Expert Adjudicators or Extra Adjudicators

I was having coffee with a good friend of mine and colleague from the debating world recently, when the subject of debate theory came up. My colleague mused about how lucky American debaters were to have such a rich tradition of theory behind what they do.

At the time, I disagreed. I like BP/WUDC debating because ideally it acts atheoretically. The arguments occur in natural language, and the debate about "what counts" as an argument doesn't happen beyond the point of calling out a fallacy, a weak warrant, or a fabrication. Argument theory as it exists in American debate formats relies extensively on argument theory as a block to arguments made, and therefore theoretical arguments (i.e. Your model is not a theoretically acceptable model because it does not specify which agent will enact the model) are as much the heart of the debate as the research, evidence, and disadvantages\advantages. In BP, arguments are not theoretically rejected per se, they are rejected upon the grounds of their persuasiveness.

Argumentation wise I still hold this view, but recent judging experiences and recent adjudications have me thinking that the adjudication system needs a method and a theoretical justification behind it.

Here are some things on my mind considering adjudication that debate scholars could and should address:

1. When, if ever, are solo judged rooms ok?
It seems to me that there are possible justifications for this, but I am not convinced by any of them as they all rely on the theory of "judge as expert in argumentation." This theory is a carry over (hold over?) from American policy debate, a format that I believe operates under a theory of creating a forum to practice persuasion among simulated experts. BP on the other hand appears to operate under the idea of practicing persuasion for a simulated public. The loss of the simulated public change the game to a simulated expert appeal, with debaters practicing a narrowing of argumentation for the one specific adjudicator's tastes instead of broadening appeal for a whole panel. This is distinct from American policy debate panels where you can go for 2 of the panel and ignore the outlier judge.

2. Is the purpose of paneled judging to reach consensus or to agree?
During a recent final round where I was a panelist, we went to adjudicate where the chair asked us for an initial idea as to who won. When we all said what we thought, he said "okay" and started to walk back in. I protested, saying we need to discuss the decision. The response was amusement. "Why talk if we all agree? Should we pretend to disagree?" I didn't have a good response other than a gut feeling that simple agreement was not the telos of consensus judging. I think some work here using theories of deliberation, discussion and the re-articulation of argument in the public sphere might help us appreciate the consensus portion of the adjudication more than the agreement portion of the deliberation.

On the verso, what happens when there is no discussion, or a discussion that goes past each other? What happens when a wing refuses to accept the community norms? My situation as a chair was having a wing who refused to judge the debate on the community norm of "who was most persuasive?" He said it was a bad way he didn't buy, and he was an argumentation expert. When I forced him to talk about persuasiveness, he couldn't - he talked about their style in a superficial manner. What can be said or done about such a judge? It seems a body of theory would help bend this sort of judge to a more reasonable and more functional role within the BP community.

3. Are wing judges extra judges? Are chairs expert judges?
By now I suppose you realize I'm going to say no to both. But the scholarly potentials here are interesting. What if the role of the chair is not expert on debate, but discussion leader? I think the decision becomes a different one if that's the function of the chair. If the function of the chair is to be expert, are they a technical one or one based upon experience? Either way will change the function of the adjudication.

As far as wings go, I think most people accept the idea that wings are chairs in training. This is a fantastic charitable attitude that I think does not exist outside of this format. The strike system in American policy has eliminated the idea of judge training, as well as the idea that rhetors should alter their message for audiences.

A strike system (this means choosing adjudicators that will not hear you during a tournament) is a move more toward a truth-seeking or positivist format of debating. However, some say should be given to debaters about the variety of judges that will hear them. After all, in rhetorical situations, many rhetors select whom they address and do not speak to all or everyone. Perelman even points out keenly that philosophers who claim to be addressing the universal are imagining that category based upon the best critical qualities of thought of their era.

The wing system theoretically addresses this problem by putting judges in the chair that are "trusted" which mean, I think, are consistent with the best sorts of judging of the era. They are to act as expert in some ways, but through guiding the discussion and making sure all wings are heard. Another theory might be that the chair can persuade the wings as to his or her credibility, so the panel is more like a simulated segment of the public, rallied to vote in one way or another by an enthusiastic citizen. And I'm sure there are other models that might be instructive to pursue.

Unfortunately there is no theory to support all of this yet, and often panelists are thought of extra judges. Panels of 3 are common, when a panel of 5 would be more justified. A 3 person panel indicates the need for a split in a solo, expert based decision process without consensus. Rounds are run with a solo judge under the assumption that it will be just the same as if there were wings. But I like so many other chairs know that many times a wing has caught some detail that makes me re think my orientation to the debate. This is an invaluable element of the debate, key to the format, and a backing of some scholarly work on the theory of BP debating would make it easier and more consistent, especially among Americans where the tradition of expert, professional scholar-coaches is bending WUDC format away from the elements that make it unique and pedagogically vibrant.