[eDebate] Graduation Amendment -- Another Perspective
Cameron T. Norris
Mon May 4 18:39:57 CDT 2009
I've been following the recent discussion about the grad school amendment
currently being proposed, and I feel like an important perspective may be
missing from the discussion. This amendment seemed like a light at the end
of the tunnel for me when I first read about it, since the "5th year in
undergrad for another year of a debate versus going on to grad school"
conundrum is something I've been trying to resolve for the last few months.
First, when considering the debaters this amendment would affect, it's easy
to think of those who choose to "skip out of a certain NDT" to debate for
all 5 years of eligibility. I certainly respect and even envy those who are
able to make this decision, but I believe debaters of this caliber aren't
I speak from my own debate experiences, and I've spoken with others
similarly situated who agree. The current discussion has left out those of
us who came into college with little to no prior debate experience. I came
to Vanderbilt with no prior knowledge or relevant experience in policy
debate and had to start fresh as a novice. I quickly fell in love with
debate, but I had to first debate for a year in the novice division and then
get my butt kicked in varsity for another before becoming a competent
carsity debater. This last season (my junior year), me and my partner (who
also had little prior policy experience) finally qualified to the NDT.
While we were proud of this accomplishment, the last three years has only
increased my love for the activity that much more, and I've been seriously
considering sticking around for a 5th year to get my full eligibility.
In those first 2 years, I was still learning the ropes and was in no
position to qualify for the NDT. And, now that I did actually qualify and
got to experience the awesomeness of high-level varsity debate, I'm nearly
finished with my undergraduate degree. Those of us who came into college
without knowing much about debate most likely did not center our academic
plans around debate and didn't plan on sticking around for 5 years in
undergrad. The current rules seem to unnecessairly disadvantage debaters
who get a late start.
Many universities, including my own, place a lot of pressure on undergrads
to finish in 4 years and look down on those who want to strech it out. By
next semester, I'll have finished 2 separate majors, which makes it a lot
harder to justify to the administration sticking around for a 5th year and
sucking up university funds. Also, when applying to grad school, if a
student stays for a 5th year in undergrad without any extensive work
experience or other intensive research experience to show for it (things
that a competitive debate season don't jive well with), he or she may be
Also, another perspective: those of us who come from economically
disadvantaged positions, another situation I'm very familiar with.
We all know undergrad can be expensive. Not all univerisites will extend
their financial aid packages through for more than 4 years, and for those of
us highly dependent on financial aid for our education, an extra year of
debt can be too much to bear. It becomes a question of who can afford to
debate for a 5th year or who will be forced to move on to grad school "on
time" to save much needed money.
The proposed amendment would greatly alleviate these concerns for myself and
I'm sure many similarly situated. I implore everyone to vote for it.
The objections I've seen thus far don't seem very compelling, especially
given the status quo rules that encourage debaters to prolong their
undergraduate careers for debate (as I mentioned earlier, a choice that may
not be conducive to resume building).
Poaching wouldn't be a concern if the amendment required the 5th year to be
completed at the same school as the student attended for undergrad. I'm not
aware or informed about a "judging shortage crisis," but it seems to me if
people are attending grad schools where they can continue to debate, the 5th
year may encourage some to remain involved in the community, since many
debaters now go to grad schools that don't have undergrad debate programs.
Also, the concern that we shouldn't encourage students to debate in grad
school because they may not be able to handle it academically seems
overblown and somewhat paternalisitic. Encouraging students to stay a 5th
year in undergrad rather than entering into grad school certainly seems to
contradict a "student first, debater second" framework. I don't see a very
big risk in allowing students to decide themselves whether they want to
debate competitively their first year in grad school or not. Hard workers
will work hard and find a way to manage their time. If debate programs
really want to encourage academic responsibility, maybe they should consider
establishing/enforcing/raising the minimum GPA levels required for a student
to debate for their team, rather than punish students by restricting their
flexibility in continuing to participate in an activity they love while
pursuing their academic goals.
cameron.t.norris at vanderbilt.edu
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