March 2010


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Alfred C Snider <[log in to unmask]>
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USA Debating in the WUDC Format <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 26 Mar 2010 11:11:35 -0400
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Marlin Bates discussed WUDC debate (and my replies are inside) but I 
will not respond to everything since I have no dog in the NPDA hunt.

Marlin Bates is an experienced and skilled debate professional and I
respect him. However, on this issue we disagree, and I think that
disagreement, if respectful, is appropriate for debate professionals.

Honestly, we must have had very different experiences at WUDC. Also, I
can say that for three years now we have had 7-8 WUDC format tournaments
here in the northeast and it is going very, very well. WUDC format works
well on the USA domestic circuit, AND it allows for a world stage to
compete on, and I think that is very 21st Century and so does my
administration. It tells your school a good story, we were national and
now we are going international. I will discuss budgeting at a later time
if anyone is interested.

Bates says:

    3. WUDC is, in my humble opinion, flawed at its core for one
    fundamental reason: Consensus Judging. I have seen too many WUDC
    rounds given to teams that had no idea what the topic was about, let
    alone had a cogent argument. I have been a chair in WUDC rounds
    that, at the end of the day, were not about understanding the
    resolution. So, if your complaint is about adhering/discussing the
    resolution, that will NOT be answered by ANY of the rounds I have
    seen at the WUDC. Consensus judging in theory and in praxis at WUDC
    enforces an old-boy's network of who should be the top dog. I recall
    wanting to give a team an 85 in one of my first rounds and was told
    that "That's ridiculous! Oxford B doesn't even get that!" If this is
    the kind of mentality that we want to instill in our students, then
    have at it. We will be attending WUDC for very different reasons.

I would strongly disagree. I have found consensus judging to be refreshing and interesting. The "old boys" network exists EVERYWHERE, but I have not found it to be an exceptional problem in WUDC. Consensus allows everyone to participate. In Turkey I got two noted chairs (both former Chief Adjudicators at worlds) to move from their #1 to my #1 by making some thoughtful arguments. It isn't always awesome, but no debate panel of judges is always awesome. Two people can shut out one far easier by just voting for the same team in a non-consensus situation. One nice part about consensus judging is that it allows for the integration of new judges into the craft by actually working with other judges, each round can be a small workshop for them. Yes, a WUDC 1-2-3-4 round is more complex to judge but that is why it is important to break people in. PLUS, students can judge, easing the pressure to find judges at local tournaments (like ours in the northeast) and we have had
a lot of success with that. Besides, when one chair tries to bully two panelists they "roll" him or her by outvoting them. It happens. When it breaks down we go back to the system you seem to like so much.

I also like the constant judge evaluation that is going on. Debaters evaluate judges each round, judges evaluate each other each round, and this evaluation is tabulated but usually not circulated. Then, the best judges "break" to judge elim rounds, which creates a powerful incentive for judges to do the best job they can and please peers and students. Judges need to be reminded of what kind of job they are doing to stay on top of their game.

Bates says:

    4. Additionally, there is no argument present in the debates that I
    have seen at WUDC. Granted, I have only been to three WUDCs, but I
    would hope that ONE would be representative as to the content. I
    have seen all manner of nice-sounding speech, but I have not heard a
    cogent argument with data and a warrant. What I have seen is very
    similar to what politicians put out in stump speeches and what
    we--as educators--usually decry. I am not certain how to coach that.
    If given enough incentive, I certainly could, I suppose, but I am
    not certain that is what I want a student of argumentation to practice.

I guess I would respectfully disagree. One of the things I teach students and debaters is to avoid overclaims when you are tempted to use them. Are you really saying that 400 teams got together for 9 prelims three times and not one argument emerged? Are you saying the round at
had no arguments? Are you saying that this debate sounds like an empty politicians stump speech? Well, that is not the impression I am getting. On the DEBATE VIDEO site I have debates from every elim round and I cannot find one that meets your description. Yes, there are bad debates (it is an educational activity after all). I like this format because it is very easy for students to do the first time, but very, very difficult to do well.

One of the best things about the WUDC format is that it privileges argument development. Decry Oxford all you want, but when they get into making one argument for 4 minutes it is then that I see a real argument developed, minus jargon and minus cards read at high speed. All the steps are there, there are lots of examples and illustrations and explanations about why this argument has impact. One of the things I have been working with my debaters on several times a week is making their arguments "thicker," meaning better developed and explained. I think this is a very important real life argumentative skill.

Bates says:

    In the days of yore--which I have seen--Opp teams would have to
    continuously throw out 15 minutes of prepared notes because the Gov
    took the topic in an unforeseen--but entirely topical--direction.
    This has resulted in a persistent Gov bias in an event that--by its
    very nature (presumption, anyone)--should have an Opp bias. To
    characterize Opp Topicality arguments as "whining" is both
    pejorative to the teams that run them and demeaning to what has been
    a stock issue of debate for decades.

As I have explained previously, WUDC is also about role fulfillment, and the first prop team has to present a debatable case that can sustain a four team contest, not run from the issues, and the opp team is encouraged not to dispute their interpretation but let the judge punish them. We get the result of procedural arguments (sticking to the main issues) without having to listen to them, which I think is a great solution. I am not going to say we need to keep throwaway topicality arguments because of "tradition."

Bates says:

    7. WUDC worldwide is NOT a faculty-driven event. If we believe that
    forensics is important enough to have a tenure-track faculty coach
    behind it, then I would caution you in throwing your lot in with a
    student-driven event. In an era of decreasing budgets and
    diminishing tenure track lines, the justification to make all debate
    teams/forensics squads a student club without a dedicated faculty
    director is made even easier when your administrator finds out that
    the vast majority of WUDC schools are only student-run.

Yes, the world is different than the USA. If you want it to be exactly like the USA then don't go. Are you being hurt by debating against NPDA teams that lack full-time faculty directors? I think not. Perhaps debating has been limited by our requirement that there be a full time faculty member in charge. A lot of American debate "clubs" would disagree with you (including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc.). It IS an advantage to have a faculty member in charge, but what damage does it do to you to compete against them? They are not lepers. Is it better to have no debate than student run debate? Tell that to the Sydney Union, or to Hart House, etc. As far as I am concerned, having a faculty director is an advantage when competing against many of the student run groups in terms of continuity of program, developing training regimens, etc. I am not worried that the faculty line will be cut because everyone doesn't have one. I tell them that we have an advantage because of this, that we have a different liability climate in the USA, so we should keep faculty involved.

I urge people to watch one of these debates for yourself and make your own decision as to whether you would want your students to participate.

Here is one I picked sort of at random, from our tournament last year.

Again, congrats to all NPDA schools. Debate is awesome whatever way you do it. At Vermont we do policy and WUDC, and being a two format squad has really helped us retain students and create a respectful community. Now students have choice.

I trust that Dr. Bates (and all of us) will do what we think is best for our students. Different programs have different designs as well as missions from their administrations. I am all for diversity in debating. I just want to share what is working for us.

Best wishes,