William & Mary

Who will survive? Raft Debate returns Oct. 5

The Raft Debate, a much beloved William & Mary tradition, will be held at Phi Beta Kappa Hall Oct. 5 at 6:30 p.m.

Click for a larger version.During the debate, 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 discipline for the rest of humanity. Only one of these 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 winner of the debate is chosen by a judge based on audience reaction.

This year’s survivors representing their disciplines and the fate of humanity are:

Humanities: Professor Katherine Preston, David N. & Margaret C. Bottoms Professor of Music

Preston is a specialist in in the history of musical culture in 19th-century America and has published widely on that topic. She is particularly interested in teaching courses on American music, the Romantic Period, musical theatre and music for the cinema. She is past president of the Society for American Music (an international scholarly organization), and has taught in Cambridge and Keele (England) and in Leiden, The Netherlands. Preston is the recipient of a Plumeri Award for Faculty Excellence and fellowships from the Fulbright Program and the National Humanities Center. In April, she presented the Tack Faculty Lecture at the Kimball Theatre. Preston is also an avid cyclist and a gardener, and is excited about defending the humanities.

Social Sciences: Peter Vishton, Associate Professor of Psychology

Vishton studies visually-controlled actions such as reaching and driving with both adults and young children. He and his students have uncovered evidence that when people engage in these action behaviors, the information processing characteristics of their visual system change, often in fundamental ways, on a moment-by-moment basis. Vishton's lab group is interested in how developing action abilities in infants promote perceptual and cognitive development. Vishton has served as the developmental and learning sciences program director at the National Science Foundation, worked as a consulting editor for the journal Child Development, and has been a recipient of the Alumni Fellowship Award. Vishton is also the inventor of a robotic device that enables 3-month-old children to drive (slowly and safely) around the room.

Natural and Computational Sciences: Professor Christopher Del Negro, Associate Professor and Chair of Applied Science

Del Negro is a neurophysiologist with expertise in the neural control of respiration. Del Negro and his interdisciplinary team of applied mathematicians, biologists and neuroscientists seek to understand which brain cells generate the rhythm of breathing and how they do it. Their innovative work has received worldwide attention, and Del Negro is frequently sought for lectures and seminars in countries including Canada, France, England, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Japan and Australia. Domestically, Del Negro has served four years as a study-section member for the Center for Scientific Review at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). On campus, Del Negro was a recipient of the Alumni Fellowship Award and the Plumeri Award for Faculty Excellence. He and his teammates avidly participate in biomathematics and neuroscience cross-disciplinary endeavors.

Devil's Advocate: Christopher Freiman, Assistant Professor of Philosophy

Freiman joined the philosophy department at William & Mary as an assistant professor in 2010. He specializes in political philosophy and his research interests include distributive justice, liberalism and applied ethics. Some of his recent work has focused on immigration policy.

Judge: Virginia Torczon, Dean of Graduate Studies and Research, Arts & Sciences.


The Raft Debate, sponsored by the Office of Graduate Studies and Research, the Graduate Center and the A&S Graduate Student Association, is free and open to the public. For more information, visit the webpage or contact Chasity Roberts at cyroberts@wm.edu.