Three College of William and Mary professors faced off during the annual Raft Debate Wednesday night in the Sadler Center’s Commonwealth auditorium. Cast as survivors of a fictional shipwreck with a single lifeboat, they fought for the survival of their respective academic disciplines.
Professor of psychology Lee Kirkpatrick represented the social sciences, Richard Palmer represented the humanities and Lisa Landino represented the natural and computational sciences.
However, it was Marshall-Wythe School of Law professor Scott Dodson, the devil’s advocate for the debate, who was victorious. Dodson advocated that none of the areas of study should be rescued from the deserted island.
Laurie Sanderson, dean of graduate studies and research for Arts and Sciences, served as the judge.
“The point of all this is to have fun with an intriguing debate,” Sanderson said. “We can learn that each discipline does benefit society in its own way.”
Professor of chemistry Landino opened the debate with an introduction of two props — a plush Big Bird to represent biology and a puppet-figure of Albert Einstein to represent physics. With the aid of her props, she began listing the alphabet of science and its contributions to humanity.
“H is for hybrid cars and holograms,” Landino said. “I is for insulin and indigo — to make all those blue jeans that you all wear.”
Kirkpatrick spoke second in support of the social sciences. While he acknowledged the contributions of both the natural sciences and the humanities to the world, he stressed that the social sciences were actually a combination of these two disciplines.
“On one hand, we have the natural sciences, who have the method and the power to discover, but they’re pointing it in all the wrong direction,” Kirkpatrick said. “And then, the humanities: they’re focusing on the right thing, but they have no method to discover the appropriate truths. So, I suggest that the social sciences represent the exact combination that the future of humanity requires. We take the power of the scientific method and focus it on humanity.”
As the representative of the humanities, Palmer followed Kirkpatrick, suggesting that the humanities were the most efficient of the three disciplines since they only require an individual’s imagination. He said he felt that the humanities were essential to the creation of the natural and social sciences, and that they also represented a celebration of human need.
It was Dodson’s performance that topped those of his competitors. He closed the seven-minute opening arguments with a new rendition of Don McLean’s hit “American Pie,” changing the lyrics to demean his competition.
Dodson said that all of the arguments were merely about self-preservation. The crowd clapped and joined the devil’s advocate in singing the chorus which was written as “Bye, bye, please let them all die.”
Nick Koop ’11 attended the debate for the first time and said he felt the performance exceeded his expectations.
“It showed that William and Mary is not all about studying,” Koop said. “We can have a good sense of humor and mock each other for a while.”