The elephant in the room

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Illinois Policy Debate a Review and Justification:

To the Office of the Senate

Submitted by

Chime Asonye

Illinois Policy Debate: “Not Just an Activity… It’s a Movement”

Table of Contents





  • Recruiting and Reputation

  • Diversity of Students

  • Non-Competitive Community Building



  • Critical Thinking

  • Research Skills

  • Organization and Arrangement

  • Oral Communication Skills

  • Listening and Note Taking Skills

  • Ethics of Advocacy

  • Leadership & Real World Familiarity




  • Students- Appendix A

  • Student Trustee- Appendix B




Much of the history of policy debate at the University of Illinois has been lost in time, but there are parts of the story that remain in place. Many years ago there was a team here; different departments would sponsor debates amongst themselves, and the team was also known to compete on a national basis, up until roughly three decades ago. There was even an intramural league and in the 70’s we also hosted high school debate tournaments (Illini Forensic Society). In these bygone days where academic discussion and intellectual prowess were not only utilized but also encouraged institutionally, the activity thrived bringing education and academia to the fore-front of University life. Records at the Main Stacks of the U of I Library suggest that former university President David B. Henry (1955 -1971) was known as a staunch debate team supporter. Some of his praise for the activity:

"The group developed fellowship and team camaraderie which had important by-products for personal growth. The visits to other schools, and travel experience, the living and working together - all under the high expectations of the 'Coach' and his most gently administered but ever firm supervision - made for an individual development which has remained for me a high point in my educational experience. The meaning of scholarship, the 'feel' for the handling of ideas, the fellowship of professional service were for me but some of the outcomes of my debate experience" – David B. Henry
It seems that we have reached a transition period in the University of Illinois life with the hiring of many new administrators and staff which have a vibrant feeling for this university. They feel that it has potential, but we must materialize this lucid state into a reality. Debate its self is a battle of the mind, rather than the body, but with that it can develop life-long skills that have revolutionary potential.

It is no coincidence that this inherently interactive format has been used by Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato to expand our conceptions of space, time, and the universe. We need to look at the past and the things that have situated us, to establish a new history of the present. Professor Hunt states:

“A forensics education is a microcosm of the Western Intellectual Tradition and of the liberal arts. The fundamental knowledge and skills potentially gleaned in forensics reads like a list taken from Mortimer Adler's The Paideia Proposal, the U.S. Department of Education's A Nation at Risk, or any of a number of recent documents about fundamentals and excellence in higher education. Forensics helps you learn how to learn, to be able to think clearly and adapt to rapid change (p9).”

We are in an age where mass destruction and warfare plague our society. In fact there is a war among us right now, inter-subjectively rendered amongst us all. A plague of intellectual stagnation, manifest in many facets of society, here we see the rise of individuals boasting “apathetic” as their primary choice of political affiliation become vogue. Returning to an activity that encourages critical engagement with knowledge of our surroundings may be the only chance for us and future generations. As opposed to mundane academics, debate encourages individuals to gain some sort of personal connection with the events that surround them, instead of these occurrences remaining purely abstract and erudite, completely divorced from them. Now though, more than ever, a fundamental shift in mindsets is necessary in order to combat the wash of misinformation, sound bites, and lies being propagated all over the media and society. . There is a reason why Kruger argues that debate is perhaps the "most valuable" activity in a liberal arts curriculum (p. vii). Striving for an institutionally supported policy debate team hits the core mission of the University of Illinois to “transform lives and serve society by educating, creating knowledge, and putting knowledge to work on a large scale and with excellence (Strategic Plan).”

The Elephant in the Room”
Think back to high school. You might have had your various sports teams and service organizations, but in terms of academic activities there was probably only speech team, maybe academic decathlon, and then the pinnacle: the debate team. It isn’t a surprise that most of the smart kids participated on the debate team (or at least wanted to), due to the intense academic rigor. It is something that we all probably wanted to do as scholars and proves strong knowledge on the activity and its entrenched intellectual roots.

Policy debate is our current “elephant in the room,” which is an epithet for how a very large issue that people are acutely aware, is not being implemented or discussed at this school. To be perfectly blunt, policy debate is the primer academic activity and of huge magnitude- period. Debate has literally gone international with debate organizations such as the World Debate Institute based at the University of Vermont and begun in 1983, boosting 300 people from all over America and from 15 different nations at their college institute last year. Also, with the International Debate Education Association (IDEA) established in 1999, which has partnered with different national organizations and the United Nations to celebrate debates in over 40 languages, in over 25 countries throughout the world. Already, even in the infancy of our program, we’ve been invited to attend a conference hosted by IDEA in Estonia. This Baltic state actually has lots of debate involvement with the debate NGO in Estonia recently named the top NGO in the country.

Newly, there have also been several movies about debate to illustrate its movement into main stream media and socio-culture. A new movie adapted from a book by Walter Kirn called “Thumbsucker,” stars Keanu Reeves (of the “Matrix” Trilogy) and is about a kid who becomes a debate team champion. Filmed in Tualatin High School in Oregon, the Tualatin debaters even got to make small appearances in the film. Another movie called “Thanks to Gravity,” staring Sean Astin (of the Lord of the Rings) was filmed last year and is a depiction of modern policy debate. Lastly, a movie to be released later this year, titled “The Great Debaters” is being directed by the Academy Award winning Denzel Washington. It is based on the true story of Professor Melvin B. Tolson who formed a debate team at a small, African American college called Wiley. The team went on to beat Harvard in 1935 during the national championships.

This triumph in history parallels the History Channels growing interest in debate and trying to use it as a medium to teach about history. In response to a book written by Maxwell Schnurer and Alfred C. Snider called Many Sides: Debate Across the Curriculum, which helped assist teachers in using debate to teach almost anything, the History Channel decided to recruit teams to stage a debate on air about the Crusades. Aired in November last year and called the “Crusades: The Crescent and the Cross,” it brought the first three major Crusades alive for a new generation by using debate instrumentally. To supplement this television event, they even offered schools a chance to debate independently on issues related to the Crusades for grant money.

Not only has the History Channel shown interest in debate but so has College Sports Television (CSTV). CSTV, part of the CBS Corporation, is the number one media outlet for college sports and is even an official partner of the University of Illinois and the Big Ten. Describing the cable network, CSTV stated that it “televised more than 6,000 hours of original programming, features, talk shows and documentaries…. Its regular season and championship event coverage draws from every major collegiate athletic conference and division, in addition to nine NCAA championships.” Well, for the past 2 years CSTV has documented and aired the exciting action of the National Collegiate Debate Championships.

The type of debate it exclusively records is policy debate and as you can see by even CSTV standards, the high-stakes game has been elevated to the level of sport. No other academic activity can boost such a level of recognition, intensity, and accomplishment.

Not to be out done, recent policy debate articles have been found in CNN’s (main webpage), the Washington Post, and international news. NPR just had a feature length piece on the Kansas City Central policy debate team and about how a journalist got so entranced by debate and the team, as he followed them for a season, that he decided to become part of their story as an assistant coach. The journalist named Joe Miller is writing a book on his experience with debate and the squad, which will be published in fall ’06 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Just in the last two months Newsweek, MSNBC, New York Times, CBS News, the Associated Press, and even Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” have published articles or ran stories on the currently (based on accumulated tournament points) number one ranked policy debate school Liberty University, a school located in Lynchburg, Virginia. According to former graduate Stephen Lind, “Liberty University should not be what it is right now, its’ just a small school…people know about it because of debate.” The article goes on to say that “ Seventy-five percent of Liberty's debaters go on to be lawyers with an eye toward transforming society" and that The Liberty squad…can spend 40 hours on debate prep the week of a tournament.” Not only do these represent the passion and transformative potential that debate is imbued with, but more impressive was the esteem afforded to it by important political figures. The article explains:

“Karl Rove was impressed enough by the squad that he tapped Liberty coach Brett O'Donnell to prep George W. Bush for all three presidential debates in 2004. O'Donnell briefed the president on his nonverbal tics. "They didn't listen to me until after the debacle," says O'Donnell, of Bush's awkward first debate performance. O'Donnell, who recently started his own consulting business, has already been contacted by two potential Republican candidates about the 2008 race. If all goes well, maybe he'll get some business down the road from some ex-students.”
Policy debate currently defines our bureaucratic landscape, as policy the coach at Liberty was a pupil of the activity so will his students and hopefully, our students here as well.

Looking Forward: The Strategic Plan
Beginning at the Summit on Strategic Leadership in March 2005, the university began to set in motion a powerful development in order to further the goals of higher education. Characterized by an increasing market place of ideas and competition, there was an intensified notion that there must be a tremendous effort to advance a tactical advantage for our students. Thus following is a campus wide initiative, with all arenas of the university playing their individual roles in order to strive for these ideals under a mantle of shared governance.

The vision of the Illinois Policy Debate has for the future of the University is consistent with that set up by the Strategic Plan of the Student Affairs Office for 2003-08. First focus of the strategic plan discusses the need “to anticipate and respond to the changing needs of students while recognizing the increased accountability demands on higher education.” The creation of a debate team has begun to fill a concentrated void, as demonstrated by the great deal of student interest in this arena. Students with high debate school backgrounds are especially attracted to this team, as no such organization currently exists on campus to cater to their level of academic curiosity.

Many of the nation’s finest educational institutions compete, including top public research universities such as the University of California-Berkeley, Wayne State University, and the University of Michigan. Private universities including Harvard, Dartmouth, Cornell, Emory, and Whitman are all top tier schools in academic debate. Even several Illinois schools, including Northwestern, the University of Chicago, Illinois State University, Northern Illinois University, Western Illinois University, Southern Illinois University, Augustana, and Loyola-Chicago have policy debate programs. Each of these debate establishments is region specific ways that we are losing individuals to other universities.

More notably, Big Ten conference schools have won the last 6 national championships. Wait, that statement warrants barring repeating, Big Ten conference schools, our direct competitors in our region; have won the last 6 national championships against every school in the country (including universities like Harvard, Dartmouth, and Berkeley) with Iowa (2001), Northwestern (2002, 2003, 2005) and Michigan State (2004, 2006) victorious. One of the strategic focuses cites an example of a way of anticipating students’ needs is by evaluating “promising practices at other institutions for possible adoption.” Policy debate has been a thriving program in schools around Illinois for decades and it is time Illinois joined the ranks of other Big Ten schools in providing a similar nationally renowned program. The key question is will a debate program enhance the university and attract excellent students? This is an important question that Strategic Plan devotes and entire Appendix and Table to. The below section will discuss this issue of competition for gifted and diverse students in detail and overall school advancement.

  • Recruiting and Reputation

Recruiting of excellent students to the campus is reported throughout the literature as a significant benefit of a university debate program. Hollihan reports that programs should be justified and evaluated as laboratory activities for gifted students which bring outstanding students to the University (p438-9). One administrator reported that the effectiveness of forensics in recruiting students makes it one of the primary reasons for keeping such a program (Shroeder and Shroeder, p18). Charles Bantz, Chairperson of Communication at Arizona State University suggest that "[t]he university gains greatly by our enhanced scholarly reputation - forensics is after all one of the few nationally visible intellectual activities by undergraduates. The forensics program has helped us recruit outstanding undergraduates" (Shroeder and Shroeder, p16). Colbert and Biggers also report that debate may "allow a university to develop a reputation for competitive excellence, to recruit outstanding high school students" (237).

The high school debate community is a relatively well defined group in which many of the brightest high school students reside. Most high school debate coaches recruit students with high academic achievement. Because of the heavy academic commitment required by debate, only those students with a significant interest and ability in academic affairs are typically attracted to debate programs. This community of students is an excellent pool from which to recruit outstanding students. Moreover, high school debate students learn a great deal about college debate programs. The judges at high school debate programs are often college students. In the case of the University of Illinois, our students judge at some of the largest and most prestigious high school debate tournaments in the country and have a very enshrined connection with the debate league in Chicago. Our visibility is a huge boon to the academic reputation of Illinois within the largest discrete pool of outstanding high school students in the U.S. It has even become the case that the strength of debate programs is listed in college catalogues (The Des Moines Register). Finally, it must be noted that some of the finest high schools in America have outstanding debate programs. These include, Bronx School of Science, Stuyvesant High School, Blake Academy, Greenhill Academy, Montgomery Bell Academy, Harvard High School, Damien High School, Glenbrook South & North, Jesuit High School in New Orleans and Lexington High School.

An empirical example of students lost in one cited study shows that, one specific college program has been established apparently in large part because of the advantages of recruiting. The University of Washington was the only major college in the Pacific Northwest that did not maintain a competitive debate team. Internal studies and survey data indicated that they were losing large numbers of excellent students to other universities in the region which maintained strong programs (Hanson). These losses occurred at the initial college selection point and through the loss of students by transfer. Many outstanding students at the University reported that their educational experience was hindered by the lack of a debate program (Hanson).

Data directly from the Georgetown campus verifies these recruiting benefits also. One student reported that he chose to attend Georgetown rather than Harvard primarily on the basis of his preference for the debate program at Georgetown. Each year, the Director of Debate has reported to field over 100 calls from students and parents who are interested in Georgetown debate. Last year, 25 potential students who visited the campus were interviewed by the Director of Debate. At the request of the admissions office, the Director of Debate has interviewed outstanding students who have been accepted by Georgetown, but have yet to make their college decision. In 1992, the admissions office quoted figures that indicate approximately 1/3 of all admitted freshman had some sort of experience in debate.

The state of Illinois frequently uniquely holds highly qualified students. The state is one of the most competitive high school debate states in the nation, with high schools such as New Trier, Glenbrook North, Glenbrook South, Evanston, and Maine East among the top high school programs in the country. Some of the top debaters in the country decide to stay in big ten schools because of their debate programs. Josh Branson, winner of last years National Debate Championship (NCAA basketball equivalent), four-time first-round bid winner (first round bid means you are among the top 16 teams in the country), and winner of last years Copeland award (you are the top team in the country going into the NDT); chose to attend Northwestern University over Harvard because of their excellent debate program. To cite another example, the 2005 Tournament of Champions (national policy debate championship for high school) runner-up from Georgia chose to go to Michigan State University for its debate program. These are all top debaters who choose to go to Big Ten schools around the area over others across the country because of their policy debate program.

Many other students will undoubtedly learn about Illinois through its competitive debate program, though they may not be considering continuing their debate careers in college. The success of Illinois debate would work wonders, what other activity does the University engage in that so directly supports its academic reputation and recruiting efforts?

  • Diversity of Students

Chicago is also a particularly strong home of an Urban Debate League (UDL), a community effort to encourage debate in the inner cities of America. Three major contributors of the current debate team members are graduates of the UDL program, with many others from the league helping with the foundation of the team. The graduates of those programs who are seeking out colleges with strong policy debate programs will currently not consider the University of Illinois when applying. This represents an ethnically diverse collection of highly qualified students that are not considering UIUC as a serious education option. Illinois misses the bar on recruiting these minorities because of the lack of a debate program.

Unlike other schools in our region, the resources that the University of Illinois offers could make it a major institution to channel these students. In the short time that the debate team has begun and judged debate tournaments in the UDL, we’ve already gotten personal inquires about the school and the debate program. We are considering taking University of Illinois applications to the next UDL high school debate tournament. Schools like Miami University in Ohio and the University of Chicago have seen the great potential for gifted students in the Chicago Urban Debate League and have started programs to offer full college scholarships for such students.

  • Non-Competitive Community Building

A policy debate team benefits the entire student body of the university. It is consistent with the second focus of strategic plan of continuing “to develop and emphasize imaginative face-to-face learning opportunities for students, using active learning approaches, various forms of artistic expression and community engagement in both academic and living/learning settings.” The Illinois Policy Debate Team is dedicated to helping everyone on campus find their voice in affairs that are of importance to them, as only through clear communications can common ground be discovered. The team is prepared to host public debates and other educational activities, to increase campus knowledge of our national topic and of current issues in politics. This year the Illinois Policy Debate Team has co-sponsored events with the Americans for Informed Democracy, Illinois Student Senate, and the African Cultural Association. The team is also looking to host open Mic nights, debates with professors, other students registered organizations, and guests. We agree with Dr. Ede Warner, head coach of the University of Louisville Debate team, that “The original purpose was to create a connection between our program and the campus community. Since our debates tended to be "away" games, we thought that the Public Debate Series offered students, staff, and faculty to see up close our product, students trained in debate, as well as discuss issues of importance to the mission of the program...”

Hosting a high school debate tournament and summer institute would also help build a strong sense of university identity and visibility with students through out the country. Hundreds of students attend a singular debate summer establishment each year and thousands combined form the make up of the entirety of these debate camps. Those are huge numbers of lost individuals, using an academic means to hear about the university and building a personal relationship with it during the course their high school careers. During this institute, student would be given the opportunity to learn how to engage in purposeful policy debate through the use of their political voice. As for the high school debate tournament, students will have an opportunity to visit our campus and interact with our surroundings. These debate tournaments will help overall increase awareness of the Champaign-Urbana area through inventive education. More importantly however, is that all of these things are case specific things that the political science department would be able to claim as part of their strategic effort. As opposed to just accreditation awarded to the department based on singular research initiatives and acclaims that only arise over prolonged periods of times, it will have a steady stream of accomplishments to point to based on a successfully run policy debate team

Nature of Intercollegiate Debate

Policy debate is a competitive intercollegiate activity based around a national topic of a contemporary domestic or foreign policy issues. Teams compete both within predefined regions and nationally for an opportunity to win the National Debate Tournament (NDT), the annual national championship tournament (the debate equivalent to the NCAA Basketball tournament title). Debaters compete in teams of two and are prepared to argue both sides of the given topic. Debate is interdisciplinary, involving a range of subjects. During the course of a season a team will encounter arguments ranging from theories of communication to political science, post-modern philosophy, biology, geology, or knowledge of a variety of world cultures. The topic for the 2005-2006 school year is based around the United States’ foreign policy towards the People’s Republic of China. Past topics include fossil fuel consumption, US/EU relations, international treaty law, domestic policy towards Native Americans, and foreign policy towards the greater horn of Africa. Debaters research evidence and formulate arguments from a variety of sources. Teams are responsible for the content and accuracy of their arguments, and the national debate community is self-policing, holding all teams to the highest academic standards.

The debate season is marked by a series of tournaments sponsored by various universities and organizations. A typical tournament consists of 8 preliminary debates held over two days. On the third day, the highest ranked teams participate in a single elimination bracket which usually proceeds from double octa-finals (32 teams) to octa-finals, quarterfinals, semifinals and a final round to determine the champion.

A cross examination debate pits two teams of two persons against one another. The number of teams which one school can enter in a tournament is limited only by the rules of each individual tournament. Some may allow 2-4, others allow unlimited entries. A single debate takes approximately 2 hours from beginning to end and is organized in the following way:

1st Affirmative Constructive

9 Minutes


3 Minutes

1st Negative Constructive

9 Minutes


3 Minutes

2nd Affirmative Constructive

9 Minutes


3 Minutes

2nd Negative Constructive

9 Minutes


3 Minutes

1st Negative Rebuttal

6 Minutes

1st Affirmative Rebuttal

6 Minutes

2nd Negative Rebuttal

6 Minutes

2nd Affirmative Rebuttal

6 Minutes

The structure is designed such that each debater gives a constructive speech and a rebuttal speech. Each debater also asks questions and is in turn asked questions during one of the cross-examinations. Each side gets 10 minutes of preparation time to utilize as they see fit.

The debate season begins in July with the announcement of the topic (resolution) to be debated. At this time, debaters across the country begin to research the debate topic. The season ends with the national tournament which is held in early April. Debate topics are worded to be broad enough to serve the community for this long period of time.

In a typical debate, the affirmative presents a case, which represents an interpretation of the resolution. There is usually was approximately 50 different cases run by different affirmative teams on that topic. Other topics have allowed even more affirmative ground, such that there were upwards of 100 different cases for which the negative must prepare. This is especially due to increased affirmative innovation and investigation through out the year as new developments through out the world are unfolding. It is this breadth of coverage which influences debaters to begin preparation in July for debates which will not occur until September. It is also the reason why debaters will spend an average of 20 to 30 hours a week preparing for debates. This figure does not include actual travel and participation at tournaments.

To prepare for tournaments debaters research issues central to the topic and prepare briefs to be used in defense of their arguments. They construct many different types of arguments and literally rely on every type of published evidence available. The Following are some of the more stock types of arguments which the students construct:
Affirmative Cases - An affirmative case is based on a plan which the affirmative presents as the interpretation of the resolution that they will defend.

Topicality Arguments - Semantic and definitional arguments which attempt to prove that potential plans either are or are not reasonable interpretations of the resolution.

Case Arguments - Arguments either making or denying the case for implementation of a potential plan.

Disadvantages - Structured positions designed to show that the plan will have undesirable consequences.

Counterplans - Alternative plans presented by the negative to show that the affirmative plan is undesirable.

Critiques - These are philosophical or epistemological arguments designed to show that a values and beliefs upon which the affirmative's case is justified are significantly flawed.

Performance - An act designed to demonstrate that the affirmative methodology and framework are problematic.
Tournaments often include additional activities which have significant educational benefits for students and institutions outside of the actual debates. Debate tournaments often include open forums on various subjects such as minority participation in debate, governance of the activity and ethical standards. At many tournaments there are also professional grant writing workshops to help aid interested development professionals, researchers, faculty, and graduate students. Tournaments sometimes include guest speakers or exhibition debates. For example, the 1996 National Debate Tournament included a guest presentation by George McGovern and an exhibition debate between an American team and a Japanese team.

Co-Curricular Value

It is a little known secret that policy debate provides the most fertile ground in channeling individuals for leadership their various fields. Literally every empirical study on this matter has proved the correlation between engaging in academic policy debate and success of the participants. James Copeland, the Executive Director of the National Forensic League, said that several years ago a survey of U.S. Senators and Representatives revealed that over 60 percent had participated in high school or college forensics. An investigation by Hobbs and Chandler concluded “this survey overwhelmingly supports the idea that participation in policy debate provides significant benefits for those entering the professions of law, management, ministry and teaching (p6)." T.F Sheckels quotes a survey in which Midwest business hiring managers "listed debate first among twenty other activities and academic specializations that an applicant might present on a resume." In the same survey, debate was overwhelming the first choice of recruiting directors at major law firms (p 2). Not only that but policy debate has also been listed as the top choice among law school deans for admission to their school and evidence shows that it produces the most lawyers than any other extracurricular activity. The data on the ringing endorsement concerning law students is so strong that it suggests it should be a requirement.

Not only does policy debate help students become the structural engineers of our future world but it also allows them to gain the knowledge to engage in critical societal issues. Policy debate has been described as a high-speed, interactive, top gun of the intellect. Debaters must be knowledgeable of all critical current events and how they affect the political climate. Passing a certain policy today may be seen as a hostile action to a foreign country, but on another day, it may be the critical olive branch in order to get bipartisan support on a another key U.S. bill. To demonstrate the applicability of the above statement to policy debate we’ll present the co-curricular value of debate as whole. Each of the educational attributes of this intense experience are worthy of individual examination. The next section takes a brief look at each.

Critical Thinking

The degree to which the debate program enhances the critical thinking ability of its participants is a crucial criterion against which to weigh the debate program. Across the United States, high schools, colleges and universities have placed increasing emphasis on the attainment of critical thinking skills. The issue has been the subject of nationally funded reports, graduation requirements and the subject of countless scholarly and educational journals (McMillan). One of the most renowned professors of debate in the United States concurs on page one of his treatises:

“Competency in critical thinking is rightly viewed as a requisite intellectual skill for self-realization as an effective participant in human affairs, for the pursuit of higher education, and for successful participation in the highly competitive world of business and the professions. Debate is today, as it has been since classical times, one of the best methods of learning and applying the principles of critical thinking (Freely, 1990).”

A healthy ability to think critically about information is especially critical in a world overflowing with data.  An old debater research adage holds that "you can prove anything if you look long enough." The shuddering growth in information and access to it has changed this sarcastic notion into a virtual truism. The ability and willingness to critically examine information is a highly prized skill among employees, managers and executives, lawyers, doctors and other professions. Society desperately needs training devices that can help people manage information in a trenchant fashion.

The empirical evidence demonstrating a connection between participation in debate and learning the skills of critical thinking is quite extensive. The most recent study concluded not only that participation in competitive debate enhances critical thinking skills, but that compared to academic pursuits of a similar time length, "competitive forensics demonstrates the largest gain in critical thinking skills (Allen, p6). "

The kind of oppositional thinking encouraged by debate clearly contributes to critical thinking skills for a variety of reasons. There is strong empirical evidence, for example, that utilizing devils advocacy helps improve the understanding of strategic problems. In fact, devils advocacy has been used successfully by a number of companies for this exact purpose (Schwenk, 1988). Such research mirrors what debate coaches have known for decades. Debaters learn much more about critical thinking than the old adage "there are two sides to every coin." They learn how to spot errors in reasoning and proof. They gain a greater respect for the complexity of ideas and they learn how to criticize in a productive way based on facts and logic. Many former debaters have testified that participation in debate exposed them to complex ways of thinking which prepared them for what they would face in graduate school and their professional lives.

Moreover, there is a critical application as individuals apply these complex ideas toward real world issues. Debate represents a fundamental rebellion in higher education as students stop simple means of passive learning and create an environment situated on the individual. Gordon Mitchell an assistant professor of communication and director of debate at the University of Pittsburgh explains:

“Many of the received approaches to pedagogy are not up to the task of energizing students to play positive roles as public deliberators. Learning is difficult in settings where teachers monopolize the communication flow, and student silence is too often symptomatic of the lifeless and dull pedagogical space that is frequent byproduct of top-down lessons. “Classrooms die as intellectual centers,” according to Shor, “when they become delivery systems for lifeless bodies of knowledge” (1993, p. 25; see also Shor 1992). In such “passive learning” environments, students mechanically write down material but rarely reflect on it (see Brookfield 1987; deNeve and Heppner 1997; King 1993), with the quick evaporation of such ephemeral knowledge leaving students ill prepared for practical encounters with interlocutors in actual public arguments. “In traditional classrooms, students develop authority-dependence,” argues Shor, “[T]hey hear their futures as passive citizens and workers by learning that education means listening to teachers tell them what to do and what things mean (1993, p.29).”

Research Skills

No class or activity compares to debate as a means of teaching students methods of research. Since students in debate often engage in 20 hours or more a week of preparation, they gain more experience in research in one year than in all the rest of their studies combined. Hunt gives this advice to potential debaters:

“ will learn research methods as you learn to support your advocacy. You will learn to use the library and all its resources. You will learn to find books, articles, government documents, and special studies. You will learn to utilize every sort of index, both print indexes and computerized indexes. You will also learn both quantitative and qualitative research methodologies as you begin to examine and criticize the research you read. Good forensics students have to be familiar with humane, social scientific, and scientific methodologies and with case studies, surveys, and statistics. Without such knowledge, you cannot separate good logic, good reasoning, and good evidence from mediocre or poor logic, reasoning and evidence (p8).”

All of the debaters interviewed who had obtained advanced degrees suggested that the research efforts that they engaged in for debate were many times more challenging than those required for a law degree, master’s thesis or dissertation. As matter of fact one professor stated bluntly that individuals “will do more research on one college resolution, than their entire master’s thesis combined.”

Debaters will regularly use every conceivable resource available not only at the undergraduate and graduate library, but also all collegiate resources available all over the country. It’s no wonder that why there is such a perfect fit for UIUC which University Library is the largest public university library in the world, with more than 24 million items in the main library and over 35 departmental libraries and divisions. More than one million patrons from around the world access the online catalog each week (Selected Rankings). Debaters often conduct extensive research at such facilities, plus law and medical schools, specialized libraries and advanced search engines like Lexis-Nexis becomes their best friend. They collect material from a large diversity of think tanks and special interest groups. They access materials from major figures in the international relations as well as committees and members of Congress. Debaters have become versed in the techniques of research on the Internet and are utilizing a plethora of computerized research databases. The research skills of debaters are so well known that they have been prized employees and interns for a variety of private, governmental and international institutions. The most distinguished think tank studying international relations in the world, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, has recently established a special internship to be rewarded exclusively to participants at the National Debate Tournament (Lennon). Joyner, a professor of International Law in the Government Department at Georgetown University, states:

“In addressing both sides of these legal propositions, the student debaters must consult the vast literature of international law…. The literature furnishes an incredibly rich body of legal analysis that often treats topics affecting United States foreign policy, as well as other more esoteric international subjects. Although most of these journals are accessible in good law schools, they are largely unknown to the political science community specializing in international relations, much less the average undergraduate (emphasis added).”

Organization and Arrangement

Since debate is a form of structured argumentation - a great deal of emphasis is placed on the structure of individual arguments, cases, and other types of persuasive techniques. The skills of organizing arguments are transferable to nearly all other types of communication. In addition to nearly all types of oral communication, research has suggested that debate is beneficial in teaching writing skills (Matlon and Keele). The notion of structuring arguments and note taking is relevant throughout the lives of all students. They utilize these skills when answering and posing questions, writing letters and essays, in court, in committees and other small groups, for evaluations, to sell or in a myriad of other ways. Communication itself is heavily steeped in the notion of argument (McBath). In large part the centrality of argument in our lives was one of the reasons why the study of rhetoric became the center of the Western Intellectual Tradition (Hunt). Debate teaches students a great deal more about organization and arrangement than merely to have an introduction, body and conclusion. Debate teaches them how to construct arguments in a sophisticated manner, examining both the micro and macro perspective of argumentation theory.

Oral Communication Skills

The teaching of oral communication skills has been called "a vital part of humanistic education and democratic citizenship" (Lucas, p69). From Aristotle and Plato to Saint Augustine and Richard Whately, it has absorbed the energies of some of the greatest thinkers ever known (Lucas, p67). Oral Communication is amongst the most obvious and well supported values of academic debate. Semlak and Shields concluded that "students with debate experience were significantly better at employing the three communication skills (analysis, delivery, and organization) utilized in this study than students without experience" (p194). A more concrete is shown by Professor Pollock in his interesting study of debate and the communication abilities of leaders, which notes:

“In speculating what role the forensic activity plays in the attainment or oral communication success in legislative halls, some positive conclusions can be inferred. For example, the correlation ran high in this survey that the very top debaters and floor speakers in the Florida House of Representatives were also those who had previous experience in scholastic debate or public speaking-type forensic activity (p17).”

There are many apparent reasons for the success of debate as a method of teaching oral communication. A few are briefly noted:

  • Practice: While typical students might give as few as two or as many as ten oral presentations during an academic year, the typical debater would conservatively give 128. In each debate, the student gives two speeches, there are eight preliminary debates at major tournaments and a typical student would attend at least eight tournaments. This figure does not include speeches given during practice, elimination rounds or public exhibitions. The more accurate figure is probably over 200 (Interviews).

  • Subjecting Oral Communication to Rigorous Academic Techniques: While oral presentations given during the normal course of academic life are no doubt valuable and important aspects of a student's education, they certainly cannot compare to the academic rigor applied to speeches given during interscholastic competition. First, the debater has access to a trained and experienced communication professional (coach) in preparing their speeches. Second, each speech that he or she gives is usually judged by a communication or academic professional in the forensics community. The student receives extensive criticism and feedback and is measured against established educational standards.

  • Explanation Power: Debates invariably require arguers to build certain foundations for their audience. As the level of argument advances, debaters learn to explain complex ideas in a quick and efficient manner. This skill serves them well throughout their involvement with complex decision making organizations.

  • Selling Power: Debaters learn to package arguments in a way that increases their appeal. They learn to adapt to their audience and are taught to craft a message which accomplishes specific objectives. Debaters are taught that it is not only what you say it is how you say it.

Listening and Note Taking Skills

Listening is an important criterion for evaluation because of its centrality to the process of debate and because of the potential gains academic institutions can make in this area. The debater by definition must listen carefully to their opponent in order to achieve the objective of refutation. Careful listening is rewarded in debate by the discovery of flaws in the opponent’s language, thinking or evidence. The preparation and anticipation of arguments for a debate also places the participants in a better position to comprehend the various arguments and information being presented in a debate or discussion. Extensive empirical work has established that the typical human beings only listen at only 25% of their actual capability (Kramar, p16; Myers; Verderber; Wolf). Ernest Boyer, President of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching called speaking and listening so central to education that they deserve specialized training (Scully). This implies that devices which can increase the listening skills of our students should be highly valued because the potential benefits are extraordinary.

A debate by its very nature is filled with conflicting viewpoints. The participants are forced to deal with a plethora of oppositional facts, research, arguments, perspectives and assumptions. Involvement in debate therefore serves as a perfect training device for aiding individuals in the processing of information. Debaters as a group have a superior ability to crystallize large sums of information both mentally and in terms of summarizing that information for a listener (Semlak and Shields).

Ethics of Advocacy

Learning the ethics of advocacy has been referred to as an important educational benefit of debate (Hunt). The debate participant learns how to correctly and ethically cite material. They learn the rules of context and those governing ellipses. Students learn the rules of the AFA (American Forensics Association) Code and the American Debate Association which govern the ethics of advocacy as well as debate programs as a whole. Students receive feedback directly after each debate, which focuses on the quality of the evidence they have cited and the connection between the evidence they have presented and the claims they have asserted. On occasion the student may even have the opportunity to engage in formal debate about the propriety of utilizing certain material. Over recent years, with cases like Martha Stewart and Enron, the ethics of properly interacting with resources and your surroundings has become an important concern for pre-professional endeavors. Unlike research in other academic arenas, the debater works very closely with the debate coach on all aspects of their preparation. The result is an unparalleled opportunity for students to gain theoretical and practical experience in the ethics of advocacy. Not only that but the request for evidence used in debates by both judges, coaches, and the opponent debaters put a very high regard on proper sources.

No doubt this training in the ethics of communication is an important achievement. Examination of the ethical issues of communication occupied Plato who criticized the sophists (Plato). Examination of the argumentative tactics of the Nazis' serves as an incredible tool for an inquiry into the fundamental nature of all unethical and inhumane behavior. Because "[e]thical perspectives dominate public discussion of advertising, politics, and corporate messages" (Gronbeck, p97), the ethics of communication has a powerful link to student's everyday lives. The relationship between the ethics of communication and the larger world of ethical decision making is obvious in that "many ethical decisions are tied to communication activity, including ends sought and means employed" (Anderson, p459). Illinois considers the teaching of ethics an important part of its mission and it is necessary to build truly responsibility in our relations with others.

Leadership & Real World Familiarity

The greater insight gained by the fast witted dialogue of debate helps students quickly analyze their current worlds, as they are saturated by streams of knowledge in a universe that has become almost virtual. Debate training empowers students by allowing them to influence policy choices. Debaters learn not to be intimidated by the rhetoric of policy debate (Dauber, 205). Instead, they use these discourses, becoming the most qualified to take on leadership of our society. Two lists can be found on pages, one list notable figures who were debaters and the other contains the remarks of notable leaders about the importance of competitive debate.

Even our dear friends in British debating societies have a similar impressive historical record. The oldest debating society in the world, at Oxford, has produced "many, many members of Parliament and six British prime ministers, from William Gladstone to Edward Heath" (Chicago Tribune, p1). A Matlon survey reveals some astounding figures of an academic nature. Of 703 former debaters surveyed, 633 had at least 1 advanced degree, and 209 had more than one. Additionally, four in ten had law degrees, four in ten had master’s degrees and two in ten had a Ph.D. or other doctoral degree.

These results are staggering considering the ever present outsourcing of jobs to developing countries. Debate gives the incentive to truly strive for the total experience of higher education and use fresh ideas and knowledge as the new-super economic commodity. Policy debate’s strategic research of global issues helps answer the ‘what am I going to do when I get older question.” By providing insight into various fields, students develop prolific interest to be the head of different specializations. It also helps that the policy debate community is contacted by many top firms in order to recruit top talent.

The Synthesis of Character

Complete liberty of contradicting and disproving our opinion is the very condition which justifies us in assuming its truth for purposes of action; and on no other terms can a being with human faculties have rational assurance of being right…. The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race… If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of the truth, produced by its collision with error.”- John Stuart Mill

Perhaps the most unique aspect of Illinois educational philosophy is its emphasis on educating the whole person, as a state based school concentrating on the State of the Self. A perennial Illinois question is: How do we teach character to engage in interdisciplinary and comprehensive excellence (Strategic Plan)?

Trying to achieve this task is one of the most challenging jobs that an educator faces. It is a challenge that is often met when students engage in competitive academic debate. Every debate topic and argument is imbued with implicit value assumptions. Debate teaches students to uncover those assumptions, to test them and to weigh them against competing considerations. Moreover, it does this in an environment which forces students to confront vital questions of the day and even their own lives. This past year, students debated the topic, Resolved: The USFG should substantially increase diplomatic and economic pressure on the People’s Republic of China in one or more of the following areas: trade, human rights, weapons nonproliferation, Taiwan. Illinois students engaged in intricate debates about the orientalist bias in U.S. policy making. This is a discussion that reached the foundations of racial and cultural identity for human beings. Other debates raged about the meaning of security (personal, material, environmental or military) and realist threat construction. Still other debates focused on the very notion of human rights of the Chinese and citizens around the world, the juxtapositions between communism and the new neo-liberal economic apparatus, and the engrained disciplinary approach in international pressure. All of these debates forced students to examine the fundamental values that drive our choices. Moreover the examination was rigorous and driven by research into the value each choice represented. Participation in such debates impact the student by:

  • Forcing the debater to analyze the paradigm from which the opponent argues and the paradigm from which the student advocates

  • Looking at questions through many disciplines, some orthodox, others creative and original

Noted competitive debate theorist Austin Freely put it this way:

Educational debate provides an opportunity for students to consider significant problems in the context of a multi-valued orientation. They learn to look at a problem from many points of view. As debaters analyze the potential affirmative cases and potential negative cases, including the possibility of negative counterplans, they begin to realize the complexity of most contemporary problems and to appreciate the worth of a multi-valued orientation; as they debate both sides of a proposition under consideration, they learn not only that most problems of contemporary affairs have more than one side but also that even one side of a proposition embodies a considerable range of values(Freely, 1976, p25).

Debate clearly functions as a means to achieve education about the content of various value related issues. But it also endows students with the value of tolerance which may itself be related to critical thought and empathy (Paul). According to Paul, for individuals to overcome natural tendencies to reason egocentricity and sociocentrically, individuals must gain the capacity to engage in self-reflective questioning, to reason dialogically and dialectically, and to "reconstruct alien and opposing belief systems empathically" (Paul, p64-65). Our system of beliefs is, by definition, irrational when we are incapable of abandoning a belief for rational reasons; that is, when we egocentrically associate our beliefs with our own integrity. Individuals are most able to achieve a kind of reflective thinking when they are taught to base beliefs on reason. Critical thought and moral identity must be predicated on discovering the insights of opposing views and the weakness of our own beliefs. The result of this line of reasoning is Paul's suggestion that role simulation be utilized as a method of inculcating values and helping students achieve "moral identity."

According to Muir, "only an activity that requires the defense of both sides of an issue, moving beyond acknowledgment to exploration and advocacy, can engender such powerful role playing" (Muir, p289). Competitive debate exists as an opportunity for students to engage in such role playing. The role-playing allowed by competitive debate is an exercise in reflective thinking. It engages the student in problem solving techniques that expose strengths and weaknesses of various beliefs (Baird). In fact, competitive debate may well constitute one of the few methods campuses have to achieve this purpose:

“Firm moral commitment to a value system, however, along with a sense of moral identity, is founded in reflexive assessments of multiple perspectives. Switch-side debate is not simply a matter of speaking persuasively or organizing ideas clearly (although it does involve these), but of understanding and mobilizing arguments to make an effective case. Proponents of debating both sides observe that the debaters should prepare the best possible case they can, given the facts and information available to them. This process, at its core, involves critical assessment and evaluation of arguments; it is a process of critical thinking not available with many traditional teaching methods. We must progressively learn to recognize how often the concepts of others are discredited by the concepts we use to justify ourselves to ourselves. We must come to see how often our claims are compelling only when expressed in our own egocentric view. We can do this if we learn the art of using concepts without living in them. This is possible only when the intellectual act of stepping outside of our own systems of belief has become second nature, a routine and ordinary responsibility of living. Neither academic schooling nor socialization has yet addressed this moral responsibility, but switch side debating fosters this type of role playing and generates reasoned moral positions based in part on values of tolerance and fairness (Muir, p292).”

One cannot say that the debate program consistently and automatically churns out students who are constantly and critically examining the values underlying their choices. The proposition simply cannot be reliably tested. Nonetheless, the training of modern competitive debate is unmatched in providing skills of critical thinking and focusing those skills on the values that underlie normative decision making. As a method of teaching and inculcating values, I would proudly compare it to any activity, academic or otherwise, that Illinois students engage in. Many debaters we’ve worked with represent not only the finest minds we have discovered, but the finest people we’ve have ever known.


All of the objectives outlined in the proposal above complement the ideas proposed in the Strategic plan and are closely align with the administration’s interests with those of the students on campus. Few relationships are as intellectual rewarding as the professional and communal bonds gained by this intense educational experience. Its unique attributes of traveling to discuss policy simulation, creates knowledge that is unparalleled. Our closest competitors have institutionally supported debate teams and it is no secret the parallel between top debate programs and excellent learning facilities. The real question is, are we ready to give our students this same type of activist experience? It’s an easy answer if we are thinking about the same University of Illinois.

This old and menacing answer lies however, with the explosive potential to rejuvenate our school and socio-culture, and it’s time we embrace this new alternative. Policy debate is key precursor to a successful fresh beginning and it’s important that our school catches up on to what other Universities have already uncovered. The totality of overall student experience will increase, with University of Illinois being able to host debate teams from different countries to participating in internationally sanctioned tournaments, which could be an exciting opportunity for high-quality debate and cultural exchange.

There is a reason why from our community have come more CEOs of Fortune 500 companies than have come from any other university (Herman). Here we have another opportunity to break old records and create some new ones not previously imagined. Ed Lee, a black debate coach at Emory University, precisely describes our revolution stating “I consider myself training the next generation of community activists," he said. "Some will be lawyers, some will be teachers, some will be nurses and some will be on the custodial staff. But hopefully all of them will be enabled to make their voices heard (Gross)."


Appendix A- STUDENTS

A resolution was passed by unanimous decision by the student government on behalf of their constituents. The Student Senate serves as the "Official Voice of the Student Body" at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It works very hard to represent the views and needs of the student body to the campus administration, local, state, and federal governments. The Student Senate also focuses on bettering the campus environment for all students, by promoting health, safety, and participation on campus. Notably the resolution was specifically supported by the Co-Presidents of the Illinois Student Senate Josh Rohrscheib and Ryan Ruzic.

Illinois Student Senate Resolution (02-02-06-02)

Author: Asonye

Supporters: Ravji, Rohrscheib, AlShawaf, Ruzic, Yu, Danavi
Whereas, the Illinois Student Senate is the official voice of the student body,
Whereas, Student Government recognizes the intimate connection between discussion of implications of policy and legislation and the creation of future leaders of our society
Whereas, Illinois Student Senate has a great interest in increasing critical thinking skills and advanced learning at our fine institution
Whereas, to truly engage and shape society, individuals must have a thorough knowledge of the world, international events, and the current political climate
Whereas, the primary goal of college is to teach students how to think and so new structures which provide such a basis should be supported
Whereas, the members of University of Illinois recognize this school’s excellence and want to encourage the best and brightest young minds to our attend this college
Whereas, for such a superior institution, which strikes to become the best, to lag behind many other universities in supporting such a program is detrimental to that institutions reputation and prestige across the nation
Whereas, as a school dedicated to research, we must teach our students the most effective researching techniques so they can advance the horizons of knowledge and science
Let it be resolved, that the Illinois Student Senate, on behalf of the entire student body, supports the creation of an official institutionally supported Policy Debate Team.


The current Student Trustee representing the Urbana-Champaign campus, Nicholas W. Klitzing, also issued a letter of support . Klitzing was elected by a student referenda and serves on the Board of Trustees which is the main decision-making body for the University of Illinois System. Klitzing was also the trustee given voting privileges by Governor of Illinois Rod Blagojevich, for this year. Within the limits of authority fixed by the Illinois constitution and laws, the Board of Trustees exercises final authority over the University. For the proper use of funds appropriated by the General Assembly and for the proper administration and government of the University, the Board of Trustees is responsible to the people of Illinois. As the governing body of the University, the Board of Trustees exercises jurisdiction in all matters except those for which it has delegated authority to the President of the University, other officers, or agencies of the University.

February 17, 2006
Urbana-Champaign Senate
228 English Building (MC-461)
608 South Wright Street
Urbana, IL 61801-3613

Legislative body of the Senate,

As the student representative to the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, I wholeheartedly endorse the initiation of a Policy Debate team at UIUC. Initiatives such as this further the educational development of our students and prepare them for intellectually stimulating careers, leadership, and citizenship in a changing world. Furthermore, a Policy Debate team will help strengthen the mission of the university as a leader in the creation and synthesis of knowledge for the benefit of current and future generations, and will fortify the university as one of the great institutions in the country.

As President White eloquently explained in his Inaugural Address, the University of Illinois is at a crossroads, where we can continue to excel and compete as one of the finest bastions of learning in the country or we can preside over the slow, almost imperceptible decline of this superb public research university. A Policy Debate Team will allow us to more effectively compete against our peer institutions, such as Northwestern, University of Chicago, Harvard, Dartmouth, Michigan, University of California at Berkeley, and Cornell. As it is an essential part of the future of the institution to develop a name that connotes quality and academic prestige, the Policy Debate Team will be a great marketing tool with the team showcasing the intellectual prowess of our students and helping in the continual promotion of the university. Faculty and student recruitment, as well as the always important ranking scales, are contingent on the prestige and quality that the name, University of Illinois, represents. A superb Policy Debate Team will undoubtedly strengthen the reputation of the institution.

As university administrators continue to engage in the formulation of a strategic plan, we must be mindful of certain programs that will help us gain an edge against our competitors. After having numerous discussions with Chancellor Herman, President White and members of the Board of Trustees, I understand that it is their mission to strengthen the liberal arts programs. The University of Illinois is known for superior programs in the Engineering, Sciences, Accounting, Business, and Agricultural fields, while the social sciences, humanities, and arts have begun to erode due to budget cuts. Since the team closely relates to public policy and governance, a Policy Debate Team would help further the development of the social science fields, and will further showcase the strong UIUC programs that are not as heralded as the Engineering and Sciences.

As it is the obligation of this university to serve the citizens of the state, the Policy Debate Team will strengthen the university’s public mission by helping in the further education of the population on important public policy programs. Voting and political knowledge have significantly decreased amongst the general public in the last several decades, and thus, it is continually an important part of the university’s mission to encourage and engage the public in political matters. The University of Illinois produces the leaders and voters that will be making the decisions for our country in the future. The Policy Debate Team will play an integral part in the shaping and strengthening of the very public policy knowledge that will aid them as they make decisions in the future.

The institution of a Policy Debate Team is an important first step in the shaping of the future of this university. Although starting the team may require increased money and resources at a time when budgets are strained, I think the benefits of the team far outweigh the costs. With the proper training and administrative support, a Policy Debate Team will further the mission of the university and will help us gain a competitive advantage against our peers.

Respectfully Submitted,

Nicholas W Klitzing

UIUC Student Trustee

Cc: Chancellor Herman

Chime Asonye

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