U debate team participates in global tournament

by Nathan Hall

The University’s Parliamentary Debate Society left for England on Tuesday to participate in one of the biggest college debates in the world.

The group is attending the annual Oxford Union IV Tournament in Oxford – the birthplace of parliament-style debate – with debate teams from all over the world.

The parliament style of debate differs drastically from policy debate style. Policy style, common in high schools, consists of studying a preprescribed subject for several days. But parliament style involves choosing a subject at random and emphasizes proving a point effectively versus demonstrating superior knowledge.

“You could Ö have a debate on whether ‘Roseanne’ is a better television program than ‘The Cosby Show,’ ” said David Simon, a senior political science student and the debate society’s co-president.

Simon said the proceedings are decidedly loose because the judges are students, and there is no discipline meted out for profanities.

The debate society, affiliated with the American Parliamentary Debate Association, placed first among U.S. squads at a slightly smaller event at Cambridge, England, last year.

“I like that it encourages you to look at things in a different light,” junior political science student Ryan Black said. “You have to defend your opinions with solid logic, and that makes you a better informed person.”

Debaters attend several tournaments per year, but only a handful of the debates involve overseas plane tickets. The group holds weekly on-campus meetings, several workshops and focuses heavily on working with all experience levels of public speaking.

Simon founded the debate society three years ago after working as a speechwriter for the British House of Commons. Simon said he fell in love with his experience, noticed no debate team on campus and decided to start his own.

He credits generous support from former University President Mark Yudof, current President Robert Bruininks and University Provost Craig Swan for helping swell the group’s membership from eight in 2000 to 80 in 2002.

Simon also started another debate team while studying abroad in Moscow.

“I think what’s important about events like this is that it allows all of us to speak a common language and discuss global concerns and promote an international dialogue,” Simon said.

The debate society also holds semimonthly public debates on current issues including the police response during last year’s Gophers hockey riots and the impending war with Iraq.

“Those public events really open up a dialogue for issues that directly affect students,” junior political science student Rick Hay said. “This, in some cases, is the first time that someone actively questions their belief system, and that is the only way to effectively strengthen their opinions.”

Nathan Hall welcomes comments at [email protected]