November 17, 2006

Debate society tackles human rights

The Chicago Debate Society hosted a spirited public debate Wednesday evening on whether the University of Chicago should consider human rights when making financial decisions.

Third-year Stephanie Bell and first-year Adam Anderson argued that the University as a socially responsible institution ought to consider human rights.

In opposition, third-year Bridget Fahey and first-year Ben Field argued that considering human rights in financial decisions would limit open discourse and decrease University funds.

“We try to pick contentious issues that people are already talking about,” said Bell, who promotes and arranges the public debates once or twice each quarter. “We thought it would be interesting to talk about human rights in general.”

Bell and Anderson argued that considering an option such as divesting funds from companies that condone human rights abuses would create a more inviting image for the University and would not damage the University financially.

They also said considering such issues would show tangible action resulting from discourse, and emphasized that including human rights in financial discussion was simply the human, decent thing to do.

Fahey and Field argued that considering human rights in financial decisions amounted to a political decision that would marginalize students, professors, and prospective students with opposing viewpoints.

They also argued that financial decisions should be made only by independent financial advisers to guarantee that the money students pay would be returned to them in the form of University resources.

“This debate was about the University, so the arguments were more home-grown,” said Fahey, who said she appreciated that the issues discussed were relevant to student life.

In true parliamentary debate style, the audience contributed to the debate by pounding on desks for arguments they found convincing.

To determine who had won the debate, audience members were supposed to exit from one of two designated doors to indicate their opinion. The crowd filed out without clearly indicating a winner, and an unofficial debate continued into the evening.