Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 34, Number 14. July 21, 1971
[Letter from R. Norman]
Is it any wonder that the University Debating Society is on the verge of collapse. By any standards of judgement debating is a very poor form of spectator sport. Six mediocre and poorly-prepared speakers defending propositions often contrary to their own beliefs can hardly make for entertainment or even intellectual stimulus. Debating is little more than a hangover from the days when it might have proved a successful substitute for today's theatre and television screens.
By continuing to hold large meetings in the uncomfortable formality of lecture theatres, the Victoria Society is digging its own grave. Debating just can not hope to compete with film, music, and theatre for an audience. It is futile to arrange meetings with unknown speakers and uninteresting topics and hope to have full halls.
A radical reappraisal of the purpose and place of debating in the University is necessary.
In a modern context debating is really only relevant as an apprenticeship for public speaking. The need to speak and argue persuasively in public is as great as ever. So many New Zealanders are inarticulate in the face of a group. One need only look at participation in the average University tutorial or Wednesday's forum to appreciate this fact.
The Debating Society should reshape its thinking and have as its primary task the provision of a training ground for those interested in public speaking. A reasonably small group of between twenty and thirty people meeting at regular intervals because all wanted to learn to speak effectively would be the best method. Of course there could still be open debates - annual events like the sex, religious and Wi Tako debates. These could cater more for entertainment while the regular meetings held the society together.
It is worth a try. Workshop meetings have attracted reasonable numbers and there must be more who would like to try speaking in public but have never found the opportunity. The present policy of arranging open debates in anticipation of audiences can only lead to increasing disillusion within debating circles.
One thing is sure. If last weeks obituary is not to be accurate there will have to be a redefinition of purpose by the Debating Society.