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Q&A with Joe Gantt

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JON HOUSE - Lewis & Clark professor Joe Gantt explains to debate students that knowledge is great but tap dancing works too.Native Texan Joe Gantt arrived at Lewis & Clark College in June after a stint as head debate coach at Texas Tech University. He’s still got a bit to learn about Portland, but whatever you do, don’t try to convince Gantt of that. Or of anything else.

Portland Tribune: What’s your position at the college?

Joe Gantt: I’m the director of forensics.

Tribune: Forensics? What happened to debate?

Gantt: Forensics actually comes from the Greek word for legal. When you think about CSI forensics, that’s legal investigation. Forensics speaking is training to be a legal speaker.

Tribune: So you’ve never been at a crime scene?

Gantt: Once I did get asked to go to a crime scene in Arkansas. Someone looked me up on the Internet. It said “director of forensics” and he offered to pay me $15,000 for a consultation.

Tribune: You didn’t do it.

Gantt: It would have been stealing. I’m not a criminal investigator.

Tribune: But for fifteen grand you couldn’t fake it?

Gantt: I am a debater. I probably could have ...

Tribune: Back to reality. You’re a speech and debate coach. So if you and I get in an argument here, I’m going to lose?

Gantt: Yes.

Tribune: Don’t I have a chance?

Gantt: Debate is geared to an audience. So if you could stack the audience with friendly people, maybe I’d give you a shot.

Tribune: What do you know that I don’t know?

Gantt: There are tricks of the trade. No. 1 is, know more than your opponent. No. 2 is, when you don’t know more than your opponent, make sure your opponent still thinks that you know more than them.

I just told you, you don’t have a shot. If we were talking about journalism, you probably would. But I told you that you didn’t, and I immediately gained the upper hand

Tribune: As an expert debater, do you ever feel like you are bordering on dishonesty?

Gantt: There is a history in debate movements called sophism. The idea is the truth doesn’t matter. All that matters is what you convince people of. I think by learning how to argue both sides of the story you’re better able to discern what the truth is.

Tribune: So that would explain why my teenage daughter takes issue with whatever I say? She’s just seeking the truth?

Gantt: My wife constantly tells me I need to turn the debater off.

Tribune: Worst debate you’ve ever seen?

Gantt: A collegiate debate in Tyler, Texas.

Tribune: They debate in Texas? I thought they only spouted opinions.

Gantt: In Texas, my main job as debate coach was to train the Texas out of them. The topic was, “This debate should be televised.” The affirmative debater says, “This would be good for public relations.” The negative debater says, “This would be bad for the activity because I am completely awful at debate.” In fact, her exact phrase was, “I totally suck. If it’s on TV, people will stop funding our activity.”

But I realized it was the most unintentionally brilliant argument ever. If she totally sucks and it’s bad, I have to vote for her.

Tribune: What are you, nuts?

Gantt: If she loses all her arguments, I have to vote for her because that proves that she sucks and I was forced to agree.

Tribune: You’re trying to trick me, aren’t you.

Gantt: That’s what we do.