Portland State to host national debate tournament

Portland State will play host to a two-day debate tournament this weekend, organized by the university’s debate team as a warm-up for April’s United States Universities Debating Championship.

Portland State will play host to a two-day debate tournament this weekend, organized by the university’s debate team as a warm-up for April’s United States Universities Debating Championship.

The event will kick off today with a “just for fun” public debate on the subject of eco-terrorism and whether it constitutes a legitimate form of political expression.

According to PSU debate coach Kelly Welch, this evening’s debate will be a “demonstration debate” to showcase national talent. It’s also a sort of press release, designed to raise university awareness that a PSU debate team exists.

In addition to PSU, the public debate will feature Seattle University, Regis University from Denver and Loyola Marymount from Los Angeles, Calif.

This weekend’s warm-up tournament serves two purposes, Welch said.

The first is to prepare a handful of U.S. debate teams heading to April’s championship with a far more competitive environment than that to which they are accustomed.

“It’s definitely a much better representation of what [the championship] is going to look like than other tournaments we’ve had this year,” Welch said.

With 14 states fielding a total of 52 teams—or debate duos—this weekend’s tournament will be the largest tournament that the majority of the PSU debate team will attend before the championship, according to Welch. And whereas most of the debate tournaments PSU has attended this year have been held “locally”—in Oregon, Washington and California—this weekend’s participants will hail from Colorado, Michigan, New York and elsewhere.

“We’ll have a better sense of how other teams debate, what they’re like and how good they are,” said Corinne Gilbertson, a PSU Debate Team member.

The second purpose of the tournament is to help popularize the debate format that PSU’s team specializes in—the British Parliamentary (BP) format—which Welch believes is the best among the many collegiate debate formats.

According to team member Aaron Baker, a junior philosophy student, speakers using the BP format are more likely to be judged by a heuristic of 50 percent “manner” and 50 percent “matter” than to a hard-and-fast set of rules.  

Gilbertson, who will be judging this weekend, said that tournament judges look for certain basic qualities while rating speakers. These qualities include persuasiveness, confidence, organization and the uniqueness of a speaker’s argument combined with his or her level of support. 

Touching on the last of these, Gilbertson said that participating in the debate team forces its members to stay politically informed by maintaining a steady diet of national and international news.

Although it helps to be a widely read news consumer, reading The Economist on a regular basis is the hobbyhorse of a successful BP debater, according to Baker.

“I learn more in any given season of competitive debate than I’ve learned in any given class that I’ve ever taken,” Baker said. “I learn about public policy, values, things to prefer and prioritize, and what we as informed citizens should know about and care about.”

This has been something of a banner year for the debate team, according to team member Lindsay Bing, a senior studying political science.

“This year we’ve been really competitively successful,” Bing said. “Our novices have done exceptionally well, which is promising because…if you don’t have any younger talent coming in, it’s not a sustainable team.”

Bing and Baker have been permanent debate partners since last year and are now one of PSU’s most experienced and successful debate duos. They made it into the final round at last year’s championship, which is a “pretty big deal,” Bing said. She compared the championship to an entire sports season taking place over the course of a weekend.    

“We were really happy to represent Portland State, a public university, in an academic competition that’s often dominated by private, very prestigious universities,” she said.

The 2011 USU Debating Championship will be held at the University of Vermont on April 1–3. According to Welch, PSU will be sending six teams of two partners, including the Bing-Baker team. ?