[eDebate] Troubling debate behaviors

Alfred Snider alfred.snider
Thu Apr 6 08:44:12 CDT 2006

 >From my blog at http://web.mac.com/doctortuna/

Having just returned from CEDA nationals in Dallas I had a chance to 
observe many debaters and judges in interactions, and I wanted to talk 
about some behaviors that bother me. These are not new, but observations 
of these behaviors again this last weekend made me want to talk about 
these to highlight some important concerns and to get feedback from people.

Judges have a serious obligation to the debaters to do the best job they 
can, assess the debate performances accurately and to assist the 
debaters in holding a fair and rewarding contest. Likewise, the debaters 
need to stick to their roles -- making arguments and trying to put on 
the best performances they can as well as assisting the judges in making 
a fair decision.

Here are some issues I wish to raise.

First, the seemingly gratuitous awarding of perfect scores. Given a 30 
point scale for debater ratings, it is not often that debaters receive 
the perfect score of 30. It seems as if at the end of the year nears 
judges trend to give more and more perfect scores. This may be done for 
a variety of reasons, but to me most all of them seem to be bad reasons. 
At times it is done to recognize the career of certain known debaters. 
At other times it is done because the judge wants to avoid a difficult 
decision and tries to ease the difficult decision they may not be able 
to articulate effectively by saying that everyone got a 30. At other 
times the losing team may have a chance to reach the elimination rounds 
because they have received 30s.

All of these reasons may seem compelling at the time, but they are all 
fairly bad rationalizations. They may make it easier for the judge and 
might make the debaters feel better, but it is not appropriate. It is 
not a real recognition of performance, but an easy way out of a 
situation. It compromises the role of the judge to accurately judge and 
evaluate the performance of the debaters. It is not that much different 
from giving higher points to a friend. It ism also profoundly unfair to 
all the other debaters in the tournament. They are doing their best are 
are, hopefully, being evaluated fairly, while others are being given 
unjust . I have seen tournaments where results, qualifying teams and 
speaker awards have been adversely impacted by these sorts of behaviors. 
The judges involved simply do not consider how unfair their actions are 
and how it will impact others.

Second, inappropriate comments by debaters. The win-loss record of teams 
is important for whether they will quality or not. The judge is there to 
judge the debate that takes place, not the debate in the context of the 
rest of the tournament. Every round is important but. of course, judges 
and debaters focus more and try harder in rounds that they perceive as 
?break? rounds, to determine whether a team reaches the elims or not. I 
understand this, and while judges should exert the same effort no matter 
what round they are judging, to focus more is not necessarily a problem.

The problem that I see is when a judge is not aware of the relative win 
status of the teams. There are times when I have seen debaters inform 
the judge inappropriately of the wins that each team has. This is not a 
problem when they both have the same number of wins, but it can be a 
problem in a mispaired round. For example, if one team is 4-3 and 
another 3-4 and it takes a 5-3 record to advance, it would be highly 
inappropriate for one of the debaters to mention these records to the 
judge. This makes it easier to vote for the 4-3 team, knowing that it 
will allow them to qualify, while voting or the 3-4 team will not help 
them. Certainly judges of high integrity would not be influenced by such 
a comment, but at times judges want an easy way out and this would 
certainly be one. If I were in this situation and a debater made an 
obvious comment like this I would be insulted and upset that a debater 
would try to manipulate me like this. Perhaps the debater did not have 
this intent, but nevertheless it is highly inappropriate. Keep your 
mouth shut and let the debate happen. I observed this at CEDA nationals, 
and while I do not accuse anyone of anything, it underlines the need to 
be aware of such situations and to realize the situation.

Third, judges need to create and sustain the kind of environment that 
will facilitate the debate. The judge has a lot of power over what takes 
place in the room. The debaters defer to the judge for obvious reasons. 
If the judge does something inappropriate, the debaters are not likely 
to call the judge on it, because the judge has the power of the ballot. 
Now, I am not talking about some of the more egregious incidents where 
judges have told debaters that if they tell jokes they will get more 
points, if they sing a song they are more likely to win, etc. These are 
obvious abuses that I think we can all condemn. However, there are some 
judges who do something far less incorrect but nevertheless a problem. I 
have seen several judges who carry on a conversation unrelated to the 
debate during the debate and especially during preparation time. 
Obviously, a speaker?s preparation time is important, but the 
preparation time of the other team is an important resource as well, to 
be used to prepare. As I have indicated previously, the judge is in a 
power position, and a judge talking about their love of a particular 
sports team or a particular kind of restaurant is not likely to be 
interrupted as a debater says, ?Could you please keep quiet so I can 
prepare?? The debate round is not a social zone, but a forum for serious 
competition. Judges should remain reserved and quiet -- let the debate 

Policy debate is a very difficult and challenging activity. The debaters 
and judges need to keep that in mind and think about how they influence 
the situation and their responsibilities not just to the people in the 
room but to everyone in the competition.

Just some thoughts.

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