[eDebate] "Qualified judges" requirements disturbing

scottelliott at grandecom.net scottelliott
Mon Aug 11 13:48:30 CDT 2008

MPJ has morphed into a insidious and more exclusionary process. Tournaments are
now requiring teams to provide "qualified judges." This is a serious problem
that means the difference, for my program, between travling four students and
travling twenty students this year.  What counts as a "qualified judge?"

I have been looking at the GSU and UNLV invites. Not focusing on them as some
particular attack, but I have noticed a judging requirement to provide
"qualified judges." We want to go to these tournaments, but now I don't think we
can. (Let me be clear, this is a criticism of the trend, and not
of specific programs or people, so put your ad homs away.) What is this code
word? Does this mean "qualified," as in able to fairly to the best of one's
ability to listen and evaluate arguments made by college students. Or, is this
a code word for people that follow popular trends within the policy debate

I have been around this activity for almost thirty years. But I have a program
that is less than a year old. We have gone from zero teams to 8 or more teams
in just one year. I don't have a set of graduate students who have been
debating and coaching for ten years. So, I want to travel to  more tournaments
and travel a lot of teams. However, I don't think we can fulfill our judging
commitments. So, I  have students who have worked hard, went to camps, and
are practicing. We have the funds to travel them. But we do not have enough
judges to judge for our program. I spent  a few thousand dollars sending a
graduate student to ADI, just so he would have some idea of what policy debate
is. But with no real tournament debating experience, does he count as a
"qualified judge?" I have been around the game for decades, but I have several
political points of view about debate that are very unpopular. Does that mean I
am unqualified? Many of you may say yes, I am unqualified (LOL. Which proves the
point I am making.) If you don't like someone, or their political views, does
that make them an unqualified judge?

Does a graduate student count as a qualified judge or not? What about my
department chair-a full professor of communication, but no debate background.
What about my Dean--a full professor of analytical philosophy, but with no
policy debate experience? What about a professor of women's studies or African
American studies, but with no policy debate experience? Is policy debate going
to become so exclusionary that only those who debated for four years and high
school and four years in college are the only one's "qualified" to judge policy

If Ede and other critics of how this game is set up want to advance their
critique of MPJ,and policy debate in general, this new manifestation of policy
debate exclusionary policies has more impact on whether students can
participate in debate than MPJ or any other aesthetic choices. Why? Because if
we cannot cover our judging commitments because of these "qualified judges"
provisions, our students do not travel to tournaments.

Who gets to determine the qualifications of a judge? The tab room staff. Friends
of the tabroom? People who think they got screwed in a round by a judge four
years ago?

Doesn't this create a self-perpetuating problem for women and minority
participation as well as their points of view?

I think it does because the
people making the decisons are making the evaluation
of what constitutes a "qualified judge" based on their subjective
interpretations of what constitutes a qualfied judge in policy debate. My
sneaking suspiscion is that this means the ability and willingness to flow
debates at a million miles an hour and a willingness to accept anything
presented in a round as a legitimate argument. Both are aesthetic trends that
should not be the basis for considering a judge's qualifications. Just because
a buntch of geeky guys love to spew at a million miles an hour cards of
Hiedegger does not mean that a judge is unqualified. It means that those
debaters have lost the first principle of persuasion, one must discern the
available means of persuasion based upon their target audience. The focus on
mpj and judge qualifications turns two thousand years of communication theory
on its head--having the audience be forced to adapt to the speaker, rathern
than vice versa. Given that debate is dominated by a particular aesthetic, the
judgment of judge qualification will only further, if not exacerbate, current
exclusionary trends in this activity.

Nor should qualifications be based on MPJ popularity. Just because your MPJ
system breaks down every now and then does not justify the exclusion of
otherwise educated human beings from judging, and worse, the exclusion of
student debaters because their programs cannot meet your arbritrary standards
of "qualified." There should be a clear standard for qualified judges that
creates minimum exclusionary practices.

Many of you will say, hire judges. I think you need to answer back a few
objections. First, why should I hire judges when there are plenty of graduate
students, my faculty, or alumni that would volunteer to do the work. The amount
i spend on hired judges directly trades off with the number of students I can
bring to a tournament--further privileging well funded programs. Second, where
are these qualified judges for hire? I know that they are not always available.
We were in a jam at North texas and UT dallas last year when I had four teams.
It cost an arm and a leg to find and pay for  hired judges.

I have a solution for this disturbing trend. The definition of a qualified judge
for college policy debate: the person holds a four year college degree or
higher. But, as it stand now, this vague term creates a very real hurdle for
new programs and is one of the most exclusionary new practices to crop up in
this activity.

Scott Elliott

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