Interesting responses so far. Good to see everyone is thinking about this. I don't want to get debate-y about it but I do want to talk about some of the things people said that I found to be interesting and useful.
First apologies to Sam - as soon as I sent this I remembered about the new forum. This would have been a perfect way to get that going. Sorry.
Buzz, you can choose any video and we can watch it and agree it is "accessible." But we can take any video and show it to a University class. They will not be able to penetrate the numerous "Mr. Speakers," "What we bring to you todays," strange body langugage and hand movements, and other such artifacts. They also will complain about the speed and the inability to follow the reasoning chains. I have to translate a lot for them to start to get it. It's intimidating and off putting - which means it is not for that audience of reasonable people, it is for our audience of reasonable people, i.e. our construction of reasonable for competitive purposes. Try it sometime you will be surprised what the reactions are.
Does this mean those people are stupid or bad at argument? Some would answer yes, some no. Does it mean they need training? Probably, if they are going to do our sort of argument. But we must be careful as our responses are directly linked to our pedagogy and (as Jaime points out) our ethics when we instruct (i.e. give a briefing). Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca, who are mentioned by John rightly so as important theorists of audience and argument, point out that dismissing parts of the audience as not appropriate for the message only works until you have no audience left, or no workable audience left. Rhetoric diminishes as you diminish your audience. If we are going to kick people out of our audience, we need to be aware of it. It's fine to do, but we can't just say "we're accessible" as we watch a nice debate together. We have to test how far that goes.
I agree with Gary and Robert and others that we need to work to preserve the rhetorical nature of debate and not let it collapse in on itself due to the seductive nature of positivism. Limiting the sample size based on how well you do at previous WUDC allows for a purer result and a more competitive result, but what is the point? Are the sum total of reasonable people from these successful institutions? Or better yet: Are the sum total of people who can accurately portray the mind of a reasonable person from institutions or teams that do well debating? Answers to such questions will show us what we are up to and possibly more importantly, what we _want_ to be up to.
This leads into the fascinating problem of conservative argumentation brought up by Josh and John - a constant problem that has been discussed in two really good Monash Debate Review articles in two different issues. It seems by consensus over there that the problem is time limits and the nature of competition combined with those who choose to participate as judges. This means our "reasonable person" is limited and possibly not inclusive, if we all agree that conservative arguments have some value. The solution is easy - less judging by experts in debate's idea of the reasonable person and more judging by reasonable people from the University or other community.
Tuna, I agree - I probably should not have assumed that nobody is working behind the scenes to lobby for changes. But what is the point of having organs like this listerv and Sam's soon to be successful forum if we don't use them to check ourselves once in a while. We should be sharing our thoughts about what's going on because, even though debate is cursed with being formally organized, changes can happen pretty quick and without a lot of reflective thought on anything other than the competitive aspects. I am not convinced yet on the diversity point. In one moment people say that diversity will be preserved, yet in another people say that only the most "serious schools" will be allowed to bring in more teams. I guess I should clarify my stance on diversity: Argumentation can be done in myriad ways. If we are going to limit participation based on success in our particular style of good argumentation, we need to have a really good reason. We should at least make sure it is consistent with our principle that argumentation should be "reasonable." What concerns me is how easily we can all agree as to the standard and then make moves to eliminate key elements of using that standard, such as substituting a vanguard audience for a universal audience in the terms of Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca. The danger here is that the vanguard arguer thinks she can speak for all, when she is speaking to a very small portion. I want to make sure that participants realize that, as it can lead to a snooty dismissal of the way human beings argue via real language - something that ancient and modern rhetoricians have consistently worked on pointing out. A good example of this is Josh's disciplining of me to not critique unless I have my own plan. This argument works well in many forms of debate, but outside of the competition it is a classical fallacy, the "critique without alternative." Many audiences would be fine with criticism of a policy even if that critical voice did not have a solution ready to go. Why? Because it helps us figure out a better solution. It's not about winning, it's about developing a superior solution. This is a key difference between debate, argumentation, and rhetoric, and it needs to be recognized and dealt with by carefully, very carefully engaging in decisions such as who gets to participate.
Finally there is the John and Jaime exchange which might be the most important one. Perhaps we never were at a point where we were "accessible" and it was an imaginary starting place the whole time. Who knows the truth here. The point is do we adopt a rhetoric of preservation, i.e. John's discourse where we struggle not to "lose" something that "we've always had" or do we adopt Jaime's rhetoric which calls us on the carpet for our ethical lacunae. Teaching people to speak to specialized audience is awesome - I love medical school, graduate school, law school - but they are straightforward about their training. I believe the idea that we are accessible was never a historical truth, but an ideal. And if we are going to be ethical about the "reasonable person" we need to look in the mirror and seriously ask ourselves if we are willing to do the hard work necessary to keep our practices in line with our principle. If not, then we should ditch the standard in favor of something else - an ideal reasonable person, or an ideal voter standard, something that is already creeping into our discourse about judging today. I appreciate John's sentiment, but a rhetoric of preservation does not, in the same way, call us to be builders of the world that we would like to see, but merely defenders of an ideal that would exist if people would just stop messing with it.
And Michael is right - no back and forth with the organizers necessary, I just want to raise aspects of the discussion that seem so obvious to me that I couldn't really believe the deafening silence about them.
Also not cynical, and still romantically hopeful about things,