[eDebate] University cuts policy topic from debate team [Oregon]

Israel Pastrana i_pastrana
Thu Sep 28 16:57:51 CDT 2006

This ran in todays student newspaper, the Oregon Daily Emerald


If that doesn't work

University cuts policy topic from debate team  Leaders decided to limit the team to parliamentary debate after budget concerns arose  Jobetta Hedelman  Posted: 9/28/06 The University speech and debate team has limited itself to one style of debate this year because of budgetary and educational concerns, but in a discussion worthy of its topic, some students on the team are arguing against the forced removal of policy debate.
 Last spring, team coaches unexpectedly announced that they were cutting that program, in which pairs of students face off in debates about national public policy, in order to devote more time and resources to the other debate event, known as parliamentary debate, David Frank, director of forensic education said.
 Frank also said the style of policy debate does not teach debaters to use evidence properly and is not as academically sound as other styles. Some current students are unhappy about the decision and say it is unfair to current and future University debaters.
 Senior Israel Pastrana was debating at a community college in San Diego when a representative from the University's debate team recruited him. After doing well in preliminary competitions last year - he and his partner went to several national tournaments and just missed qualifying for the most important one - he was shocked to hear that coaches were cutting the very event that drew him to the University.
 In policy debate, two-person teams prepare both a negative and affirmative argument based on a national public policy topic (this year's surrounds whether one of a group of court cases should be overturned). All policy teams in the nation debate the same topic year-round. Students do extensive research in preparing their cases and are required to present evidence supporting their arguments. The delivery is rapid-fire and requires a good deal of practice to perfect. It is sometimes called "cross-examination" because debaters question each other.
 Parliamentary debate differs drastically: The two-person teams do not know either the topic (or "resolution") or which side they will be arguing until they arrive to the debate. There are several debate rounds at each competition, each of which has a different topic. Once debaters arrive, they have 15 minutes to prepare their arguments. While the style does not require as much research as policy debate, it does require students to be knowledgeable on a wide variety of public policy issues and current events and be prepared to argue both sides of any issue.
 Frank said that only three other schools in the Northwest have policy teams, so policy 
 debaters must travel very far - sometimes across the country - to compete. 
 "Most of our students are interested in parliamentary debate and so it became a matter of spending a substantial portion of our budget on a very small number of students and we found that to be strikingly unfair," he said. "And with a small professional staff, we thought it would be better to feature parliamentary debate."
 Debate coach Paul Hood, who came to the team last year, said the budgetary concerns are not limited to the costs of flying one team to a tournament. 
 The problems also include paying for tournament fees and ground transportation for the larger parliamentary squad to travel, even to nearby tournaments.
 "I think probably what made the decision is where the students are. We had (10 parliamentary) teams last year and at some point you have to say, 'we're not giving the majority of the students all the opportunities they should have,'" he said.
 Pastrana said he decided to transfer to the University because it has a reputation of performing very well on the national debate circuit. Although smaller colleges were offering him full-ride scholarships to come and debate, he chose the University because of its history in the event.
 Although Pastrana and his current partner will be allowed to compete this year in order to allow Pastrana to finish his debate career, they will only be competing at four tournaments - not nearly enough to qualify them for the big national tournaments, he said.
 Pastrana said the elimination of policy debate severely limits the options for high school debaters who want to continue their careers in college, because the University was the only remaining school in Oregon to teach policy debate.
 He coaches at South Eugene High School, which has typically hired University policy debaters to do some of its coaching in the past. High school students will not be able to continue debating at an in-state school, 
 meaning they may choose much more expensive, out-of-state schools, he said. Pastrana said he has spoken with several parents of South Eugene students who are very upset that their children no longer have the option of competing in policy debate at the University.
 Hood said he supports the South Eugene team but his first priority is to his team.
 "I have great respect for the South Eugene program, but as a coach at the University Oregon, I have to think first about what is best for our squad and I think this is the best decision," he said.
 Team member Michael Belcher, who said he would be doing policy debate if it were offered, also questioned the effect this decision will have on local high school 
 students. With few other schools in the Pacific Northwest doing policy debate, students have no regional influence and if students know they will have to go out of state to debate in college, they may not have the desire to begin the activity, he said.
 Pastrana questioned Frank's assertion that policy debate has less educational value than parliamentary debate and said competing in policy debate can be a valuable learning experience.
 "I've gone from being a high school dropout to having a 3.8 GPA at the UO. I credit that to the research skills I've learned doing policy debate," he said.
 Contact the higher education reporter at jhedelman at dailyemerald.com

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