Master debater: prof evaluates USC debate

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Tom Stevenson (left), Josh Safer (middle) and Chris Reynolds (right)

Jon Purdy

FINALLY AN ELECTION GARY COLEMAN COULD WIN. Not to take away from USC presidential candidates Tom Stevenson (left), Josh Safer (middle) and Chris Reynolds (right), but come on — who wouldn’t vote for Gary?

Yesterday, University Students’ Council presidential candidates Chris Reynolds, Josh Safer and Tom Stevenson squared off once again.

The Gazette invited Western speech professor Ninian Mellamphy to comment on the candidates’ speaking skills as they debated in the University Community Centre.

Mellamphy was critical of Reynolds’ delivery.

“Rather interesting to me is [Reynolds’] mode of speaking,” Mellamphy said. “He’s very articulate and dynamic, but he speaks at such a ridiculous clip that ultimately he hardly gives us time to absorb what he actually has to say.

“He depends a great deal on his charisma rather than on the clarity of his ideas, and leans towards ideology.”

According to Mellamphy, Safer doesn’t come across as a serious candidate.

“When you listen to [Safer] talking, you realize he’s not going to get dynamic...he’s not going to have any great enthusiasms,” Mellamphy said. “Today he almost talked his way out of the election. He’s a likable guy, but you really felt like he would make a good manager, but not a very good leader.”

Mellamphy praised Stevenson’s speaking skills.

“[Stevenson] more or less presents himself as the one who stands for integrity and individual responsibility,” Mellamphy said, adding his mode of speaking reflects those qualities.

“He looks like the type of guy who can clearly say what he wants to say and he says it with a nice pacing, with good pitch, and with rather non-aggressive but confident volume.

“He actually speaks as if the people are going to believe in him as a fellow who is speaking as he thinks, rather than [saying] what he should say.”

“[Stevenson] spoke like a well-informed Londoner who could bloody-well lead this community with a great deal of common sense.”

Mellamphy also compared the three candidates’ overall characteristics.

“I think that of the three of them, one might like [Reynolds’] speed and verve, but ultimately [Stevenson] is the best debater.

“Not really knowing the issues clearly, there was something substantive about what [Stevenson] had to say, where in [Reynolds’] case I wasn’t at all too sure.

“I got the impression [Reynolds] would pretty well say anything that would win the popular vote,” Mellamphy said.

Mellamphy assessed how the candidates would fare in his Speech 143 class.

“[Stevenson] certainly would be an ‘A’ student,” he said. “[Reynolds] is attractive and dynamic but ultimately when it comes to clearly stating what he has to say, he doesn’t do it that well. I’d see him as a ‘B’ student, and because of his ridiculously fast speaking I’d be inclined to give him a B minus.

“If I had to include [Safer], he didn’t really speak to the crowd. Instead, he spoke in front of them. Ultimately, I’d throw him a 69.”

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