Debating union to host over 100 teams this weekend

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Over 100 teams will swarm to campus this weekend to compete in the annual parliamentary debate tournament run by the Brown Debating Union. The winner of the Brown tournament has gone on to win the national tournament three out of the past five years, and the tournament is “one of the most competitively strenuous,” according to David McNamee ’07, president of the BDU.

About 20 colleges and universities from states including California, Illinois and Maine will send teams, according to McNamee.

Brown is part of the American Parliamentary Debate Association, a group of 40 institutions total, including teams from all the Ivy League schools. Most of the schools in APDA are located in the Northeast.

The BDU, as well as debating squads at other APDA schools, hosts an on-campus tournament once a year to raise revenue, McNamee said.

Brown puts on “one of the best tournaments,” said Matt Wansley, a Yale senior who is on APDA’s top-ranked team and serves as a member-at-large for APDA.

Wansley noted that the Brown tournament is one of only five or six this semester that will draw over 80 teams. Seventeen tournaments take place between September and mid-December, according to the APDA Web site.

Debate teams compete in pairs, and Brown sometimes sends as many as eight teams to a tournament.

During competition, the subject of debate is chosen by the first team to speak and can be any topic a college student could reasonably be expected to know about. Debaters interviewed by The Herald mentioned a diverse array of topics, including whether the U.S. Supreme Court should rule that the Solomon Amendment is unconstitutional; whether the death penalty is hypothetically justifiable given infallible proof of guilt; and whether Mulan should have gone to war at a specific point in the Disney movie.

Teams have to support proposals in some rounds and counterproposals in others. Debaters spend most of their time preparing for rounds in which they will be choosing the topic. Cases can be crafted in two hours, but teams sometimes devote more time to preparing them, McNamee said.

Schools earn their reputations by placing high on various rankings of individual and team performance. Teams move up in the rankings and qualify for the national tournament – which will be held in April – by reaching the finals of APDA tournaments, McNamee said.

Last year, Brown’s top team placed 17th in APDA’s rankings. Brown has not advanced to a final round this year, but there have not been many tournaments, according to McNamee.

“Our goal is to qualify three teams to go to the national tournament this year. … I think that’s certainly well within our reach,” McNamee said.

According to Wansley, “Right now Brown is somewhere in the middle of the pack. People know who their top debaters are, but they’re not winning tournaments.” Rebecca Sivitz, a Brandeis sophomore, said she believes Brown is in the top third of teams.

The BDU, however, has goals that extend beyond winning tournaments.

“I would really like to increase the degree of on-campus debates and make sure that they happen, that they address substantive issues, and that they address those issues in a timely fashion,” McNamee said.

In mid-September, the BDU hosted a debate on the merits of Facebook. About 10 people unaffiliated with debate attended, according to Lily Tran ’10, a novice debater.

There will be another on-campus debate before the end of the semester, possibly focusing on the outcome of the Nov. 7 midterm elections, McNamee said. The BDU also plans to host several debates next semester. On-campus debates provide a valuable recruiting opportunity for the union, McNamee said.

The BDU has about a dozen first-year members, and leaders expect to sign up several more before the semester is over, McNamee said. In addition to the on-campus debates, the BDU hopes to attract students by inviting them to judge debates during this weekend’s tournament.

According to Kyle Poyar ’10, a novice debater, members can go to as many or as few tournaments as they choose.

“A lot of (the appeal) is just the ease to join, because you really only have to do a lot of work when you’re going to go to a tournament that particular week,” Poyar said.