Hobart and William Smith Colleges is again hosting one of the most competitive debate tournaments in the world, bringing together an elite and internationally diverse group of debaters and adjudicators for the seventh annual Round Robin Invitational.
Sponsored through a partnership with the International Debate Education Association (IDEA), the Invitational featured keynote speakers Lawrence H. Summers, the Charles W. Eliot University Professor and President Emeritus at Harvard University, and Chen Guangcheng, Chinese legal activist. The Round Robin Invitational began on Thursday, April 4 and will conclude Saturday, April 6 in the Vandervort Room of the Scandling Campus Center.
Some of the top debate teams in the U.S. are taking part in this year’s tournament, including those from Cornell, Harvard, Loyola Marymount University and Yale. In addition to the U.S., debaters and adjudicators have come from Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, England, Ireland, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and South Africa.
“With the consistent support of IDEA and the Open Society Youth Initiative, we have created the most highly competitive tournament in the world, now seen among top debaters as one of the best around the world,” Barnes says. “We now regularly turn away teams that have won major tournaments.”
Previous winners of the Round Robin Invitational at HWS include teams from Oxford, Harvard, Yale, Trinity College Dublin and Stanford. For the first time this year, the HWS Debate Team has officially qualified to compete. Per the Invitational’s rules, the team could only compete in the tournament it hosts if it earned an automatic bid by winning another major tournament. In April 2012, Gerald “Buzz” Klinger ’12 and Will McConnell ’12 earned the team the slot when they were named the 2012 United States Universities Debate Champions.
In 2012, 10 of the 16 attending Invitational teams had earned automatic bids by winning major tournaments, and there were 22 strong applications for the remaining six spots. A total of 10 teams flew in for the tournament, with the University of Sydney (the top ranked debate program in the world) sending its two best teams. There were five world champions at the 2012 tournament.
This year, among the activities of the Round Robin Invitational, the keynote addresses by Summers and Chen were well attended by debate participants and the campus community alike.
Summers has served in senior policy positions over the past two decades, including as the 71st Secretary of the Treasury for President Clinton and the Director of the National Economic Council for President Obama. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and went on to receive his Ph.D. from Harvard.
“The Round Robin has an eight-member international advisory board who voted Summers as their top choice for this year’s speaker,” says Assistant Professor of Philosophy Eric Barnes, the HWS Debate Team adviser. “Summers has had a major impact on U.S. and international economic policy. What they disagree about is whether this impact has been positive or harmful. He is a very controversial figure and so his remarks were a great starting place for debating these issues. And, since he is a former debater himself, he was happy to engage with the audience.”
Chen is a Chinese civil rights activist and human rights lawyer. The 2007 Ramon Magsaysay Medalist, he escaped house arrest in 2012. Connections were made with Chen through Associate Professor of Education Helen McCabe, whose primary area of research is on disability in China. Through McCabe’s work, Chen has multiple ties to the HWS community that made it possible for Barnes to reach out to him.
“He has an incredibly heroic story,” says Barnes. “We were fortunate to hear his perspective about his views on these issues.”
Summers held his remarks on Thursday, April 4, in a public lecture. Chen spoke on Friday evening. The final round of the competition will take place at 3:15 p.m. on Saturday, April 6.