Professors Debate Hot Topics

The constitutionality of excluding Florida and Michigan’s delegate votes in this year’s presidential primary election, and building a fence on the United States/Mexico border were subjects for “Hot Topics 2008,” where, as the event was advertised, “Your Professors Debate Your Issues.”
Four professors took the stage in the mostly filled Humanities Instructional Building 100 lecture hall on Wednesday evening, April 9, making impassioned arguments for and against these issues.
As professor of sociology Calvin Morrill explained, “The professors may not believe, in their core, the side they’re arguing.” Rather, the professors were to demonstrate “respectful, civil debate,” and educate the students on the issues.
The first question of the night was whether the exclusion of the Florida and Michigan delegates was constitutional.
Professor Pamela Kelley, the co-director of the Law Forum and political science lecturer, began her opening remarks supporting the argument that the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in the United States Constitution prohibits arbitrary exclusion.
The gist of her five-minute opening argument was that “two million votes have been disenfranchised” as a result of Florida and Michigan bumping up their primary election dates, a situation over which the voters had no control.
Political science professor Charles Smith opposed Kelley’s position, explaining that no one was prohibited from voting, and that the Equal Protection clause did not give a state the right to vote on a certain day. “The votes would have counted if the states had followed party rules,” Smith said.
During a five-minute rebuttal period, Smith argued that Kelley’s interpretation of the Equal Protection clause would eventually effectively “end [the political-parties system] as we know it.”
Kelley argued back, “This case shows our party chairs are too powerful, if anything.” The decision wouldn’t completely destroy political parties but would heighten individual rights, Kelley said.
Fifteen minutes after audience questions, the professors made closing statements about their viewpoints.
“The autonomy of political parties must have reasonable limits,” Kelley concluded. “The Democratic National Congress has violated equal protection laws.”
Smith said, “In Michigan and Florida, no state was treated differently. The same penalties would have applied to any state. States do not have to treat each others’ citizens equally.”
Next, chair and professor of political science Mark Petracca took up the argument in support of building a fence on the U.S./Mexico border. Professor William Schonfeld, dean emeritus of the School of Social Sciences, argued against the fence.
Their debate, in the same format as the delegate debate, was more intense as the two took jabs at each other and raised their voices on several occasions, but it was obvious by their smiles and audience laughter that it was all in good fun and in the spirit of friendly debate.
Petracca presented his argument that the fence was a necessity in a country where illegal immigration is getting out of control. Besides the “calculable harm to illegals,” which include suffering and death getting across the border and sub-citizen rights once they make it to the United States, Petracca argued that the illegal-immigration problem is hurting the common perception of immigrants in general.
“Today, the majority of the population believes all immigrants are bad. This was not true six years ago,” Petracca said. He asked everyone to stand by President George W. Bush, Senator Barack Obama and California Senator Dianne Feinstein in supporting the fence. Petracca said that the fence will help the fight against the war on terror. In his most succinct and witty moment, he simply said, “If you build it, they won’t come.”
William Schonfeld explained that immigrants would simply go over, under or around the fence, using ladders and tunnels. He also pointed out that increased border control hasn’t slowed down illegal immigration so far.
In response to Petracca’s opening, Schonfeld said that the best way to stop illegal immigration is to hand out “serious sanctions to those who hire them.”
Shonfeld challenged the idea that the fence will keep terrorists out. “As far as I know, no [September 11] terrorists came in through Mexico,” Schonfeld said. “Jobs being stolen? Poppycock!” Shonfeld also noted that illegal aliens are not only getting jobs that Americans don’t want, but also paying taxes anyway.
Petracca argued back that the government does not collect any tax on under-the-table cash payments, and that while the fence would not be 100-percent effective, it was still necessary.
“Building the fence isn’t the only thing we need to do,” Petracca said. However, Petracca explained that the plan for the border included three sets of fences