As the crowd erupted in deafening cheers and chants of his name, physics professor Peter Sheldon accepted the championship belt as winner of Randolph’s first-ever Academic Smack Down Wednesday night.
Sporting a lab coat and bringing his own robot, Sheldon represented the sciences in the playful debate between disciplines, which was designed to help students understand the value of a broad, liberal arts education. He faced off against two other faculty “tributes” in the contest—sociology professor Danielle Currier, who represented the social sciences, and English professor Gary Dop, who represented the arts and humanities. Gordon Steffey, the Barbara Boyle Lemon ’57 and William J. Lemon Associate Professor of Religion and Philosophy, played the role of devil’s advocate and made the case for why each discipline should be eliminated.
Wes Fugate, vice president and chief of staff, played the role of host and moderator, introducing each contestant to the audience. First to the podium was Sheldon, who quoted the words of the opening credits for the popular TV show, The Big Bang Theory.
“Science has brought us everything we hold dear: cheeseburgers, iPods, Ziploc bags,” Sheldon said. “Just like any field, not all of what we learn from science is good. But scientific discovery is a baseline for the most important endeavors. It is what allows us to make everyday life better and fix the problems that could wipe out the human race.”
During her arguments, Currier made light of the fact that she was the only woman on stage versus three white men. She named the many departments that comprise the social science division, including communication studies, economics and business, education, political science, sport and exercise studies, psychology, sociology, and the American Culture Program.
“Every discipline has a place here. That’s the beauty of the liberal arts,” Currier said. “But my division is where you get to have fun. We study the day-to-day life of people and how they communicate. In fact, we have taken many parts of the other divisions, in fact the best parts, and we have evolved them and made them part of the best division.
“We’re the ones who change the world,” she added. “We’re the activists, and we’re the ones dealing with the isms—the racism, the sexism, the homophobia. We’re the ones out there marching the streets or getting to solve problems. We’re the coolest, we have the most fun, we have the most awesome topics, and we have candy.”
On his way to the podium, Dop stomped the candy Currier threw to the crowd and roasted the other two disciplines while emphasizing the arts’ and humanities’ contributions to society.
“In the great educational feast, if the sciences are the fat, juicy steak, dripping with self-absorbed grease and a basting of salt, the social sciences are the leftovers,” he teased. “If you really want to analyze the world and make destructive stuff, go ahead. But if you want creativity and critical thinking, you want the arts and humanities.”
Wearing a horned top hat and wielding a plastic pitchfork, Steffey spent his time discrediting and poking even more fun at each of the academic disciplines.
“My message, friends, is that you were doing just fine before these professors came along and you’ll do just fine after they’re boxed up, and we mail them to Timbuktu or Shangri-La,” Steffey said. “Humanities, sciences, social sciences—they’ve got to go. They’re wrong for America, wrong for Virginia, and wrong for Randolph College.”
The champion was decided by audience applause, and the first to be eliminated were Currier and Steffey. By just a marginal difference in applause decibel levels, Sheldon was declared the winner over Dop.
“It’s awesome to win it for the sciences!” Sheldon said, wearing his belt and crown. “It was great to be up there with those guys. They were great competitors and I’m not really sure who had the loudest cheers, but I certainly appreciate it. It was a lot of fun.”
The Smack Down, which was part of the College’s 125th anniversary celebration, was enjoyed by more than 200 loud and proud students and other supporters who filled the seats in the Smith Hall Theatre. One student commented, “This was way better than any WWE Smack Down I’ve ever seen!”