities and willingness to take one for the team if we had the misfortune to land in New Jersey and were faced with having to continue the species with Snooki.

Next up, defending Literature, Samantha Webb decried the current trend of marginalizing literature. Hardly a luxury to be indulged in after studying more “useful” topics, Sam explained that literature has the power to make us more humane, tolerant and wise. Besides being rooted in history, literature also looks forward and imagines a better world to which we can aspire. The classics reveal central human themes that, if pondered, can lead us to a form of life that will avoid the destruction that the current world has suffered, mostly at the hands of the so-called more important disciplines.

Stacy Bishop then took the stage to extol the virtues of Kinesiology, which he assured us would abolish the scourge of many societal ills such as obesity. Physical fitness would be equivalent to overall fitness to thrive in the new world, and, in addition, the science of kinesiology offers much needed knowledge of other areas such as nutrition. He also implied that he was himself I fine specimen of fitness and would use his physical prowess to the good of all if voted onto the raft.

After Stacy, Jeremy Carlson approached the bench to argue for Law’s rightful place on the life raft. He said that if the panelists were honest with themselves, they’d all have to admit that lawlessness in the new world was simply not an option. Without the rule of law, there’d be no hope of long-term survival. Jeremy claimed that given the centrality of law to any society, the only reasonable thing to do would be to take a legal expert on the raft to help found the new world.

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.

After the panelists exchanged some barbed rebuttals and some further defenses of their disciplines, the Devil’s Advocate, Steve Parker made a surprise appearance on the stage to thunderous applause. With wry wit and biting insight, Steve gave a fast-paced takedown of each of the panelists except for Sam Webb, who he said he could no more criticize than he could club a baby seal. The others, however, were not so lucky as to be spared. I honestly can’t do justice to Steve’s remarks here, so if you weren’t there, watch the video online. Heck, even if you were there, you should watch the whole debate again. It is certain to live on in debate history as one of the best!

In the end, well over 600 votes were cast. The heroic Kristen Gilbert tallied the votes and Robert Barone climbed aboard the raft, leaving the others to drift away to certain doom. I offer my heartfelt thanks to everyone who participated, attended and helped to make this event such as great success.

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