Is WUDC still relevant?

Today, Achte Minute posted a great interview with the most recent convener of WUDC. This interview is something that many will not read carefully, but I believe everyone interested in the future of the World Championships should read carefully.  The reason is that the interview clearly shows the tension that exists between a World Championship and "World's" - the current ideology and structure of WUDC is inadequate to provide something as complex and large as an actual world championship.

For a while now, I have been wondering how relevant WUDC is and how long it will maintain its relevance with the rise of debating in the BP style in the US and in China. Soon there will be competitors to the traditional WUDC tournament, and those interested and in favor of preserving Worlds have some hard work ahead of them to keep WUDC relevant. Here's a short list of reasons why Worlds will lose relevance, and what could be done now to prevent that slide:

1. Destination Debating

It is unfortunate, but a number of people participating in the World Championships would only attend if they knew they were also going to a party in a major city that had booked them a room in an exclusive hotel. People bidding for worlds assume this, and attempt to out do previous bids that offered such amenities. There must be a huge new years eve extravaganza, plenty of alcohol, and a hotel better than any of the others around. The destination seems to be the goal, and the debating seems to be secondary. As I have heard and overheard many say, "I agree with your critiques about Worlds, but I sure would love to go to India!" The quality of the competition should be the reason people want to go to WUDC, not the tourism. We don't want WUDC to fall into the position of a bad academic conference, only interesting because someone else can fund our trip to an exotic, fancy locale.

It was good to see Patrick discuss alternatives to hotel lodging in his interview. This can be fixed by Council adopting rules where all events must take place within walking distance of the place where participants are staying. This would effectively limit those who can host Worlds to University campuses with ample dorm space. This reduces the cost of WUDC for everyone, and focuses the debate upon who can best host us, not which destination has the best alcohol or weather. Facilities should be a priority alongside safety, which means the campus must be willing to support the existence of the number of people there. Many of you are going to cite Botswana as a horrible experience and I don't disagree. But I will remind you that this was a bait and switch, not part of the bid, and Destination Debating logic had almost everyone in full sway toward that bid, if the collective guilt about never hosting WUDC in the developing world didn't have you convinced.

2. Parties

There's nothing wrong with a good time, until multiple ambulances have to be summoned. There's also nothing wrong with parties unless the express purpose of the party, as announced by the people hosting it, is to help people hit on one another or find partners for sexual activity. Both set up WUDC not only for legal issues, but for oblivion. It wouldn't take many lawsuits to bring down WUDC, especially considering that the council has no official legal status (so far as my research can determine) and such lawsuits would be directly against the officers and conveners as persons.

This point always baffles me when I think about it. Why would you travel halfway around the world just to hang out with the same people you already know night after night? I would think one way of reducing the cost of WUDC would be to host less parties, or facilitate transit into the city for those who want to have a look around and enjoy what the local venues have to offer. The issue of safety and security is one to consider, but being out on the street in a public space might be more safe than these parties that occur without proper supervision in venues where the people serving the drinks do not have proper licensing or training to do so. I realize all of the parties are not this way, but many are, and I think once they happen if the WUDC does not put a stop to them, they will be blamed for the unfortunate results. Let's lower the registration price and let our cities do what they do best - cater to tourists. With some guidance from the Org Comm, things will be safer and more fun for those with an interest in night life.

I know this contradicts my first point in some ways that debaters will no doubt point out. However, if we are not going to dispense with Destination Debate, we should dispense with the parties. But if you agree with point one, we could have more social events on the campus as long as they follow the rules and regulations of the University. I am not against interesting events happening at Worlds. I am against horrific risky events happening at Worlds. The people attending Worlds aspire to great things; it would be more than shameful if someone died due to the party atmosphere at Worlds.

3. Publicity

The idea that a WUDC bid could go forward without money earmarked to fly in the best judges is humorous at best. But who are these "best judges?" What are the standards and practices they follow? Does Council have a normative list or guideline for conveners on this issue?

I suspect they do not, which is a shame. This practice could be really amazing if we were developing judges who place pedagogy before competitive excellence, or as competitive excellence. Unfortunately with no rubric, we are creating a defacto one, where judges who were great debaters are always funded, while intelligent, thoughtful people who were not good debaters are not given a subsidy. Why is this a problem?

It all has to do with the reasonable person standard we cling to as the rubric for our entire competition. If we don't have any reasonable people, how can we be teaching this as the goal or result of our competition? We are in fact creating a group of people who serve as a reasonable person standard, but this tide pool is not the sea. If we want to have any hope of convincing others that debate helps people become better speakers in the world, better at influencing others, or better at getting important ideas across, we need to address this issue - it is ultimately an issue of publicity.

Worlds should be treated by the local media and other media sources as the type of event it purports to be. Inviting in local political officials and such is quite nice, but asking people in the public to serve as adjudicators is a real media story. It would give WUDC the chance to speak about part of its important function to those who might only consider debate as a result of a process, leaving out the important dimension of debate as process in itself. Debate has helped me think better, and I hope it does the same for my students.

Having a mixed bag of untrained, unfiltered adjudicators would change the perspective of the tournament participants among competitors and judges alike. Now we would have a public element shifting the balance in adjudication away from doing things "the right way" to win a debate and doing things "the persuasive way" instead.

An area where WUDC is shining more and more in this problem is online. More live video and more recorded video should make its way up onto the internet in the coming years. Debaters should not be ashamed to show their debating online - if they are, it is a symptom of a style of debate that is outside, or possibly even counter to, the public who might be interested in such debates. We don't have to make pandering debates that include all the public, but we should find a way to check our impulse to make debate more cloistered and further removed from the interested public. I find it sad that I can no longer show a debating video from WUDC as a way to recruit new debaters because they find it incomprehensible and strange.

What have I left out?