SFU faculty ‘smacks down’ for charity

Professors dressed up to smack down. - Photo by Alfred Zhang

For the fourth year in a row, the Faculty Smackdown provided a venue for SFU professors to debate matters of the day, fighting for the coveted “Gnome-it-all Award.”

This year’s contentious debate topics were whether or not “the devil is in the details,” and whether or not “the answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.” The Smackdown was held on Wednesday, Nov. 25 at 12:30 p.m. in the Leslie and Gordon Diamond Family Auditorium (SFU Theatre), and had a strong audience turnout.

The event, hosted by SFU prof Geoff “Gnarly” Mann, is part of the annual SFU United Way fundraising campaign, which raised $137,684 last year, and aims to raise $175,000 this time around; money that United Way uses to support programs and services for at-risk children and seniors living in poverty throughout the Lower Mainland. This year’s Smackdown event raised approximately $1,800 — the most to date.

The Smackdown featured 12 professors nominated by students on the basis of their sense of humour, ability to talk about anything, and appreciation for the act of giving. Chosen professors were from many subjects, including Paul “Bam Bam” Budra, David “The Destroyer” Coley, Rochelle “Rambunctious Dr. Ro” Tucker, Kathleen “By The Book” Burke, and several others.

Each debate question featured two teams of three profs each, and consisted of three minute opening statements, a 30 second question posed to the opposing side followed by a two minute answer, and three minute closing statements.

Taking the idea of humour to heart, the debate teams came prepared with props, costumes, nicknames, and team identities. They engaged in a self-deprecating debate that was rife with dramatization, gross exaggeration, catastrophism, logical jumps, and flights of fancy. The debaters alternated in their use of rhetoric, and asked biting questions like, “If the devil is not in the details, then why are textbooks so big and libraries so large?”

Audience involvement continued during the event as questions were invited from the floor during question period. In one case, a professor explained the movement of air by the bringing of two hands together, and asked the audience to demonstrate with tempo, in the process, getting them to clap for him.

The Smackdown started as the “little big idea” of event organizer Gwynne Roseborough when she was the campaign chair of the United Way campaign four years ago. She continues to devote effort to the Faculty Smackdown, which she sees as a “wonderful example of SFU student, staff, and faculty community spirit” — one that she hope will continue year-to-year.

The Smackdown was inspired by a desire to “combine the formality of traditional academic debates with topics that would be fun for everyone,” she said. Roseborough drew from CBC Radio’s The Debaters and the Oxford Union Debates to create an event where money could be raised for a serious cause through the use of humour.

Despite the whimsical topics at hand, the professors brought real-world frustrations into the debate. Diverse issues such as course scheduling, the purpose of science, power issues on the SkyTrain, and the seven deadly sins entered the fray.

In the end, the winning teams were decided by the loudest cheering. The teams, The Exorcists and Three Sheets to the Wind, each took home the coveted Gnome-it-all Award, which this year ceased to be a physical statuette, but is now a poster of a gnome.

The winners’ verdict was that the devil is not in the details, but the answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.