[eDebate] Moving the conversation on Judge 'Preferences'

Gordon Stables stables
Sun Oct 14 14:46:31 CDT 2007

I think it may be a false dichotomy to continue to frame this conversation
in terms of 'MPJ' and 'no MPJ.' Those of us who can recall tournaments
without much effort to utilize competitor preference can certainly describe
the values of giving competitors input into their judges. It seems hard to
dispute that allowing teams and coaches to have input into who judges their
debates does provide some competitive and educational benefits. 

This doesn't mean there aren't problems with a system dominated by MPJ. Joe
and others have highlighted these concerns educational concerns quite well.

For me the question is:

'Should competitor preference be the only factor that influences how judges
are placed?'

Jim and Gary have also highlighted an important conceptual problem. The move
from random to MPJ has so dominated our thinking that it is very hard to
describe alternate systems. We have a consumer model that very much
emphasizes the unfettered value of choice. Coaches and debaters both want
mpj. From a competition model this makes a lot of sense, but I guess we can
discuss if there should be other factors that also count in the process of
judge placement.

I know analogies can be strained, but I have looked for a long time to find
any competitive or educational process that uses only competitor or
participant preference as its means of selecting instructors or referees.
Many forms heavily value preference (like teaching evals or competitor
ranking of referees) but it is a stretch to argue that only these
preferences matter.  I am sure many of us can speak about examples where
instructors earn high evaluation rankings, but who fail to meet other
criteria required by the department or conference. I hope this analogy can
start to get us thinking about the values that we would look for in judges
that may not simply be reflected in preference.

This exercise may be valuable not only to just think beyond preference, but
also to have us consider our roles outside of competitors. I would guess
that many coaches can recall moments when you see a conflict of interest in
the completion of a preference sheet. As a coach you are both interested in
the competitive success of your students as well as their educational
development. When it comes to completing the pref sheet - how does this
conflict get resolved? Even those coaches who express that they play a role
in the pref process, do you see the conflict of interest? I know this is
often the case with some (traditionally more experienced) coaches and
directors who tend to give lower speaker points. The educator in you might
embrace their teaching abilities as a critic, but the coach in you knows if
you pref that director, even if you win, your lower points may hurt your
team at that tournament.

Could there be a value in having coaches both have a means of considering
the competitive success of their students and then (perhaps in the
development of some other criteria) also express their confidence in the
educational values of certain critics?

I am hoping to move the discussion onto a consideration of factors other
than preference that could be added to preferences to help place judges.  I
really don't think we are close to embracing a wholesale repudiation of
preference, but when I hear folks discuss the problems it often strikes me
concerns about the excesses of unlimited preference.

Back to my original question

'Should competitor preference be the only factor that influences how judges
are placed?'

Curious to hear your views.


Gordon Stables, Ph.D.
Director of Debate and Forensics
Annenberg School for Communication
University of Southern California
Office: 213 740 2759               Fax: 213 740 3913

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