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UB faculty fight for survival at annual life raft debate

By HALEY CASE

Published February 8, 2017

If the world were to suddenly come under nuclear attack, which UB professor would you choose to help guide the rebuilding of a new society?

On Feb. 15, professors will plead their case for their survival and the final spot in the audience’s imaginary life raft set to sail to the new society.

The sixth annual Life Raft Debate, sponsored by the Undergraduate Academies and the University Honors College, will take place from 6-8 p.m. Feb. 15, in 107 Capen Hall, North Campus.

The debate will consist of professors from six departments, ranging from physics to pharmacology, defending their disciplines. They will try to convince the “survivors” in the audience that they deserve — over all of the other candidates — to survive the impending disaster.

At the end of the debate, members of the audience will choose which professor had the best argument and which discipline would best help the new society thrive. Refreshments will be served in the Don Shack Student Lounge following the debate.

“As far as what students can expect to learn, they will likely learn more about some really cool and fun faculty,” says Jessica Seabury, senior assistant director of the Honors College. “They’ll learn more about new disciplines, enjoy the company of other undergraduates in a relaxed and humorous setting, and have a few laughs and snacks.”

This year’s competing faculty and their departments include:

  • Walter Hakala, assistant professor of English and Asian studies.
  • William Kinney, professor of physics.
  • Lance Rintamaki, associate professor of communication.
  • Satpal Singh, professor of pharmacology and toxicology.
  • Gwynn Thomas, associate professor of global gender studies.

Patrick McDevitt, associate professor of history, won last year’s Life Raft Debate, the first faculty member from the humanities to win the competition.

“I argued that we as a new society would benefit from the experiences of the past, that we had a moral obligation to preserve the pre-catastrophe past, and that we needed a professional to chronicle the birth of the new world,” says McDevitt, who this year will take the role of Devil’s Advocate, pointing out the shortcomings of the arguments of the other faculty members.

“This, in turn, would make them — the founders of the new world — not just famous, but immortal.”

Previous winners of the Life Raft Debate include Provost Charles Zukoski, professor of chemical and biological engineering; Al Price, professor emeritus of urban and regional planning; Peter Horvath, associate professor of exercise and nutrition sciences; and James Jensen, professor of civil, structural and environmental engineering.