Cork Worlds Reflections 1 - Consensus Judging

The judges assemble as the pairing scrolls by.

So today I just uploaded to facebook all my pictures from Cork. And I caught up on some email and other things. A pretty throw away day, except I picked up lunch for my wife and dropped it off on campus for her, which gave me a chance to go by the library and get a book I need for syllabus crafting, which should start tonight/tomorrow.

My AC adapter for my rechargeable battery station is fried so that sucks. Time for a trip to radio shack.

So here's my first reflection on Worlds now that I've had a day or so to think about it - Consensus judging is really no consensus at all. It's judge training/indoctrination worked in as a part of the system.

The attitude I got from many judges here and there through the tournament was that chairs are the decision makers, and they are there to gently show the wing judges how the round should be judged. They are the ones empowered to demonstrate to the wing judges how a round should properly be judged.

Now of course, wings can outvote a chair if there are enough of them to overrule the chair's decision. The slang for this is "rolling" the chair. And discussions I had with people who rolled or were rolled indicated that it is at the least an insult to the chair, and most likely seen as some sort of punishable move. In the end, the wings are supposed to agree with the chair.

I find this pretty fascinating because on the one hand I absolutely love the idea of a built-in judge training system that uses real tournament experience to improve the abilities of the judge. On the other hand, it's easy for it to fall into politics or into bad indoctrination - as one chair said to me after a debate when I was asking about this sort of stuff, "I'm a chair: I know how these things should be judged, wings don't." The danger here is a move to an expertise based judge system - like policy debate - where the judges are blamed for the failure of a team to win because they can't take a good flow or don't understand the arguments.

I like BP/WUDC style because the onus is more on the teams as of now to adapt and be "persuasive" - a key word for judges that I spoke to in Cork. The consensus judging system can certainly help keep it this way, as long as some element of diversity is left in the judging system and not squeezed out by persuasive Chairs who could possibly end up pushing a univocal, technical view of debate judging worldwide. The cultural/regional differences in how debate is viewed are incredibly important for the pedagogy of debate, throughout the entire history of rhetoric.

I like the educational potential of consensus judging, but not the indoctrination/persuader model of the Chair. Instead, I like the model of the Chair as "Socrates" - questioning each and every decision from the wings to make sure they have fairly accounted for each and every argument in the debate, and really have given each team their due in the course of the debate. When I serve as Chair here and there, I notice that a lot of the top half of the debate is oversimplified often times (even by me because, hey, that was a long time ago once you are finishing up the Opp Whip speech). I usually use the discussion period to make sure that we are fairly representing the arguments of the first tables. Under a Socratic paradigm, the chair makes sure that the wings are listening carefully, and learning how to evaluate arguments in the round with as little personal bias as possible.

So I wonder - what is the role of the chair in a consensus system? Is it to convince the other judges that he or she is right? Is it to hear the views of the wings and construct a decision that satisfies all adjudicators? Or is it to serve as a Socratic gadfly to the wing judges, questioning and probing their assumptions about the debate, making sure that the decision is defensible from all skeptical sides?