The BYU－Hawaii Debate Club and Economics Club hosted a debate on Nov. 20 between political science professors Troy Smith and Rand Blimes. Through this debate, they tried to demonstrate how to battle with different ideas while keeping mutual respect and a high level of professionalism. Students said they were inspired by how each side was able to express their opinion without becoming hostile.
President of the BYUH Economics Club Connor Hansen, a sophomore from Idaho majoring in economics, said, “In today’s culture, it’s always you versus me and it can be very aggressive. But from this debate, I see how to battle with ideas, but still respect the opponent. Mutual respect and a high level of professionalism were demonstrated well by the professors.”
Professor Troy Smith and Associate Professor Rand Blimes are both experienced political science professors with different political views. Smith has worked at BYUH for 15 years and Blimes has worked for 10 years. They debated on several chosen topics including climate change, gun control, the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, and socialism.
Professor Paul Wilson was the moderator, and more than 80 students and faculty members came and watched the debate.
Learn to disagree better
Blimes said, “I hope that students who came to watch this debate take away how to interact with people who have different opinions. Even though you have a vigorous disagreement, you still can control your emotions and respect the other person.”
Smith added, “We wanted to demonstrate that people with a different opinion can have reasonable conversations. They can disagree to a certain extent and still respect and value each other.”
Gale Pooley, associate professor of economics, said, “It is great that people come together and talk about their views on things and let their ideas compete with each other, not the people themselves. The debate is a great form that it can happen. When we are in class, students get only that professors’ view on things. But it was fantastic to see different views on the same context.”
Justin Ioane, a senior from Samoa majoring in accounting and marketing, is the president of the BYUH Debate Club. He commented, “It is important to build a culture of sharing our views on different topics in a professional manner. This skill will prepare us for the real world. It is more comfortable to be open with our views here because people don’t yell at you and are not very aggressive. We need to practice to disagree better by having meaningful conversations more often.”
Earn your own views
Smith said, “I want students to understand everyone needs to earn their own opinion. They cannot rely on anybody else to tell them what they should think, believe, and do. They need to do the hard work, search out multiple sources, work through different arguments, and come to their own conclusion about what is right and what they should do.”
Blimes agreed and said everyone, including students, has a responsibility to think critically. “When we neglect that responsibility, we fail ourselves and fail the group we are a part of.”
Hansen shared the content of the debate helped him to check his own biases and gain new perceptions. “My best take away from this debate was [learning] I always have to check my biases when I perceive any information. Both professors agreed that most of us lack that.”
Ioane shared, “In the gospel, we need to earn our own testimonies or beliefs by our own effort. Just like that, I learned that we need to be truth seekers and work hard to earn our own views on things, of course with the help of others and our own effort. I think this was one of the important lessons I have learned from this event. The truth will always prevail.”
Pooley said, “We need to think deeper and be willing to remove an idea if we come to know that the idea was not true or a better idea comes up. Thinking is hard, so this kind of event is a place for you to develop your ability to think thoroughly. I hope students will take advantage of it.”
When they debated on the Trump impeachment inquiry, Professor Blimes took the pro side and Smith took the con side. Smith suggested instead of impeaching, censuring would be a better action, which is a formal statement of disapproval. While they were debating about gun control issues, Smith took the domestic side and Blimes took an international approach.
On the topic of climate change, Blimes said that a collaboration of countries would enhance the effort to solve the climate change-caused problems. Currently, they are lacking this joint effort because country leaders are too busy “pointing fingers” accusing the other of causing more pollution, using this as a reason to make them pay more.
On the topic of socialism, Smith said we have two choices, which are to have economic equality or political equality. It is impossible to have both of them, so we need to choose just one. Currently, we have political equality which causes economic inequality. If we choose economic equality, we need to give certain people enough power to redistribute the wealth equally among citizens, which is socialism.
Blimes said when we say socialism, people think about communism, which is the most extreme end of socialism. Most of the countries have some socialist policies. For example, the U.S. education system is a socialist system because it takes tax money and distributes it and everyone has a chance to go to a free public school.
The need of more debates
“The value of a university is exchanges of ideas that can take place,” said Blimes. “Here we have people who are experts in all kinds of different things and students who are interested in and learning different things. The great thing about the university is how we can come together, share our ideas, learn from each other and grow together. I really hope that debates like this will happen more often.
“I really hope that we will find support from university leaders to do more of these extracurricular academic learning experiences,” Smith said.
Hansen shared he thinks Hawaii is a kind of echo chamber of ideas meaning some of the political views people express do not penetrate. “Our campus is really lacking in these kinds of events. We will try to do more of these events in the future. Maybe next time, students can do formal debate and open up the platform of free speech and exercise sharing ideas in a correct way.
Loving the idea of having more formal debates on campus, Pooley said, “I would love to see this kind of debate once a month in the future. It was a great opportunity for students to take these ideas and develop their own framework of understanding a problem.”
Ioane shared, “We are planning to do another one next semester between two communication professors. This is a great opportunity for students to learn from their professors in a more practical manner. Each professor has a valuable accumulation of countless hours of studies and researches [to share]. As a student, I would love to learn from them, and [listen] to the way they think and articulate those deep thoughts.
“Also, we are planning to establish a BYUH Debate Team and compete with other universities in debate tournaments. However, we need devoted students and some financial help as well.”