[eDebate] Please Read. The implications of bad resolutions on debate programs

scottelliott at grandecom.net scottelliott
Thu May 24 10:08:46 CDT 2007

Resolutions matter. I was asked to take over a university debate program this
Fall and switch it over from Parlimentary/Public Debate/I.E. to an NDT/CEDA
policy debate program. This means I am having to start over from scratch, or
having to convice students who have done one form of debate to start doing
policy. Or, I have to recruit from either the student body at large or from my
argumentation classes.

The resolution matters. It matters a lot to a coach of a small or new squad.
Looking at this morass, I am seriously considering holding off switching to
policy debate for at least a year.  There is little chance of me recruiting
students if I have to give them one of these resolutions as the starting point
of there debate odessey. If this continues, I guess I will just suck it up and
keep one less program in the South (and now absolutely NONE in the entire state
of Louisiana, and there used to be at least five)from doing policy debate, which
many of you may enjoy, but I find rather tragic. Simply put, there is more than
one way for people to vote. I think some program directors will simply vote
with their feet.

I have thought long and hard this week about the logistics of a small program
trying to grapple with these resolutions. Other than running the same kritik
every round, I just do not see how a small or new program (read one coach, less
than 8 debaters) can even begin to compete at the NOVICE level with these
resolutions. It would take me an entire year just to get my Israel file
together (with all the link stories, c-plans and answers, etc.) and I have been
in policy debate for over 20 years!

Would the following resolution have been so bad?:

"Resolved: that the United States Federal Government should substnatially
increase constructive engagement with Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, Lebanon, or

Is this example of a straight forward resolution something I could go to my new
department chair, recite from memory and explain? Yes. Is this something I
could recite from memory and explain the a freshman college student in
Louisiana? Absolutely! Could I build a new program based on it? I believe so.

I just do not understand why every year the resolutions get worse and worse.
They are all hypertechnical, poorly written, and just plain bad. My conclusions
are that either the system of resolution writing is horribly flawed, or the
people who write them have a flaw, or both. I think we have too many topic
committte members with their "debater" hats on when they write these
resolutions, rather than having their "debate coach" and "program director"
hats on. Worse, they forget that there are multiple target audiences for each
year's debate resolutions.

Currently, and rather obviously, the only audience targeted this year was the
most elite of the policy debaters, only those who have been steeped in foreign
policy debates for the past six years. I think that novices, students who work,
students in argumentation classes, new programs, small programs, program
directors who are searching for more support from their administration, and
former debaters who would like to watch a debate round, have been ignored. It
truly breaks my heart to look at these resolutions and to feel totally
alienated from an activity I love and believe to be an important teaching tool.

When people start commenting, the responses have been basically that no
community input will be considered--too late, topic committee has met, you will
take these resolutions, whether you like them or not. No, I do not have to take

We were thinking of hosting a rebirth of the Mardi Gras tournament for policy
debate in the Spring. Now, I don't think we will even be in the policy debate
form of forensics for at least a year. The only other option I see is to start a
new organization, al la CEDA in the 1970's, as an alternative form of policy
debate geared toward small programs; teaching college students policy and value
debate with a limited, but necessary research focus; and regional debate.
Sadly, this is what CEDA used to be.

I normally do not put my title or credentials at the bottom of my e-mail posts
because I would rather people look at the argument rather than the credentials.
But today I will.

Scott M. Elliott, Ph.D., J.D.
Assistant Professor and Director of Forensics
University of Lousiana-Lafayette

More information about the Mailman mailing list