Raft Debate

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The Raft Debate is an annual event at the College of William and Mary whereby 4 members of the faculty are stranded on a desolate island with only a one-person life raft for escape to civilization. The faculty would then debate over who should receive the life raft. Faculty participants represent the Humanities, Social Sciences, and Natural and Computational Sciences. A Devil's Advocate is the other faculty member who argues that none of the three academic disciplines is worth saving and they should receive the life raft. There is also a judge and the audience chooses which discipline is worth saving for the sake of humanity.

The event first took place in the mid-1900s, went away for a while, and then was revitalized during the 2000s by the Graduate Center, Arts and Sciences Graduate Student Association, and the Arts and Sciences Office of Graduate Studies and Research.

Material in the Special Collections Research Center

  • Flat Hat, William & Mary News, and Alumni Gazette Index
    • 1970 panelists, Elsa Diduk, Dorothy Riddle, Hans von Baeyer, Leonard Schifrin FH, 4/17/70, 3; C, 4/23/70, 2
    • Leonard Schifrin, Devil’s Advocate wins FH, 4/24/70, 3
    • 1971 panelists, Hermione Lee, Edward Remler, Marion Vanfossen, Jack Edwards FH, 4/23/71, 4
    • Devil’s Advocate, Jack Edwards wins FH, 4/30/71, 3
    • ALL-Star debate scheduled C, 4/13/72, 6; FH, 4/14/72,3
    • Raft Debaters drown philosophers FH, 4/21/72, 4
    • 1974 Panelists: John Lavach, Richard Newman, George Grayson, Herbert Friedman WMN, 4/16/74, 6; FH, 4/19/74, 7.
    • Devil’s advocate Lavach wins FH, 4/26/74, 6.
    • Debate scheduled for 13th year WMN, 4/15/75, 3; FH, 4/18/75, 3.
    • Recap of the raft debate FH, 4/25/75, 2.
    • 14th Annual Raft Debate scheduled FH, 3/26/76. 5; WMN, 3/30/76, 2.
    • Review of debate suggests it has reached a low point FH, 4/2/76, 20.
    • 1980 Debate set, WMN, 4/1/80, 1 (picture) FH, 4/4/80, 1 (picture)
    • Review of 1980 debate, FH, 4/11/80, 2 (picture)
    • Profs ready for Raft Debate. FH 2/27/81, 3 (picture)
    • Profs to Debate for Survival. WMN 3/3/81, 3.
    • Von Baeyer, Area III prevail FH, 3/20/1981, 5 (picture).
    • Profs sink or swim in Raft Debate FH, 3/26/1982, 3 (picture).
    • Outcome of Raft Debate; music over microscope FH, 4/9/1982, 16 (picture)
    • Professors defend disciplines in Raft Debate survival contest FH, 11/16/1984, 9 (picture).
    • Area II capsizes artists, scientists in Raft Debate FH, 11/30/1984, 8 (picture).
    • One professor from each area of study to debate FH, 11/15/1985, 12.
    • Area II survives FH, 11/22/1985, 7, 9 (picture).
    • Debate Keeps Rivalries Afloat” FH, 11/13/1987, 11, 16 (picture).


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The information available in this wiki is the best available from known documents and sources at the time it was written. Unfortunately, many of the early original records of William & Mary were destroyed by fires, military occupation, and the normal effects of time. Information in this wiki is not complete as new information continues to be uncovered in Swem Library's Special Collections Research Center and elsewhere. Researchers are strongly encouraged to use the Special Collections search tools for their research as the information contained in this wiki is by no means comprehensive.