Dr. John Patrick: Debate Enthusiast & Cal Poly Professor

Professor John Patrick is one of Cal Poly’s debate team coaches as well as a well-known professor of the COMS department. If talking to a COMS student, you might hear him being called by his nickname, JP. After receiving his culinary arts degree from community college, Dr. Patrick attended the University of La Verne to study Journalism, then Cal State Fullerton for his masters, and finally returned to the University of La Verne where he completed his doctorate while teaching and coaching debate.

Throughout his experience on debate teams, Dr. Patrick won the titles of 2006 United States Universities National Open Champion and 2007 Pan Pacific Champion as well as placing in other competitions. We interviewed this professor so we could get to know him better, learn about how he got to Cal Poly and discover why he loves debate.

Dr. Patrick’s affinity towards debate appeared at an early age. "When I was a little kid, probably around 4 or 5, I think it became very clear I was obstinate and liked to argue and my dad would say I should join the debate team." His middle school and high school didn’t have debate teams so Dr. Patrick’s opportunity to debate would arise after transferring from community college to the University of La Verne to study journalism. There, he met Ian Lising, the chair of the World Universities Debate Counsel, in his first public speaking class who encouraged Dr. Patrick to join debate.

"He kind of pulled me aside and said, 'I think you should join the debate team.' I feel like when someone who has the title Chair of The World Universities Debate Council pulls you aside and says this is a thing you should do, you show up and see. You know, you at least poke your head in the door. And so I shuffled around some classes to make myself available during debate practice and I took to it really quickly."

When explaining why he never followed the path of journalism despite graduating with a journalism degree, he rubbed his chin and said, "I just don’t think I have the right temperament to be a journalist. I’m combative and I am biased towards good arguments and it is impossible for me to report on bad arguments," proving that debating had always been in his future.

We asked if Fullerton was where he learned how to coach, to which Dr. Patrick let out a big laugh and concluded, "I think at Fullerton I learned how not to coach. I definitely did a bunch of stuff at Fullerton that I think didn’t work."

Coaching got a little bit better at La Verne, which he attributes to working on his doctorate at the same time. "I started approaching debate from a position in which I wasn’t micromanaging but instead setting a vision and connecting people to resources that I thought would help them achieve that vision and I started—I stopped playing checkers and I started playing chess."

After obtaining his doctorate, Dr. Patrick wanted to stay and teach debate at La Verne but wasn’t offered a permanent position. Fortunately for us Mustangs, this was the point in which Dr. Patrick chose to come teach at Cal Poly, and now he teaches public speaking, argumentation, and forensic activity (debate).

To close our time getting to know him, we asked Dr. Patrick to think of a piece of advice he would give people who are afraid of public speaking. "One, all you're afraid of there is judgment." Dr. Patrick urges anyone afraid of public speaking to take every opportunity that allows you to speak in front of others because systematic desensitization is the key. "The more you do that the more comfortable you will be. I think I got comfortable in front of an audience having done drama in high school and then having worked for four years on the jungle cruise at Disneyland telling those same crummy jokes every seven minutes for eight hours a day for four years. At a certain point, the audience no longer phases you."

"The other piece of advice I would give you is to realize the audience is also in your corner. Everyone in their life at some point or another has had to get up in front of a group of people and speak and they were just as nervous as you, especially if they don't do it that often. So immediately, once you're in front of an audience, unless you're telling those people something that is counter to their ideologies to where they're going to hate you as a person, if you're giving a pretty normative speech where they're informing them of something pretty innocuous, or persuading them about something that they might already be favorable toward, the reality is that they want to see you succeed".

He's witty, he's knowledgeable, and he'll be a great mentor. If you have the room to spare in your schedules, we definitely recommend taking a class with Dr. Patrick.