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The Raft Debate is an annual event at William & Mary. "During the event, three survivors of an imaginary shipwreck -- a scientist, a social scientist and a humanist -- achieve a delicate balance between comedy and lecture as they debate the value of their respective disciplines for the rest of humanity. Only one of the professors can return to civilization in the life raft. A fourth faculty member, a devil's advocate, joins the survivors and argues sarcastically that none of the academic disciplines are worth saving." The debate is moderated by a judge who picks the winner based on audience applause.

The event first took place from the 1960s through the 1980s and then was revitalized in 2002 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

  • From the Flat Hat, William & Mary News, and Alumni Gazette card catalog index in Swem Library's Special Collections (updated through 2001):

    • 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).


In the News


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A note about the contents of this site

This website contains the best available information from known 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. The information in this website is not complete, and it changes as we continue to research and uncover new sources.