Here is the video from our last of the first public debate series we held on campus this semester. It was a fully student organized, student led, and student run initiative. And it was a great success I think, except that I would have liked more people to come. But I always feel this way about any and every public debate event with which I am associated.
I like the abilities that debate training fosters in people. Student initiatives like this one are great forums for that initiative to come out. They are also good moments to practice persuasion in front of general audiences (read: non-tournament). They also force people who are strongly invested in individualism, forwarding their own ideas, finding flaws in others' ideas, etc. to work together and find more strategic ways to interact with other intellectuals outside of a "I must demolish your ideas to make way for mine" perspective. It's debate eroding its own creation to create new growth. Yes, public debate projects are forest fires in national parks.
A public debate series serves the students and community if it is attentive to actual controversy and brings it in a clearly adversarial format to the audience. This way, audience members can find clear and intellectual expression of feelings they may have about controversial issues. The current climate eschews such engagement in favor of diminutive models of discussion. This breeds a seething hate for political opponents instead of a strategic willingness to explore. Public debates take the edge off a bit, and can be enlightening to audiences on many levels. They can certainly steal argument structure for their own purposes, or look into an argument they believe to be persuasive after the debate ends. I wonder if they do either. How would you study this?
Perhaps we will do this again. I think it has the potential to continue indefinitely. Whoever takes charge of it next year has quite the nice foundation to build upon.