William R. and Linda K. Cotter Debate Series

The Cotter Debate Series was established in 1999 to recognize William R. Cotter, Colby’s 18th President, and his wife Linda K. Cotter. William R. Cotter received his undergraduate degree and his law degree at Harvard before striking out in a career in international governance and development. He spent two years in Northern Nigeria as assistant attorney general and crown counsel, served as a White House fellow under Lyndon Johnson, and was the Ford Foundation’s representative to Colombia and Venezuela. 

From 1970 to 1979 he was president of the African-American Institute, a nonprofit organization concerned with African development. 

As Colby’s president from 1979 to 2000, he increased international study opportunities, made significant progress in diversifying the faculty and student body, more than doubled library space, more than doubled the percentage of tenure-track women professors, and helped push Colby higher in the ranks of the nation’s top liberal arts colleges. Cotter led the College through the difficult process of ending the fraternity system, and during his presidency, the endowment increased over fifteen-fold.

Should Supreme Court Justices have term limits?

February 25, 2021

Each year the Cotter Debate Series brings experts to campus that are at the forefront of their fields with the goal of debating pertinent topics to the United States and beyond. This year the focus fell on the Supreme Court of the United States and whether or not its judges should have term limits imposed upon their tenure on the bench. Suzanna Sherry, a professor of Law at Vanderbilt University, has written extensively on the Supreme Court (read her article, “Our Kardashian Court, and How to Fix it”), and argued for the merits of lifetime appointments for our highest court. Ilya Shapiro, the director of the Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute, took the opposing position, informed by his research for his most recent publication, Supreme Disorder: Judicial Nominations and the Politics of America’s Highest Court (2020). Our two debaters joined us via Zoom which allowed for our audience members to actively participate in the debate with their submitted questions, despite the need for social distancing precautions.

Over the course of an hour, guided by questions posed by student-moderator Andrew Ordentlich ’22, our two experts discussed a range of problems facing the Supreme Court today, including the partisan divide in nominations and confirmations, the impact of the two types of constitutional reading (originalists and textualists), the over professionalization of judicial nominations, and the contentious proposal of packing the court.  During their lively back and forth, Professor Sherry and Mr. Shapiro shared many moments of consensus, both acknowledging that while the Supreme Court is a vital part of our checks and balances system, it has fallen victim to, at least in part, the partisan politics plaguing the rest of our country’s institutions.

Though our experts argued for opposite positions, they demonstrated that a lively debate can be cordial even in particularly partisan times. All are welcome to view this highly informative debate recording on YouTube!

“Can UBI (Universal Basic Income) contribute to decreasing inequality in the US?”​

“Can UBI (Universal Basic Income) contribute to decreasing inequality in the US?”

November 20, 2019 | Ostrove, Diamond 142

Michael Strain, American Enterprise Institute, and Amy Castro Baker, Professor, University of Pennsylvania

Moderated by Assistant Professor of Economics Rob Lester

High rates of inequality have led policymakers in the US and across the world to rethink the social safety net.  One option is the provision of a “universal basic income” which would provide an unconditional cash transfer to every citizen.  How would UBI affect economic inequality and the lives of workers in the US? Is it affordable without significantly revamping other government welfare programs?

These and other questions will be explored in the second Cotter Debate sponsored by the Goldfarb Center. On one side, Amy Castro-Baker, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice and a Principal Investigator on the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration, will discuss the basic income experiment being conducted in Stockton, California.  On the other, Michael Strain, the John G. Searle Scholar and director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, will focus on his research emphasis on labor and public economics.

Cotter Debate

“Can Our Institution Respond to Current Threats to American Democracy?”

October 28, 2019 | Parker-Reed, SSWAC

Bruce Cain, Charles Louis Ducommun Professor in Humanities and Sciences, Stanford University and David Brady, Bowen H. & Janice Arthur McCoy Professor in Leadership Values, Stanford University

Moderated by Professor of American Government Sandy Maisel

Democracies around the world—in Brazil, Venezuela, Hungary, Turkey, Great Britain, and elsewhere—have been challenged by popularly elected leaders who have acted far outside of traditional democratic norms. This year’s first Cotter Debate, sponsored by the Goldfarb Center, addresses whether American governmental institutions are capable of responding to the threats to decision-making norms seen during the first three years of the Trump Administration. Two Stanford professors, David Brady, the Bowen H. and Janice Arthur McCoy Professor of Political Science and Leadership Values, and Bruce Cain, the Charles Louis Ducommun Professor in Humanities and Sciences and the Eccles Family Director of the Center for the Study of the American West, are friends and colleagues, but hold different views on this most important topic. They will present these differences and engage in discussion with the audience.

Previous Cotter Debates

Trade Wars (October 18, 2018)

Soumaya Keynes, the U.S. economics and trade editor for The Economist
Dean Baker, Senior Economist and co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR)                                            Moderated by Professor Andreas Waldkirch, Colby College.

Free Speech on College Campuses: Should There Be Any Limits? (November 16, 2017)

Jon A. Shields, associate professor of Government, Claremont McKenna College
Laura Beth Nielsen, director of the Legal Studies Program and professor of Sociology, Northwestern University
Jon Zimmerman, professor of history of education, University of Pennsylvania
Moderated by Neil Gross, professor of Sociology, Colby College

American Democracy? (March 29, 2017)

Benjamin Page, Gordon Scott Fulcher Professor of Decision Making, Northwestern University; author of Democracy in America? What Has Gone Wrong and What We Can Do About It (Forthcoming).
Roslyn Fuller, scholar; author of Beasts and Gods: How Democracy Changed Its Meaning and Lost Its Purpose (2015)
Peter Levine, associate dean and Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Tufts University; author of We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For: The Promise of Civic Renewal in America (2013)
Moderator: Joseph R. Reisert, Harriet S. Wiswell, and George C. Wiswell Jr. Associate Professor of American Constitutional Law, Colby College

Genetically Modified Foods: Perils and Promises (Nov. 8, 2015)

Stephen Moose, Professor of Crop Sciences, University of Illinois
Judith Chambers, Ph.D., director, Program for Biosafety Systems International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) Washington, D.C.
Jonathan Latham, co-founder, and executive director, Bioscience Resource Project
Jodi Koberinski, 2015 Oak Human Rights Fellow at Colby

Hydraulic Fracking: Economic Boon or Natural Disaster?

Timothy Carr, West Virginia University
Jessica Helm, the Sierra Club
Erin Mansur ’95, Tuck Business School, Dartmouth College

Foreign Aid and the Environment (Nov. 10, 2011)

Nigel Purvis, president, Climate Advisers and nonresident senior fellow at The Brookings Institution
James Roberts, a research fellow for Economic Freedom and Growth, The Heritage Foundation

Social Security Financing for the Future (Apr. 3, 2011)

Henry Aaron, senior fellow and Bruce and Virginia MacLaury Chair in Economic Studies, The Brookings Institution
Stuart Butler, distinguished fellow, and director, Center for Innovation Policy, The Heritage Foundation

The Amethyst Initiative: The Legal Drinking Age in America (Oct. 29, 2009)

David Rosenbloom, president and CEO, National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University
John McCardel, president, Choose Responsibility

Whose Interests Does Academic Freedom Protect in the Age of the Internet? The Individual or the Institution? (Apr. 27, 2008)

Robert O’Neil, director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression at the University of Virginia, and former president of the University of Virginia and the University of Wisconsin
William L. Thro, university counsel and assistant professor of government at Christopher Newport University, and former solicitor general of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Healthcare Reform in America (Apr. 27, 2008)

Michael F. Cannon, director of health studies at the Cato Institute
Dr. Hugh Waters, associate professor of international health development, Johns Hopkins Blomberg School of Public Health

Urban Transportation Policy (Oct. 8, 2007)

Todd Littman, director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for Protection of Free Expression and an authority on the 1st Amendment.
Sam Staley, university council and assistant professor of government at Christopher Newport University

The People, The President, and The War: Who is in Charge? (Nov. 29, 2006)

Jeff Selinger, a Ph.D. candidate in government, Cornell University
Chris Appel ’07 and Ralph Kettell ’07, Colby College

Maine Ballot Question I: ‘Do you want to reject the new law that would protect people from discrimination in employment, housing, education, public accommodations and credit based on their sexual orientation?’ (Nov. 2, 2005)

Michael Health, Maine Christian Civic League
Ted O’Meara, Maine Won’t Discriminate

Balance Between Effective Policy and Human Rights Concerns When Battling Terrorism (Apr. 14, 2005)

Rand Beers, former White House counter-terrorism adviser
Margaret Crahan, Dorothy Epstein Professor of Latin American History at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York.
Jack Devine, Center Intelligence Agency (ret.)
Joseph Saunders, deputy program director, Human Rights Watch

Privatization of Social Security (Apr. 3, 2005)

Laurence Kotlikoff, professor of economics, Boston University
Steven A. Sass, associate director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College and author of The Promise of Private Pensions (Harvard University Press, 1997)