Campus News

Which discipline is worth saving?


Published February 15, 2016

“As your historian, I’ll not only make you famous, but immortal. ”
Patrick McDevitt, associate professor
Department of History

Imagine this scenario. The year is 2020. A freak incident causes the waters of Lake Erie to swell, flooding the UB campus. As the waters continue to rise, food becomes scarce and hope for survival dims.

Suddenly, ships appear on the horizon to rescue survivors. As luck would have it, all the ships begin to sink, except for one. As that ship is ready to leave, the passengers find themselves in a dilemma. There are six survivors left to board the ship — all UB professors — but only one seat in the ship is still available. The faculty members represent different disciplines at the university, and each one believes he or she can help build a strong, new civilization.

So, which professor — and discipline — is worth saving?  

That was the question students and faculty grappled with last week at the fifth annual Life Raft Debate. The entertaining and insightful event, held in Capen Hall, was hosted by Andrew Stott, dean of undergraduate education and director of the Honors College, who kept everyone laughing with his quick wit and British accent.

The survivors fighting for their place on the boat were Jason Briner, Alice Ceacareanu, Patrick McDevitt, Andrew Olewnik, Stephanie Rothenberg and Howard Wolf. Each participant had eight minutes to make an argument as to why his or her discipline was more valuable and worth saving.

The arguments began with Rothenberg, associate professor of art, who used a PowerPoint presentation to show audience members pictures of pieces of art. She explained how artwork has proven, time and again, that “artists are able to see a situation in a different light” and, therefore, can be helpful in building a new life.   

Up next was Ceacareanu, also known as “Dr. C.” Dressed as a sorcerer, the assistant professor of pharmacy argued that a pharmacist can help alleviate pain and the moods of aging women with the help of medicine.

She seemed to impress the audience by pointing out that one of our founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, also was a pharmacist.

The debate took a quick turn when Wolf, emeritus professor of English, presented his argument through a eulogy for the other debaters. He spoke of how imagination is essential for innovation, reminding those in the audience that it is important to have “someone in the raft that can dramatize the value of each life.” Not only are writers entertaining, but they are wise as well, he pointed out.

Olewnik, director of experiential learning programs for the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, noted that “engineering is all around [us] all the time.” Engineering and technology have become foundational for stable societies, he said in lobbying for the last seat in the life raft.

Jason Briner, associate professor of geology, stole the show when he mentioned how geologists can find the minerals needed to survive — and to make beer. He also mentioned that as a geologist he wouldn’t ask to be paid millions for his work, as he prefers to be paid with beer.

Last but not least, McDevitt associate professor of history, seemed to prove his point that historians not only “provide guidance unlike any other discipline,” but they are great storytellers as well.

Knowledge of past civilizations has helped shape the world into what it is today, he said, which is why historians are valuable to society. McDevitt won the crowd over with his statement that “As your historian, I’ll not only make you famous, but immortal.”

As last year’s Life Raft Debate winner, Provost Charles Zukoski shook things up while playing devil’s advocate as he tried to lure the audience into picking him to take the last seat on the raft.

In the end, McDevitt received the majority of votes from the audience and earned the last seat.

The entertaining and wildly funny event ended with some special cupcakes, courtesy of the Honors College and the Undergraduate Academies, both sponsors of the debate.