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Jeffrey Walker, Chair PAR 3, Mailcode B5500, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-6109

Rhetoric and Writing Majors Billy Dodd and George Chidiac Help Host Public Political Debate

Posted: April 10, 2014
Chidiac and Dodd with Congressman Beto O’Rourke after the debate

Chidiac and Dodd with Congressman Beto O’Rourke after the debate

What do rhetoric and writing majors do? If you’re Billy Dodd, Jr., and George Chidiac, currently students at the University of Texas at Austin, you take what you’ve learned in class and apply it to real-world politics. In mid-February, Dodd and Chidiac travelled to Coronado High School in El Paso to help a non-partisan student group called WE(fillintheblank) host a public debate among three candidates for county judge in the Democratic primary. What made the political event special, though, was the format conceived by the two UT undergraduates.

Using Socratic methods of discourse, candidates would engage in a back-and-forth conversation, with the moderator participating and asking a series of probing questions. As Dodd, moderator of the debate, explained in a guest column in the El Paso Times (2/16/2014), candidates would be expected not just to state their positions, but to explain the thinking behind them: “The purpose is to see what logical, scientific, and philosophic steps brought each candidate to his or her respective beliefs.” Did it work? Following the event, United States Congressman Beto O’Rourke of El Paso tweeted, “Spanish Inquisition format, forcing candidates to be specific and cite facts. Good job.”

In the near term, Dodd and Chidiac are hoping to introduce this format across Texas during the midterm election season. Following the success of the event, Dodd started The Institute for Productive Government—a nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding and improving this “unprecedented” style of debate—as El Paso journalist and news anchor Estella Casas described the recent county judge event.

By changing the way political discourse occurs, Dodd hopes that “higher quality” political candidates will begin to stand out to voters, leading to a more efficient and effective government.

UT sophomore Billy Dodd, Jr., interviewed by El Paso news anchor Estela Casas
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