For the fifth year, the HWS Debate Team has again partnered with the International Debate Education Association (IDEA) to present the Round Robin Invitational at Hobart and William Smith on April 8 and 9. This is the only international tournament that uses the round robin style of debate.
Assistant Professor of Philosophy Eric Barnes, the debate team’s coach, explains the tournament has become more competitive each year, and its participants are now among the best in the world. “It is now fairly safe to say that in terms of the average skill level of the competitors and judges, this is the most competitive debate tournament in the world,” he says.
Although the tournament does not have the same prestige as the World Championship, which attracts 350 to 400 teams from around the world, it has the highest possible average level of skill.
“This is essentially a tournament of champions, where teams need to be very successful just to be invited,” adds Barnes.
The tournament continues to grow in stature each year; this will be the most competitive and the most international of its series. In its first year, HWS hosted only teams from the U.S. and Canada, with a wide range of skill levels. In its second year, Oxford attended and IDEA (a Soros Foundations initiative) began to partner with HWS to provide the tournament with more international presence. The following year, the invitation and application process was formalized to ensure fairness in the face of the tournament’s increasing popularity, with eight nations represented that year. Last year, the tournament’s scope increased even further, reaching out to new countries that had not been represented, such as Ireland, Slovenia, South Korea and Zimbabwe. This year, a grant from the IDEA allowed HWS to offset the cost for teams that could not previously afford to participate. Hobart and William Smith expect 16 nations to be represented at the tournament: Australia, Canada, China, England, Ireland, India, Iraq, Netherlands, New Zealand, The Philippines, Romania, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa, Thailand, and the United States.
Also new this year are spectators traveling from China and South Africa.
“More people know about it,” explains debate team member Dan Maguire ’11. “Once you get some of the more attractive teams coming, teams want to come to debate against them.”
Maguire has been on the team for four years, serving as president for the past two. He served as tournament director last year, organizing logistics such as meals and transportation.
The topics for the debates are secret until 15 minutes prior to the start of each round. The debates can be on any topic at all, though topics are most often about political systems, ethics, law, international relations, economic policy, and other public policy issues. The use of electronics for research is not allowed once the topic has been announced. Students prepare for the debates by being well read and current with the news, and by continually building a broad base of knowledge.
Many of the competitors know each other from other international competitions, creating a relaxing atmosphere. “It’s definitely a very professional sort of setting, but it’s a lot more informal than you might think,” Maguire comments.
That said, the tone within debates varies greatly, and a competitive edge runs through all of them. Sometimes there are a lot of humorous remarks, other times the tone is quite serious.
“The best debaters in the world tend to be successful because they can get up and talk about things and be persuasive and it doesn’t feel like they’re giving us a speech; they can connect with the audience.”