I think this discussion really comes down to one question: What kind of
debate experience are we looking for? Do we want to emphasize the
competition, the education or the discourse (or something else)? I
understand that there are multiple goals of debate, but at some point you
must either say "our priority is X...." or you end up in an impossible
balancing act.

I'll throw my opinion out there first. Of those three poles, competition,
education and discourse, with the understanding that this is a competitive
event, I think we should probably reject changes to the event that advance
competitive goals at the expense of discourse and education. This is a
difficult thing to say because I found deep satisfaction with the
competition as both a debater and coach, but I think that there are
fundamental flaws that come with an emphasis on competition that make it
difficult to reconcile with the kind of debate we'd all be happy with. I
was part of NPDA when it began its slide into policy-based insanity. The
main problem is that competitive concerns came to dominate everything else.
From a competitive standpoint, saying more words generally provides an
advantage, so speed became the norm. Having very specific rules about what
is and isn't considered "good" debate generally helps achieve competitive
goals by increasing the consistency with which "good" teams tend to win
rounds, but it leads to a narrow range of acceptable styles. An emphasis on
structure and tabula rasa judging means that rounds are often decided on
more "objective" criteria, but the quality of debate, as it applies to the
real world goes down because judges cannot reject ridiculous arguments on
the grounds that they're ridiculous. An emphasis on competition seems to be
empirically incompatible with maintaining an approachable, broadly relevant
style of debate (granted my empirics have a sample size of about siz
circuits, two of them turned into policy). CEDA and NPDA, as they matured,
tended to emphasize the competitive aspects of debate. Their slide towards
speed, technique and theory seems a fairly natural result of an emphasis on
competitive "quality". The people who started NPDA and CEDA were smart,
thoughtful people with a strong grasp of communication, but despite their
best efforts their debate style became in many ways, the antithesis of
their original intent.

This leads me to conclude that if there is a way to have a style of debate
which maximizes its pursuit of competitive goals without eventually
sacrificing education and/or discourse, we haven't figured out what it
looks like yet. In the meantime, many of the things we do to improve
competitive quality in the short term are likely to have troubling
long-term impacts, or at least they did when they were introduced into

As a result, I think we should be very critical of changes to our style
that are done in the name of improving competition. Critical does not mean
rejecting them out of hand, but it does mean subjecting them to a more
intense scrutiny than those that have other goals. Worlds/BP differs from
the American styles by making some structural decisions that emphasize
education and discourse over competition, namely the emphasis on manner
(which can't really be objectively defined), accepting the position bias
introduced by four teams and requiring judges to make subjective
evaluations of an argument's quality. I would argue that each of these
features serves a useful purpose. Worlds/BP is imperfect, but it tends to
protect the qualities most of us want from a debate event, while still
allowing a competitive experience, imperfect as that may be.

I raise the point for two reasons. First, I think that Chennai's use of
competitive history as a method of assigning slots is troubling, though I
confess, all the alternatives I can think of are arbitrary in some other
way, so I'm not going to plant a flag on either side of that argument (we
can't afford to go anyway). More importantly, I have also seen some changes
in Worlds/BP debate in the U.S. over the last few years. I don't think
they're all bad, but I do think that we, a group of people who love and
care for the event, should probably have a better idea what we want this
style of debate to be, are as a prelude to the discussion of whether recent
changes are, in fact, problematic.

-----Original Message-----

From: USA Debating in the WUDC Format [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On
Behalf Of Jaime Wright

Sent: Wednesday, May 01, 2013 6:22 AM

To: [log in to unmask]

Subject: Re: Disapointed

I said this to Steve yesterday (not for the first time, actually), and I'll
say it to yall today. An easy and ethical solution to all of these issues
lives in the form and presentation of the "Adjudication Briefing." All we
need to do is stop saying that a "good" debate should be watchable/judgable
by a "reasonable, fairly well-informed voter/person/citizen." Instead, when
we do these briefings, we should be clear with each other and with our
debaters that winning debaters must know how to persuade other winning
debaters--people who have some sort of expertise in the language and format
of debate. This is what I tell my students. An excellent example of this
happened during the sixth round at USU (wonderful tournament, btw) this
year. The president of the university sat in on the judging panel for one
of the "top" rounds, and her decisions were different from the decisions of
most of the rest of the panel, as were her reasons for those decisions. In
the language of the adjud!

 ication discussion, the debate experts informed her that the winning team
should adhere to certain rules of the game and that the manner/style of the
teams didn't matter so much as their dedication to the specific world
created by that particular round. These winning debaters know that they
should be persuading the other debaters--not the presidents of universities
(unless, of course, they are also former debaters).

And it's fine to be good at talking to a small group of people who share
your background, experiences, language, and interests. We should just be
very clear--with ourselves and with our students--that BP debate, like most
other forms of debate, is a rhetoric of enclaves and experts. This is not a
layperson format anymore, if it ever really was.



From: USA Debating in the WUDC Format [[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of
Stephen Llano [[log in to unmask]]

Sent: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 12:48 PM

To: [log in to unmask]

Subject: Disapointed

Colleagues and Friends,

I have been sitting on writing this for a long time, but today my feeling
of disappointment has driven me to ask a few questions to those of you on
this list.

Since the posting about the changes to WUDC registration were shared here,
there have only been two responses, and neither of them more than just
technical questions about the nature of the registration system changes.

Where is the critical discussion about what these changes mean for our

From my vantage point, as someone who has gone from thrilled with WUDC to
someone who no longer wants to be a participant in it, these changes make
me want to be an active opponent to WUDC.

When I first became involved in WUDC in 2007 I thought its greatest
strength was in the diversity of views as to what a good argument could be.
I thought it to be an amazing experience for my students and myself to
encounter such a variety of different styles and approaches to rhetoric,
argumentation, and persuasion. My recent reticence in future participation
was not because of quality, but more because of safety and financial

Now it appears that WUDC wants to throw away quality in favor of a
faux-quality: A positive feedback loop of people who speak the "right way"
perpetuating a very particular kind of speech being rewarded with more
participants who also speak in that "right way."

This feedback loop will be accentuated by the fact that judges will also be
increased from those institutions that demonstrate they can speak in the
appropriate code to reach elimination rounds. WUDC council has made it very
clear that they are not interested in a broad range of ways of speaking and
arguing, but a very narrow band view of this. Their annual tournament will
serve as the gatekeeper for who gets to participate in this competition.

It amazes me that on an email list that includes those who saw the decline
of NDT and NPDA from broad based organizations to those that try to
eliminate diversity of discourse in the same way, people have remained
silent.  Not even one word of critical questioning or examination has been
posted about these changes.  Questions need to be discussed, such as: What
is the difference between this change and mutually preferred judging in
NDT/CEDA? Why should WUDC have a system of participation that reminds us
more of the NPTE than our own USU nationals?

But the American debate educators have remained silent.  The wisdom of so
many years of participation in different formats and the eventual
abandoning of those formats in favor of BP and WUDC have not inspired any
of you to write one single line of questioning in response to Michael's
emails. This is the root of my disappointment.

Years ago, I asked the question to many British debaters: What is the value
of having a professional coach or debate director? What is the value added
of such a figure? Most debaters in the world don't have one, and they do
quite well competitively. Most did not have a response, and weren't sure.
I thought it was a very pressing question. The only response I could think
of that made any sense was the injection of the pedagogical dimension to
debating. If there is something Americans can bring to the party, it would
be that key element - to help people recognize that every move they make in
the debate universe is a pedagogical one. There are serious implications to
every adjudication and every comment that is ignored or rewarded in every
debate. We are constantly teaching, and reinforcing, lessons provided by
and through language. This hopefully has some spillover effect into their
daily lives when they encounter other people. The result would (hopefully)
be kindness, patien!

 ce, understanding - all concepts brought about by a healthy sense of
uncertainty of the self. Debate provides this uncertainty all too often,
which is the source of it's value for Universities.

The narrow band reward-those-who-are-rewarded-already registration system
is pedagogically bankrupt if we are really still interested in this whole
"reasonable person" judging philosophy, which I already question as a
principle for a lot of reasons based on a lot of my own judging
experiences. WUDC seems to now feel very comfortable totally abandoning
this principle in favor of one where those who have proved expertise in
persuading the imaginary reasonable person now get more opportunities to do
the same, in front of those who also believe they know what the imaginary
reasonable person wants. We are talking to one another imagining that we
are appealing and representing a broader based intellectual community.

We are teaching ourselves and one another how to appeal in a vanguard
discourse to those who love this vanguard discourse, not "reasonable
people." It seems a shame that I have to struggle to find a WUDC video on
the internet that I can show to public speaking students or beginning
debate students that they can even begin to understand. Our speeches are
becoming appeals to a particular elite, and this decision from WUDC further
refines who can be in that elite. As discourse training for and by elites,
we are far away from encouraging an attitude among participants that would
be much other than cynical disgust for the rhetorical and argumentative
strategies of those outside the elite; a worldview that encourages seeing
the discourse of the non-elite as automatically flawed, bad, and not worthy
of engagement. Debate teaches us to be good arguers - the best, right?
Actually, debate like this just teaches us to be good debaters, full stop.

It really depends on how you say it: Instead of WORLD Universities Debating
Championship, the emphasis now seems to be on World Universities Debating
CHAMPIONSHIP. Another question arises: How can someone be world champion in
debating for reasonable people when the participants are hand selected
based on their institution's success at previous competitions? Where is the
door for those who are new, who are reasonable, and want to argue and judge?

When I first started participating in the WUDC universe, I was assured this
style of debating would not fall into the pits of the previous US formats.
I was assured by many of you reading this that "the world will check" the
US inclination to become highly technical, highly cloistered, and highly
specific in style. Nobody who has said that to me has responded with any
critical questions to this decision.  This would amaze me if it weren't so
disappointing.  Who is going to check the world when they make decisions
like this one?  Here we go again. This is the first step into creating
another inaccessible and limited debating format.

Where are the debate educators now? Or have you given up the project of
showing students how hard it is to reach the mind of another in favor of
earning more trophies and accolades? Perhaps you feel like the decision is
fine because your teams will not be impacted by the registration procedure.
The temptation is pretty strong to say, "We can win under this rubric." But
nobody has asked the question, "Who loses?"

This doesn't effect me, as I said before. I'm out of the WUDC game, but not
out of BP and debate and the wonderful powers they provide in teaching
people amazing things. WUDC wants to limit themselves to an elite.  We here
in the US have seen what this does to debate participation. But not to
worry.  Just because there is a yacht club it doesn't mean that boating is
going away.  WUDC doesn't realize that competitors to their monopoly will
quickly arise with the rise of Chinese debating and North American debating
as more American schools join the BP ranks.  Alternatives to WUDC will
arise, including what I'm doing - taking my students to other tournaments.

Who should a world champion appeal to? Others in the elite club? Society in
general? University communities? Reasonable people? their peers and
colleagues? Scholars of argumentation?

Or perhaps the idea of world champion is best left as a ruse to get people
talking to one another and thinking about how difficult that talking - and
understanding that talking - is for human beings.

Your friend and colleague,




Stephen Llano, Ph.D.

Director of Debate and Assistant Professor, Department of Rhetoric,
Communication & Theater St. Johnís University Queens, NY

718-990-5606(voice) 718-990-2435 (fax)

callto://stevellano -- Skype Me!

"Knit the brows, and a strategem comes to mind." - Lo Kuan-chung, Romance
of the Three Kingdoms.

"Poetry is a rival government always in opposition to its cruder replicas."
- William Carlos Williams