Judge Not!

This past weekend at the Hobart & William Smith Colleges tournament, the round 6 bin room was assigned only one, inexperienced judge. The top rooms, however, were given panels of three, experienced judges.

My experience at Oxford last year was similar - break rooms and top rooms, closed adjudication aside, were easily identifiable as the tab rolled by - the panels of big names revealing exactly who the CA and DCAs deserved "good judging."  At Oxford, perhaps the defense might be that in top rooms, debaters are less likely to listen to or accept a decision educationally if they don't have respect or admiration for the panel. This is not a good defense, by the way, for an event that proports to teach people how to argue in front of "reasonable people" instead of "specific information experts," but it trumps the HWS decision by at least having some logic to it.

The Hobart & William Smith decision is less defensible. One judge in a room is not a WUDC round, nor is it even close to being the same event. If students sign up to debate at a Worlds style tournament, the tournament director, CA, host, whoever it is has an obligation to match the rules of competition as close as they can. To do otherwise is to violate the rules under which debaters and adjudicators paid money to compete. This is flagrant violation of the rules of the competition, in a situation where those decisions were absolutely not forced.

Not sure what the tournament hosts were thinking, but my guess is they weren't. Some debate programs are focused just on the competition - and there's a defense of that to be sure. But to have good, deep competitions one needs to think to the future, farming and cultivating the future generations of debaters who will dazzle us with argumentative prowess. Non-decisions such as this one harm the future generations of our practice in innumerable ways. Even a heavy contest or heavy competition-based philosophy of debate requires a pedagogical practice of some kind to get the results that we all want - good debating. There's a reason behind stacking judges that goes beyond "that's how it's done at the best competitions in the world," or "this is how it's always done."  One of the silliest fallacies of thinking that we generally laugh at when we hear - the appeal to tradition. Unfortunately, I suspect this is the sort of thinking that allowed this judgement to happen.

Assigning judges to the bin should be given at least as much thought as assigning judging to the top room. This goes for tournaments where mutual judge preference is in use as well. Perhaps it's good to get a judge you both dis-prefer, or feel lukewarm about, than to get the highest mutually ranked judge each time. At top IVs, this sort of thing just wouldn't happen. The rules of the contest - that rounds should be paneled, trump the tab rooms or adjudication team's sense of which rounds "matter" and which don't. Placing one judge in a room alone at the bottom of a tab sends a very clear message - debate is only for those who are already good. We do not care that you are here if you are new.

In Worlds debate, perhaps care in rotation should be in order. Do you really want a homogeneous break? Or do you want teams that can persuade a panel to come to consensus that has a very highly practiced judge, a mediocre judge, and one that is quite new? Do you want the best debaters, or the best persuaders? What do you want your final round to look like? A public debate on a viable controversy? Or do you want it to be a finely tuned monastic display of ritualized discourse? You cannot avoid the question of pedagogy - everything you do in a tournament and everything you assign in a tournament reveals your hand. CAs, what baggage do you want to be carrying? What will be the legacy of the decisions you make when setting panels for first year debaters?
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