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Re: Debaters as Judges
>I am very willing to consider the use of UG judges in novice and/or
>beginner rounds. For the last five years we have used varsity debaters
>as critics in the beginner division at our fall tournament (in prelims as
>well). In general, our experience has been very positive. On occasion,
>varsity debaters become unintentially interventionist by applying the
>standards of rejoinder to beginner rounds that we use in open rounds.
>Oddly enough, a standard that is blindly non-interventionist in terms of
>dropped or unanswered responses or arguments that are incorrectly labeled
>(e.g. T arguments that aren't labeled voters, etc.) can become the most
>perverse form of intervention in beginner rounds. But this is rare.
>Varsity students typically offer humane, valuable critiques and
>responsible decisions in the rounds. They also learn valuable lessons
>about how unclear debate rounds can sound on the other side of the room.
>As a result they become better debaters in their own rounds. For this
>reason, I encourage collegiate debaters to judge high school tournaments,
>practice rounds in our debate classes and in tournament settings that
>provide the opportunity.
Okay, I guess the question this begs is what profound differences exist
between varsity, and novice and JV debate. If such differences exist, then
the returns that varsity debates offer the debaters who judge them are
likely to be unique and offer additional returns along the same lines.
Inserting varsity debates onto elim panels just continues their evolution
as judges (I think it only reasonable that those serving on elim panels
should be expected to first expose themselves to as many JV, novice, and HS
debates as possible).
>Despite this support for the skills of our varsity students, I have
>significant reservations about having them judge in the same division
>they would otherwise compete in. I have no doubt that current students
>may outflow me (though I still do fairly well - I DO endeavor to flow
>tags, cites and key evidence claims); I have no doubt that their knowledge
>of the topic exceeds mine; I often have no doubt that their knowledge of
>the activity exceeds mine (iron sharpens iron - there is no suitable
>substitute for learning kritik theory than trying to debate it), I don't
>even doubt that their intellectual acumen exceeds mine. But I still
>bring something important to the debate round - personal and competitive
>distance, the experience of several thousand prior rounds, and decreased
>pressure to be true to anyone other than myself. There has been
>significant discussion of hack judging, cliques, and other forms of
>influence that decrease the objectivity of the decision. I don't think
>that it is nearly the problem that we imagine - even though I might be
>tempted to grumble as loudly as anyone when MY students lose (you should
>have heard me 25 years ago when I lost). There are pressures that must
>be resisted every time I pick up the ballot however.
I'm more than willing to accept that perspective and experience are
valuable characteristics in any judge which the very best critics will
almost invariably possess. However, I am no less inclined to believe that
flowing ability, topic expertise, and famiarity with the activity and its
operations are likewise desirable in any judge. I agree with Prof. Larson
that debaters as critics would often prove superior in each of these areas;
any difference of opinion arises over the fact that I'm not necesarily
inclined to forego such attributes in the name of experience and
perspective, however much I may value the latter.
Individuals who have judged thousands of debates possess a distinguishing
characteristic which they should be proud of, and which any debater
competing in front of them should take confidence in. However, such
credentials are generally unrivaled by those we accept as judges and those
whom tab rooms are likely to place on a particular panel. The question is
then whether there's a sufficent distinction to be drawn between active
varsity debaters, and what is currently accepted as the eligible judging
pool for varsity debates. Certainly, having 5 debaters responsible for 1/5
of an elim panel seems to adequately safeguard against any lack of
experience on the part of debaters, while welcoming a voice that offers
important benefits for reasons Prof. Larson and I agree upon.
The last point is a simple one. Given that it is permissable, and indeed
common, for very recent graduates to begin judging varsity debates, I think
its important that individuals be able to gain some relevant experience
while in the activity. If debaters play a LIMITED role in actually judging
debates before they graduate, they are more likely to exemplify the judging
virtues we all desire at the point that they become full-time judges.
>I am not certain it is fair to impose these pressures on our students -
>the challenge of judging a team that eliminated you from the tournament
>on decision you didn't agree with, the pressure of judging and
>potentially voting against the team that is considered the "best", the
>pressure to conform to styles of judging that one's peers consider
>appropriate, the challenges of evaluating the performance of teams that
>you routinely socialize with. I need to be clear. It is NOT that I
>would distrust students to try to be fair, dispassionate critics. It is
>rather that I appreciate the difficulty of the challenge and believe that
>both the participants in the round and the critics would be better served
>by creating more professional distance.
An important concern which lots of people have voiced. Making elim
participation voluntary lets debaters decide for themselves whether they
feel comfortable judging, and strikes me as an appropriate remedy.
The pressures which are outlined, as recognized by numerous contributors to
the L, are not ones that established judges are uniquely immune to. The
question is then only whether debaters would be more suscpetible to them.
My (perhaps naive) thought is that they would not be. 2 reasons:
1) Debaters are likely to be very sensitive to such concerns given that
they are forced to agonize over
them when faced with a poor or biased decision.
2) Debaters are more easily held accountable by their peers and the
community for the very reasons
Prof. Larson alludes to
>It is hard enough for our graduate students in their first year out. I
>have watched graduate students absolutely agonize over decisions, feeling
>the weight of the entire community focused on their ballot. I appreciate
>their integrity and also believe that I understand (and perhaps even
>remember) their dilemmas. It is hard to judge people you've debated, to
>serve on panels with people you've idolized (or abhorred), to remember
>that your decision impacts the participants the same way that the
>decisions of others recently impacted you. But graduate students are
>being paid and trained to make the professional transition. It is a
>transition that is crucial to the continued health of our profession.
>I genuinely feel that we would be better served by increasing the distance
>between participant and critic rather than decreasing it. I am NOT
>saying we need lay judges or outside critics. I am saying that DOF's
>need to take seriously their role of staying engaged as critics rather
>than turning all of the duties over to GA's. I am also saying that ALL
>critics need to create in their own minds the appropriate professional
>distance from the rounds we judge. I believe that this is way in which
>tabula rasa becomes most appropriate.
>Just my thoughts,
Definitely a tough job. However, it is one that debaters themselves would
have volunteered for just as graduate students apply for their positions.
Moreover, the soon-to-be-graduate assistants of our community are to be
found amongst active debaters; it is arguably better to gradually ease
those individuals into judging varsity debates then to suddenly thrust such
a difficult task upon them. Whatever distance may exist between critics
and debaters, it has created a state of affairs that we all have some
legitimate gripes with. Having debaters on elim panels would help bridge
the gap in order to improve the understanding of debaters and judges alike
for their respective positions. Your thoughts were most interesting, and
well worth taking the time to respond to.
- Derek Shaffer
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