Evaluation Report
Philodemic Debate Society
Georgetown University

This is an edited version of the evaluation report filed on behalf of the Georgetown Philodemic Debate Society. Two tables were removed because of the difficulty of translating them into graphics for the WWW. Specific histories and data related to the Georgetown program have been removed. While I am willing to share any information related to the program to aid in other evaluations, some sections of the report seemed largely irrelevant to other programs. Please feel free to contact me at parcher@interserv.com or (202) 687-4079, if I can answer any questions or aid in other program evaluations in any way.

Jeff Parcher

Table of Contents

Critical Thinking
Research Skills
Organization and Arrangement
Oral Communication Skills
Listening and Note Taking Skills
Ethics of Advocacy
Career Skills
Enhancing the Value of the Classroom Experience
Increasing Student Knowledge about the World


This report grew out of requests by the Dean of Students and the Program Review Committee. To the best of my ability every effort was made to track both positive and negative literature and comments related to debate. As you will see shortly, there is an extensive amount of material available which documents the benefits of competitive debate. In all cases, material was weighed against the criteria for evaluation to establish the relevance of arguments and data advanced in support of the program. Every effort was made to document comments, arguments and research that are presented here. To my knowledge, the reference section compiled for this document represents the largest single bibliography on the evaluation of debate programs ever compiled. I wish to thank everyone in the debate community. Literally dozens of colleagues aided me with citations, comments and insights. I also wish to thank my colleagues at Georgetown, especially Martha Swanson, for the many comments and suggestions which enabled me to complete this project in such a short period of time.

Executive Summary

A careful examination of the nature and process of competitive debate across the U.S. and here at Georgetown, reveals a solid, educationally based activity, which offers many benefits to students that cannot be matched by other programs. The intense nature of the activity combined with the quality of students attracted and the inherent educational process of competitive debate, offers students unparalleled opportunities to achieve the well defined goals of the program, Student Affairs and Georgetown University as a whole. From a competitive perspective, Georgetown's program is one of the finest in the United States, having qualified for the National Debate Tournament (debate equivalent to the NCAA Basketball tournament) 27 consecutive times. Georgetown won the National Championship in 1992 and was runner-up in 1993. In examining evaluation data, there were no documented cases in which a competitive debate program was formally evaluated against the goals of the institution and discontinued. The conclusion of every known document related to evaluating the benefits of competitive debate concludes not only that it is a worthy activity that universities should support, but that it is one of the most beneficial activities conducted on a college campus.

Criteria Used

Does the debate program provide students with unique educational benefits? The goals of both the debate program and the University as a whole make this criteria the most obvious and important for the evaluation process. All known evaluations of debate have emphasized this criterion.

Does the debate program serve the Jesuit ideals of the University? This criterion is central to the character of Georgetown and hopefully all the programs of student affairs.

Does the debate program serve to educate future leaders? Georgetown is committed to providing students a liberal education that prepares them for leadership in society. This has been recommended in the literature as an important criterion for evaluating debate programs.

Does the program enhance the reputation of the University and attract excellent students? Meeting this criterion is clearly a goal of the University and was apparent in the evaluation literature and actual evaluations that were examined.

Does the debate program maximize its resources to achieve the greatest degree of participation possible? This is a goal of the current program, appears as a point of criticism by those outside the program and seems a relevant question relating to the weighing of costs and benefits.

Program Description

History. The Philodemic Debate Society is the oldest organization on the Georgetown campus. Intercollegiate competition has been supported by the University since 1938. The Georgetown program is one of the most successful and well regarded debate programs in the United States.

Nature of Intercollegiate Competition. Georgetown participates in cross-examination style debate which is sanctioned by several professional educational organizations and governing bodies. Competitions are held through university sponsored tournaments in which over 400 universities participate throughout the country. The form and style of debate is of a highly specialized nature and has evolved from the work of professional educators.

Non-Competitive Activities. The program participates in public debates sponsored by various institutions and parties.

Co-Curricular Value of Debate

Does the debate program provide students with unique educational benefits?

What Debate Teaches.Competitive debate is tool with a 2,500 year tradition at the heart of the Western Intellectual Tradition. Strong empirical and testimonial evidence suggest that debate teaches valuable skills. Many evaluations have concluded that there is a strong relationship between participation in debate and the goals of higher education. Argumentation theory is a critical tool of learning that is identified as a central part of a liberal education.

Critical Thinking. The consensus of empirical literature demonstrates that participation in debate enhances critical thinking.

Research Skills. No activity engaged in on college campuses teaches research skills as extensively and as successfully as intercollegiate debate.

Organization and Arrangement. Debate teaches students how to organize ideas and present them coherently. Research demonstrates a connection between participation in debate and improved writing skills.

Oral Communication Skills. Learning oral communication skills is an important aspect of a liberal education. There is an undeniable relationship between participation in debate the development of strong oral communication skills. The debate program offers students uniquely beneficial instruction in oral communication skills that cannot be obtained elsewhere on campus.

Listening and Note Taking Skills. Listening skills are a neglected but crucial part of higher education. Debate requires performing many complex cognitive tasks simultaneously and therefore is an ideal tool for improving listening skills. Empirical data supports the connection between participation in debate and improved listening skills.

Ethics of Advocacy. Teaching the ethics of advocacy is an important part of the intercollegiate debate experience which prepares students for a lifetime of critically examining the nature and purposes of their own communicative acts.

Career Skills. The teaching of career skills is an important educational goal. Surveys show that debate provides significant benefits to those entering virtually every career conceivable. Debate is also especially relevant as preparation for law school and the requirement of practicing law.

Enhancing the Value of the Classroom Experience. There are frequent reports in the literature that debate endows students with the skills for classroom and life long learning.

Increasing Student Knowledge about the World. In preparing for each year's topic the debater gains a wealth of knowledge about the world. A years work on a debate topic has been compared the knowledge gained during multiple years of masters and dissertation research.


Does the debate program serve to educate future leaders?

Research shows a strong correlation between participation in debate and the attainment of positions of leadership in society. Some of the greatest leaders in many fields have participated in intercollegiate debate. Alumni of the debate program have attained many impressive positions of leadership in society. The skills taught by debate are important to successful leadership in virtually every field imaginable. Clergy, professors, academic administrators, lawyers, judges, doctors, business leaders and others report that debate teaches crucial skills which were an important part of their ultimate success.

Debate and Jesuit Ideals

Does the debate program serve the Jesuit ideals of the University?

Historical Roots. Competitive debate is traceable from it roots in ancient Greece to the center of medieval university curriculums to an important aspect of the Jesuit educational system.

Competition. Competition between students was and remains an important part of the Jesuit educational perspective. Debate provides students with an opportunity to test themselves against the very best.

Diversity of Method. Jesuit educational philosophy values diversity of teaching method. Debate is a unique tool that would seem to have a proper place among student affairs programs as an important alternative for certain students.

Leadership. Cultivating future leaders has always been an important goal of Jesuit educational institutions. Competitive debate is excellent training for leadership.

Critical Thinking. All Jesuit educational institutions pride themselves on this goal. Strong research demonstrates that debate effectively teaches critical thinking.

Educating for Character. Educating for character is the single most important distinguishing characteristic of Jesuit educational institutions. Participation in flip-side debate is one of the only educational tools that appears to contain all of the relevant requisites for teaching the reflective thinking necessary for effective values education.

Recruiting and Reputation

Does the debate program enhance the reputation of the University and attract excellent students?

Recruiting of excellent students to the campus is reported throughout the literature as a significant benefit of a university debate program. The high school debate community includes some of the brightest and most successful students in the country. The reputation of the Georgetown debate program appears to be an important recruiting device. Data from the debate program demonstrates that the prominence of the debate program is an important factor in the decisions of nearly all debate participants and in many students who attend Georgetown but ultimately decide not to participate in intercollegiate debate. Because many universities which Georgetown directly competes with for students have outstanding debate programs, eliminating our program would appear to offer significant disadvantages to recruiting and the academic reputation of the University as a whole.

Evaluating Participation

Does the debate program maximize its resources to achieve the greatest degree of participation possible?

Participation Numbers. Average # of tournaments attended from 1991-1996: 10.8
Average # of different students traveling 1991-1996: 10.6
Average # of different students traveling to 4 or more tournaments: 8.2

Quantifying academic work. The quantity of work completed by debate students is staggering. Compared to the work done by non-debaters for their academic course work, debaters are receiving a vastly superior academic experience.

Evaluating the Numbers. While the debate program does not serve a significant number of students compared to some programs, several rationales seem to support the proposition that this expenditure is not excessive. First, the number of students served by programs may be less important than the quality of individualized instruction received. Because of the intense time committed by students to the activity, the pure number of participants should not be used as the sole baseline for comparison. The level of each students participation should also be taken into account. Second, students in many other programs, including athletics, receive a greater per student expenditure than the average student on campus. Third, compared to other universities, Georgetown's per student expenditure on debate is actually quite low. Relative size has not resulted in other debate programs being eliminated. Apparently, nearly every other college administrator who has evaluated a debate program has concluded that the program should be kept or expanded. Finally, current fundraising by the alumni might eventually allow the program to be expanded without additional resource expenditure by the University.

Reform Options

Cutting the program back to local travel only. This option is considered unsound because: (1) The budget is highly salary intensive and cutting back travel funds could only save a limited amount of money; (2) Most of the recruiting benefits would be lost; (3) The competitive foundation of the team would be eliminated; (4) Recruiting a Director would become highly problematic; (5) The educational benefit of the activity would be seriously impaired; and (6) This would only add to the serious constraints under which our students currently operate.

Other student organizations as an alternative to intercollegiate debate. This option is considered unsound because: (1) The educational benefits of the programs are meager compared to the rigorous, staff-directed intercollegiate program; (2) The other programs are not research based activities; (3) Recruiting benefits would be completely lost; (4) These alternative programs are not governed by academic standards; and (5) This reform would be analogous to eliminating the basketball team because of the existence of the intramural program.

Merging all of the debate programs under the director of debate. This reform has advantages and disadvantages. Among the advantages are allowing the Director to serve a larger number of students and integrating academic standards into the alternative programs. The first possible disadvantage is that an assistant coach would probably be necessary. During the fall and early spring, the Director of Debate simply could not adequately perform additional responsibilities. A second potential disadvantage is that the student run organizations may oppose such a loss of autonomy for their programs.


Some 99.26% of former debaters recommend that current students engage in debate. It is unlikely that any other activity could receive such a ringing endorsement. There is no known data and almost no commentary in existence which reflects negatively on modern debate programs. Every review discoverable concluded that debate should be maintained or expanded. Overwhelming support for the debate program was found with regard to each of the established criteria. The goals, missions and traditions surrounding Georgetown, Student Affairs and Student Programs all indicate that maintaining a strong and healthy competitive debate program should be a fundamental commitment of the University.


Criteria for Examination

The initial analytical step in any solid program evaluation is the establishment of clear criteria against which the program is to be measured. In creating the present criteria, the following sources were consulted:

The result of this process of examination was the following criteria. Each will be discussed briefly:

Does the debate program provide students with unique educational benefits?

Clearly, the university cannot make a decision about continuing the debate program without first determining what type of educational benefits the program provides. Are the benefits extensive and unique? The educational benefits of the activity must serve as a central point of the evaluation process because competitive debate itself exists as an educational tool. Educational benefits are some of the most obvious goals of every debate program (Sternhagen, p68). Recent evaluation literature focuses on the educational purpose of forensics (Manchester, 1981; Littlefield, 1988; Greenstreet, 1990; Albert, 1991). All known evaluations of debate programs have included, if not focused on, the educational value of the activity. Students themselves give educational benefits as a reason for participation (Hill). Specifically, this evaluation will include each of the purported educational benefits of debate reported by Horn and Underberg, which include critical thinking, oral communication skills, career preparation, research skills, organization and arrangement, and listening skills.

Additionally, the goals of Student Affairs and the University as whole dictate that we begin with this criteria. Georgetown advertises to its students that, "The Office of Student Programs works to educate students within the co-curricular context..."(Handbook, p32). This specifically includes the "transmission of knowledge and skill..."(Handbook, p63). Recent discussion focused at reevaluating the mission of student programs have placed the education of students as our foremost concern (Retreat). Of the fourteen functions of Student Affairs, three bear directly on academic educational goals:

2. Provide atmosphere conducive to academic achievement
11. Challenge students
12. Educate students: opportunities, policies, challenges, & responsibilities

This is as it should be; student affairs practitioners clearly see "the principle of educational purposefulness first because it is fundamental to all others" (Carnegie, p9). Other support for this proposition appear in The Student Learning Imperative (American College Personnel Association) and literature reviews (Terenzini).

Does the debate program serve the Jesuit ideals of the University?

While the education of students is clearly the central goal of any college or university, Georgetown is unique in how it proclaims to accomplish that task. "The character of Georgetown University derives from the Jesuit conception of education as the praise of God through the pursuit of knowledge for service in the world" (O'Donovan, p2). The historical roots of debate to Jesuit educational philosophy are examined because Georgetown claims to be "built on a two hundred year commitment to a Jesuit, Catholic understanding of undergraduate education" (Student Organizations). Some of the specific aspects of Georgetown's Jesuit character are discussed in the corresponding chapter.

Does the debate program serve to educate future leaders?

Leadership has been an important commitment within Student Affairs for a number of years. According to the Student Handbook, "Georgetown University is committed to providing students a liberal education that prepares them for citizenship and leadership in society" (p41). The President of the University, Leo J. O'Donovan, S.J. has proclaimed that "part of our vision is to strengthen our distinguished University as an unparalleled global resource for intellectual and moral leadership" (Third Century, p4). Extensive reports on the usefulness of debate as training for leadership also dictate its inclusion as a relevant consideration for evaluation. Hollihan recommends that debate programs be evaluated as gifted or honors programs for outstanding students who will become future leaders (439).

Does the program enhance the reputation of the University and attract excellent students?

Georgetown prides itself for attracting some of the finest students in the nation (Third Century, p5). The ability of the University to train leaders is clearly related to its ability to bring students with leadership potential to the campus. The academic reputation of Georgetown obviously influences the ability to recruit as well as fundraising and many other factors related to the growth of the community (Third Century). During my research, I also discovered that other programs and departments thought this as an important rationale for maintaining a debate program. Some even saw it as the primary purpose (See chapter VII). Several sources recommend this as relevant criterion upon which to evaluate debate programs (Hollihan, Hanson).

Does the debate program maximize its resources to achieve the greatest degree of participation possible?

This criteria was selected for several obvious reasons. First, all educational programs must weigh the benefit they achieve against the cost of the program. All but one of the criteria is directly dependent on the number of students served by the program (the value to the reputation of the University and recruiting effect may not be dependent on the number of students served). Interviews with other directors show serving as many students as possible is a common goal of debate programs (Sternhagen, p68; personal interviews). Serving as many students as the resources allow has been a goal of this program every year that I have been Director. Finally, the Dean of Students has expressed specific interest in this question(undated memorandum on file).

Research Methods

Extensive materials and sources were consulted as part of this evaluation. A summary of the research process follows:

  1. An attempt was made to examine every book related to competitive debate and every published article related to the cost and benefits of intercollegiate debate or its evaluation. Databases searched included the index to ERIC, ALADIN (indexing all 8 major libraries in the Washington area) and the Library of Congress data base for periodicals and books. References were requested from over 300 debate programs across the country. Dozens of bibliographies written by debate researchers were consulted. I am currently aware of no books written after 1960 which were not examined for this survey. Only a handful of those written prior to that time proved unavailable. Amongst articles, I am currently aware of only two which could not be obtained and abstracts or other descriptions were available for each of these.

  2. Current newspapers and non-scholarly journals were searched utilizing lexis/nexis. The terms "debate program", "debate team" and "debate society" were each searched. The search returned some 5000 articles and stories written after 1985. The titles of these articles and stories were consulted and those bearing relevance to the evaluation were examined.

  3. Many unpublished papers, forthcoming articles and book chapters, brochures, letters and summaries of other evaluation reports were obtained. These materials were obtained through interviews with other directors and a request to over 300 debate programs for relevant materials.

  4. Information regarding the status of other program evaluations was requested from the aforementioned 300 schools. Approximately 80 responses were received and of these 14 contained relevant information regarding the outcomes of other debate programs which have been evaluated for the same purposes as Georgetown now pursues.

  5. Current students and alumni were interviewed and consulted. A total of 32 people gave relevant information to me regarding the purposes of this survey.


The term forensics refers to competitive debate and other competitive speaking events. In the modern era, forensics almost exclusively means intercollegiate debate and individual speaking events held at invitational tournaments. No reference or quotation was included where the authors intended their comments to refer either to non-competitive debate or solely to individual events competitions. All references to debate refer to two person cross examination debate, which is the division in which Georgetown competes.

Program Description

Nature of Intercollegiate Debate

The type of debate in which Georgetown participates is referred to as cross-examination debate. While we have traditionally participated in a division of policy debate called NDT (National Debate Tournament) debate, the distinction between alternative divisions of debate has all but disappeared with the adoption of a joint topic for the 1996-97 season. Over 300 universities and colleges compete in cross examination debate. The debate season is marked by a series of tournaments sponsored by various universities and organizations which culminate in a national competition. A typical tournament consists of 8 preliminary debates held over two days. On the third day, the highest ranked teams participate in a single elimination bracket which proceeds from double octa-finals (32 teams) to octa-finals, quarterfinals, semifinals and a final round to determine the champion.

A cross examination debate pits two teams of two persons against one another. The number of teams which one school can enter in a tournament is limited only by the rules of each individual tournament. Some may allow 2-4, others allow unlimited entries. A single debate takes approximately 2 hours from beginning to end and is organized in the following way:
1st Affirmative Constructive9 Minutes
Cross-examination3 Minutes
1st Negative Constructive9 Minutes
Cross-examination3 Minutes
2nd Affirmative Constructive9 Minutes
Cross-examination3 Minutes
2nd Negative Constructive9 Minutes
Cross-examination3 Minutes
1st Negative Rebuttal6 Minutes
1st Affirmative Rebuttal6 Minutes
2nd Negative Rebuttal6 Minutes
2nd Affirmative Rebuttal6 Minutes

The structure is designed such that each debater gives a constructive speech and a rebuttal speech. Each debater also asks questions and is in turn asked questions during one of the cross-examinations. Each side gets 10 minutes of preparation time to utilize as they see fit.

The debate season begins in July with the announcement of the topic to be debated. At this time, debaters across the country begin to research the debate topic. The season ends with the national tournament which is held in early April. Debate topics are worded to be broad enough to serve the community for this long period of time. The last few debate topics have been:

95/96 Resolved that the U.S. government should substantially increase security assistance to one or more of the following: Israel, Egypt, Palestinian National Authority, Jordan, Syria.

94/95 Resolved that the federal government should substantially change rules and/or statutes governing criminal procedure in federal courts in one or more of the following areas: pretrial detention, sentencing.

93/94 Resolved that the Commander-in-Chief powers of the U.S. President should be substantially curtailed.

92/93 Resolved that the U.S. should substantially change its development assistance policies toward one or more of the following: India, Pakistan, Burma, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal.

91/92 Resolved that one or more U.S. Supreme Court decisions recognizing the Constitutional Right to Privacy should be overruled.

In a typical debate, the affirmative presents a case, which represents an interpretation of the resolution. For example, one affirmative case under the Middle East topic was for the U.S. to station troops on the Golan Heights to achieve a peace agreement between Israel and Syria. This was one of approximately 100 different cases run by different affirmative teams on that topic. Other topics have allowed even more affirmative ground, such that there were upwards of 200 different cases for which the negative must prepare. It is this breadth of coverage which influences debaters to begin preparation in July for debates which will not occur until September. It is also the reason why debaters will spend an average of 20 to 30 hours a week preparing for debates. This figure does not include actual travel and participation at tournaments.

To prepare for tournaments debaters research issues central to the topic and prepare briefs to be used in defense of their arguments. They construct many different types of arguments and literally rely on every type of published evidence available. The Following are some of the more stock types of arguments which the students construct:

Affirmative Cases - An affirmative case is based on a plan which the affirmative presents as the interpretation of the resolution that they will defend. Some examples of plans can be found at the end of this chapter.

Topicality Arguments - Semantic and definitional arguments which attempt to prove that potential plans either are or are not reasonable interpretations of the resolution.

Case Arguments - Arguments either making or denying the case for implementation of a potential plan.

Disadvantages - Structured positions designed to show that the plan will have undesirable consequences.

Counterplans - Alternative plans presented by the negative to show that the affirmative plan is undesirable.

Critiques - These are philosophical, rhetorical or epistemological arguments designed to show that a critical foundation upon which the affirmative's case is based is significantly flawed.

Tournaments often include additional activities which have significant educational benefits for students outside of the actual debates. Debate tournaments often include open forums on various subjects such as minority participation in debate, governance of the activity and ethical standards. Tournaments sometimes include guest speakers or exhibition debates. For example, the 1996 National Debate Tournament (NCAA Tournament equivalent) included a guest presentation by George McGovern and an exhibition debate between an American team and a Japanese team.

Non-Competitive Activities

Besides actual intercollegiate debate, the team typically participates in one or more public debate events during the season. This past year, Georgetown debaters participated in an exhibition debate against George Mason University in the Senate Foreign Relation room on Capitol Hill. The subject of the debate was U.S. policy in the Middle East and the audience included members of Congress, policy analysts, lobbyists and Ambassadorial staff. In past years, Georgetown debaters have participated in public debates taped for Japanese public television, local cable stations and have been involved in programming related to the Presidential debates. The team is currently negotiating projects for next year including debates sponsored by Hewlett-Packard and the N.Y. Port Authority on freedom of trade and debates between students on presidential politics designed to mirror the general election debates between Presidential candidates.

Sample Plans Presented By Georgetown Teams

A Plan Presented by Georgetown Debaters on the Criminal Procedure Topic

  1. The Supreme Court and other federal courts shall hold that rules requiring gender neutrality within rules and or statutes governing criminal procedure in federal courts are unconstitutional. Specifically, rule 5h1.1 of the sentencing guidelines shall be removed.

  2. The rational for such holdings shall be that gender neutrality inherently burdens persons who have been placed in an inferior position due to political, social, economic and cultural oppression. Because of such "political" domination, the affirmative right to privacy, which is "fundamental to the American scheme of government", and guaranteed by the Federal Constitution requires the government to act affirmatively to remove such barriers. The new standard shall be whether rule or procedure unduly burdens an individual's affirmative privacy rights given their gender. Such determinations shall be made by examining the context for political, social, economic or cultural oppression on the basis of gender. Gender will be defined on the basis of political, social and cultural factors. The use of evidence by the state during sentencing, relating to gender role, including substance abuse by mothers, will be considered unconstitutional. Any conflicting rules/decisions will be overruled including support for the negative right to privacy. Evidence presented by the defendant of gender and gender oppression shall be admissible during the sentencing procedure.

  3. The following changes in the guidelines occur: Neither Rule 5h1(Physical impairment), nor any other provision shall be interpreted as allowing pregnancy departures on the basis of physical impairment or other biological factors. 5H1.6 (Family departures), 5k2.12 (Coercion), 3b1.2 (Minimal participation) and 5k2.13 (Diminished capacity and battered women defense) shall be interpreted to provide for departures in cases of gender domination but not gender role or for any biological reason.

  4. The plan will be implemented and enforced through normal means. We believe the plan applies to the states.

A Plan Presented by Georgetown Debaters on the Middle East Topic

The Executive will implement and the Congress will authorize a substantial increase in security assistance to the topic countries. This increase will be limited to the following:

A Crisis response team will be formed. It will consist of high and low level administration officials, specialists on security issues related to the topic countries, and academic scholars specializing in the security issues of the Middle East. The team will undergo initial and thereafter periodic training in crisis mediation and the culture of potential combatants. The team will also be provided with access to the CASCON database. The team will be deployed when an acute security threat to any of the nations emerges. Funding will be provided by cuts in the Clean Coal Technology Program and diversion of FCC auction revenues if necessary. Funding will not exceed 20 million dollars. Enforcement is through normal means. Intent applies. The justification for the plan is not that the possible conflicts we detail represent a threat to our national security, but instead merely that military conflict itself is an undesirable phenomenon.

The Co-Curricular Value of Debate

Does the debate program provide students with unique educational benefits?

What Debate Teaches

In 1908, Edwin Shurter wrote that "Perhaps no study equals debate in the acquirement of the power of logical thinking combined with clear expression" (Shurter, p11). More recently, the first national conference on forensics noted that intercollegiate debate is first and foremost an educational endeavor:

Forensics is an educational activity primarily concerned with using an argumentative perspective in examining problems and communicating with people. An argumentative perspective on communication involves the study of reason giving by people as justification for acts, beliefs, attitudes, and values. From this perspective, forensics activities, including debate and individual events, are laboratories for helping students to understand and communicate various forms of argument more effectively in a variety of contexts with a variety of audiences (McBath, p11).

Professor Hunt states unequivocally that "[f]orensics has an ancient and honorable twenty-five hundred year history as the heart of The Western Intellectual Tradition" (p5). The continuous operation of competitive debate in differing forms at the collegiate level is easily traced to the Medieval university and the original Greek and Roman educational practices. The study of the rhetoric of argument was at the center all Greek and Roman philosophies of education (Braham).

The long honored position of debate in academia has been built around its functional purposes. Competitive debate teaches valuable skills. None of these benefits need be taken on faith. There is strong empirical evidence for the proposition that debate teaches crucial skills. After reviewing the research, Colbert and Biggers noted:

The literature suggests that debaters benefit in at least three areas. First, forensic competition improves the students' communication skills. Second, forensics provides a unique educational experience because of the way it promotes depth of study, complex analysis and focused critical thinking. Third, forensics offers excellent pre-professional preparation (p237).

A working group of the Quail Roost Conference on Assessment of Professional Activities of Directors of Debate recently reported:

A well established and supported debate program offers exceptional opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate education that are equaled by few other academic programs. Debate permits undergraduates to develop such humanistic capabilities as research, analysis, critical evaluation of claims, and the construction and judgment of argument on important social issues. Debate introduces the intellectual excitement and rigor of research into the undergraduate curriculum in a manner characterized by both its intensity and interdisciplinary nature... The benefits derived from debate thus seem particularly appropriate for, and consistent with, the emerging concerns and trends in higher education (Quail Roost, p19).

In their monumental study of former debaters, Matlon and Keele conclude that "[t]here is an affirmative relationship between participation in competitive debate and the goals of higher education" (p 205). Colbert and Biggers agree, stating that "[t]raining in debate has long been considered a vital part of the educational process" (p237). They go on to note that "[t]he educational benefits of debate seem to be well documented..."(p238). Finally, Kruger argues that debate is perhaps the "most valuable" activity in a liberal arts curriculum (pvii). In attempting to discover why these educational benefits are attributed to debate, several reasons are suggested. There is a close connection between the skills that debate teaches and the proclaimed goals of our educational institutions. Listen to Professor Hunt:

A forensics education is a microcosm of the Western Intellectual Tradition and of the liberal arts. The fundamental knowledge and skills potentially gleaned in forensics reads like a list taken from Mortimer Adler's The Paideia Proposal, the U.S. Department of Education's A Nation at Risk, or any of a number of recent documents about fundamentals and excellence in higher education. Forensics helps you learn how to learn, to be able to think clearly and adapt to rapid change (p9).

James McBath adds, "[a]t its essence, forensics is an educational activity which provides students with the opportunity to develop a high level of proficiency in writing, thinking, reading, speaking and listening"(p10). Debate is a uniquely beneficial educational tool in part because of the value of argumentation theory itself. The creation of an argument is one of the most complex cognitive acts that a person can engage in. Creating an argument requires the research of issues, organization of data, analysis of data, snythesization of different kinds of data, and an evaluation of information with respect to which conclusion it may point. After this process, the formulation of an argument requires the debater to consider differing methods of critiquing reason, the decision making formula, the audience and the criteria of decision making. In the end, arguments must be communicated to an audience clearly and succinctly - a difficult cognitive process requiring conversion between thought, written rhetoric and oral rhetoric. At the end, the debate itself requires the processing of other's arguments and then the reformulation and defense of one's original position.

The close relationship between a debate coach and debate participants is another reason for the unique educational value of debate. "[F]ew student-teacher relationships are as close as that in forensics, and probably few are as personally and intellectually rewarding" (Faules and Rieke, p51). This unique attribute creates an intense educational experience as explained by Scott:

The combination of superior students, close student-teacher relationships, and high motivation all combine to...require the student to develop habits of sustained mental discipline and a commitment to excellence. Relatively few undergraduate students ever experience the intensity of intellectual concentration and production which become the common experience of the participant in forensics (p4).

Not only does Georgetown pride itself as an institution where students can obtain this type of individualized attention (Third Century, p5), but evidence indicates that individualized approaches to instruction offer the possibility of quantum leaps in educational performance (Cohen).

Debate is also a successful method of teaching because of its inherently interactive format. This methodology describes competitive debate, both in terms of how debates are formatted and in its reliance on "coaching" as a method of instruction. Research has demonstrated that interactive formats are the preferred method for achieving critical thinking, problem solving ability, higher level cognitive learning, attitude change, moral development, and communication skill development (Gall). Of the six recommended methods for active learning, debate utilizes five, they include writing, oral presentation, small group strategies, instructional games or role playing and field study methods (Nyquist and Wulff). Each of the educational attributes of this intense experience are worthy of individual examination. The next section takes a brief look at each.

Critical Thinking

The degree to which the debate program enhances the critical thinking ability of its participants is a crucial criteria against which to weigh the debate program. Across the United States, colleges and universities have placed increasing emphasis on the attainment of critical thinking skills. The issue has been the subject of nationally funded reports, university graduation requirements and the subject of countless scholarly and educational journals (McMillan). Shroeder and Shroeder report that:

Almost every institution of education has, as a part of its mission, the preparation of articulate and critical thinking individuals who are able to speak intelligently about the issues of the day. Forensics, or competitive speech activities, clearly fit within this mission of the institution, and, indeed, may have a more integral relationship with the educational mission than many other activities (p13).

One of the most renown professors of debate in the United States, concurs on page one of his treatise:

Competency in critical thinking is rightly viewed as a requisite intellectual skill for self-realization as an effective participant in human affairs, for the pursuit of higher education, and for successful participation in the highly competitive world of business and the professions. Debate is today, as it has been since classical times, one of the best methods of learning and applying the principles of critical thinking (Freely, 1990).

Many authors note that leadership in a changing world requires students to learn to critically analyze and evaluate ideas (Adler; Dressel & Mayhew; Young). Besides being an obvious and important goal of any institution of higher learning, forensics directors have rated developing critical thinking ability as the highest educational goal of the activity (Rieke). Debaters themselves have suggested that it should be considered the most important goal (Matlon and Keele). Georgetown itself proclaims a commitment to "cultivate the faculties of reason and critical analysis..." (Third Century, p5). A healthy ability to think critically about information is especially critical in a world overflowing with data. An old debater research adage holds that "you can prove anything if you look long enough." The shuddering growth in information and access to it has changed this sarcastic notion into a virtual truism. The ability and willingness to critically examine information is a highly prized skill among employees, managers and executives, lawyers, doctors and other professions. Society desperately needs training devices that can help people manage information in a trenchant fashion.

The empirical evidence demonstrating a connection between participation in debate and learning the skills of critical thinking is quite extensive. In a recent review of research on the subject, Colbert and Biggers noted that "50 years of research correlates debate training with critical thinking skills" (p212). Keefe, Harte and Norton reviewed the research and concluded that, "[m]any researchers over the past four decades have come to the same general conclusions. Critical thinking ability is significantly improved by courses in argumentation and debate and by debate experience" (p33-34).The most recent study concluded not only that participation in competitive debate enhances critical thinking skills, but that compared to academic pursuits of a similar time length, "competitive forensics demonstrates the largest gain in critical thinking skills" (Allen, p6).

The kind of oppositional thinking encouraged by debate clearly contributes to critical thinking skills for a variety of reasons. There is strong empirical evidence, for example, that utilizing devils advocacy helps improve the understanding of strategic problems. In fact, devils advocacy has been used successfully by a number of companies for this exact purpose (Schwenk, 1988). Such research mirrors what debate coaches have known for decades. Debaters learn much more about critical thinking than the old adage "there are two sides to every coin." They learn how to spot errors in reasoning and proof. They gain a greater respect for the complexity of ideas and they learn how to criticize in a productive way based on facts and logic. Many former debaters have testified that undergraduate participation in debate exposed them to complex ways of thinking which prepared them for what they would face in graduate school and their professional lives. James Greenwood, Chairperson in Communications at the University of Findlay noted that "debate was more important to my career than any single course on the undergraduate and graduate level. Debate develops skills in organization, clarity and depth of analysis that most students do not encounter until the master's thesis" (Shroeder and Shroeder, p16).

Research Skills

No undergraduate class or activity compares to debate as a means of teaching students methods of research. Since students in debate engage in 20 hours or more a week of preparation, they gain more experience in research in one year than in all the rest of their studies combined (selected interviews). Hunt gives this advice to potential debaters:

...you will learn research methods as you learn to support your advocacy. You will learn to use the library and all its resources. You will learn to find books, articles, government documents, and special studies. You will learn to utilize every sort of index, both print indexes and computerized indexes. You will also learn both quantitative and qualitative research methodologies as you begin to examine and criticize the research you read. Good forensics students have to be familiar with humane, social scientific, and scientific methodologies and with case studies, surveys, and statistics. Without such knowledge, you cannot separate good logic, good reasoning, and good evidence from mediocre or poor logic, reasoning and evidence (p8).

All of the debaters interviewed who had obtained advanced degrees suggested that the research efforts that they engaged in for debate were many times more challenging than those required for a law degree, masters thesis or dissertation. Debaters at Georgetown regularly use every conceivable resource available not only on the campus but throughout the metropolitan area. Georgetown debaters have conducted extensive research at the law and medical schools, the Library of Congress, specialized libraries at the Agency for International Development, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Institute for Medicine, Middle East Institute and countless others. They have collected material from a large diversity of think tanks and special interest groups. They have accessed materials from the Congressional Research Service as well as committees and members of Congress. They have obtained special access to libraries at the Pentagon and the Naval Research Center. They have interviewed important writers located in the metropolitan area and tracked down papers written by working groups of the Institute for International Economics, NATO and the United Nations. Recently, Georgetown debaters have become versed in the techniques of research on the Internet and are utilizing a plethora of computerized research databases. The research skills of debaters are so well known that they have been prized employees and interns for a variety of private, governmental and international institutions. The most distinguished think tank studying international relations in the world, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, has recently established a special internship to be rewarded exclusively to participants at the National Debate Tournament (Lennon).

Organization and Arrangement

Because debate is a form of structured argumentation - a great deal of emphasis is placed on the structure of individual arguments, cases, counterplans and other types of persuasive techniques. The skills of organizing arguments are transferable to nearly all other types of communication. In addition to nearly all types of oral communication, research has suggested that debate is beneficial in teaching writing skills (Matlon and Keel). The notion of structuring arguments is relevant throughout the lives of all students. They utilize these skills when answering and posing questions, writing letters and essays, in court, in committees and other small groups, for evaluations, to sell or in a myriad of other ways. Communication itself is heavily steeped in the notion of argument (McBath). In large part the centrality of argument in our lives was one of the reasons why the study of rhetoric became the center of the Western Intellectual Tradition (Hunt). Debate teaches students a great deal more about organization and arrangement than merely to have an introduction, body and conclusion. Debate teaches them how to construct arguments in a sophisticated manner, examining both the micro and macro perspective of argumentation theory.

Oral Communication Skills

The teaching of oral communication skills has been called "a vital part of humanistic education and democratic citizenship" (Lucas, p69). From Aristotle and Plato to Saint Augustine and Richard Whately, it has absorbed the energies of some of the greatest thinkers ever known (Lucas, p67). Oral Communication is amongst the most obvious and well supported values of academic debate. It has long been considered central to any program of speech communication:

The forensic program, which plays an important role in the total program of speech education in secondary schools and colleges, provides the student-participants with a variety of practical educational experiences that few other forms of education afford. It offers them an unparalleled opportunity to perfect the techniques of effective oral communication; in fact, campus and interscholastic speaking is the most potent contemporary force outside the classroom in the speech education of thousands of students. When ably coached, these programs contribute significantly to the intellectual, social, and moral growth of participating students (Klopf, p1).

Every empirical study discoverable supported the proposition that debate enhances oral communication skills. Semlak and Shields concluded that "students with debate experience were significantly better at employing the three communication skills (analysis, delivery, and organization) utilized in this study than students without experience" (p194). Professor Pollock in his interesting study of debate and the communication abilities of leaders notes:

In speculating what role the forensic activity plays in the attainment or oral communication success in legislative halls, some positive conclusions can be inferred. For example, the correlation ran high in this survey that the very top debaters and floor speakers in the Florida House of Representatives were also those who had previous experience in scholastic debate or public speaking-type forensic activity (p17).

Arnold examined 94 Pennsylvania lawyers with forensic experience and concluded that the oral communication skills learned were so extensive that forensics educators should encourage pre-law student to join forensics teams (Arnold, p26). Pollock's research also showed that "persons with oral communication skills honed by varied forensic events were also regarded highly by their colleagues in group discussion activity. Virtually every legislator accorded high ratings in the basic category of interpersonal communication listed forensic experiences a student" (p17). After reviewing the research, Colbert and Biggers conclude bluntly, "[t]he conclusion seems fairly simple, debate training is an excellent way of improving many communication skills" (p239).

There are many apparent reasons for the success of debate as a method of teaching oral communication. A few are briefly noted:

While typical Georgetown students might give not more than two oral presentations during an academic year at Georgetown, the typical debater would conservatively give 128. In each debate, the student gives two speeches, their are eight preliminary debates and a typical student would attend 8 tournaments. This figure does not include speeches given during practice, elimination rounds or public exhibitions. The more accurate figure is probably over 200 (Interviews).

Subjecting Oral Communication to Rigorous Academic Techniques
While oral presentations given during the normal course of academic life at Georgetown are no doubt valuable and important aspects of a student's education, they certainly cannot compare to the academic rigor applied to speeches given during intercollegiate competition. First, the debater has access to a trained and experienced communication professional (coach) in preparing their speeches. Second, each speech that he or she gives is judged by a communication professional in the debate community. The student receives extensive criticism and feedback and is measured against established educational standards.

Explanation Power
Debates invariably require arguers to build certain foundations for their audience. As the level of argument advances, debaters learn to explain complex ideas in a quick and efficient manner. This skill serves them well throughout their involvement with complex decision making organizations.

Selling Power
Debaters learn to package arguments in a way that increases their appeal. They learn to adapt to their audience and are taught to craft a message which accomplishes specific objectives. Debaters are taught that its not just what you say it's how you say it.

Listening and Note Taking Skills

Listening is an important criteria for evaluation because of its centrality to the process of debate and because of the potential gains academic institutions can make in this area. The debater by definition must listen carefully to her opponent in order to achieve the objective of refutation. Careful listening is rewarded in debate by the discovery of flaws in the opponents language, thinking or evidence. The preparation and anticipation of arguments for a debate also places the participants in a better position to comprehend the various arguments and information being presented in a debate or discussion. Extensive empirical work has established that the typical human beings listen at only 25% of their actual capability (Kramar, p16; Myers; Verderber; Wolf). Ernest Boyer, President of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching called speaking and listening so central to education that they deserve specialized training (Scully). This implies that devices which can increase the listening skills of our students should be highly valued because the potential benefits are extraordinary.

A debate by its very nature is filled with conflicting viewpoints. The participants are forced to deal with a plethora of oppositional facts, research, arguments, perspectives and assumptions. Involvement in debate therefore serves as a perfect training device for aiding individuals in the processing of information. Debaters almost universally agree that debate has helped them to listen more efficiently, speak and write more clearly and to see relationships between information and ideas more readily (Matlon; Interviews). Debaters as a group have a superior ability to crystallize large sums of information both mentally and in terms of summarizing that information for a listener (Semlak and Shields).

How Debate Enhances Listening Skills

Getting Ready To Listen
Debate teaches individuals the importance of being prepared to listen in two ways. First, it trains people in the mental preparation of listening - having a listening plan. During a debate you listen for specific things, points you want to answer, weakness in logic, supporting material and key points. Second, debaters also learn to concentrate on what is being said. To listen properly you must eliminate distraction and concentrate on the speaker and the implications of her words.

Active Listening
Listening during a debate is almost by definition active listening and every text book on communication in the world suggests that the key to listening is active listening. The mind can think much faster than any human being can talk. If you listen passively then the mind inevitably wanders. Debate teaches people to think about what is being said. Such active listening enhances both retention and understanding.

Ignoring Red Flags
One of the biggest causes of poor listening is simply ignoring what is being received. This often occurs when the speaker says something that triggers an emotional switch with the listener. Debaters learn that arguments are tools and that a critical step in responding to even the most emotional of triggers is to fully understand and listen to it.

Practice Makes Perfect
Because a debate requires the listener to be very active in analyzing what is being said and because a debater must also think about what he is going to say, it is the perfect listening practice. Just like any other skill, good listeners are made not born, they work at it.

Ethics of Advocacy

Learning the ethics of advocacy has been referred to as an important educational benefit of debate (Hunt). The debate participant learns how to correctly and ethically cite material. They learn the rules of context and those governing ellipses. Students learn the rules of the AFA Code and the American Debate Association which govern the ethics of advocacy as well as debate programs as a whole. Students receive feedback directly after each debate, which focuses on the quality of the evidence they have cited and the connection between the evidence they have presented and the claims they have asserted. On occasion the student may even have the opportunity to engage in formal debate about the propriety of utilizing certain material. Over recent years, the ethics of properly utilizing material gained from cyber sources has become a significant controversy in the debate community. In many cases, students have had the opportunity themselves to engage in debates which are defining the ethics of "cyber research." Unlike research in other academic arenas, the debater works very closely with the debate coach on all aspects of her preparation. The result is an unparalleled opportunity for students to gain theoretical and practical experience in the ethics of advocacy.

No doubt this training in the ethics of communication is an important achievement. Examination of the ethical issues of communication occupied Plato who criticized the sophists (Plato). Examination of the argumentative tactics of the Nazis' serves as an incredible tool for an inquiry into the fundamental nature of all unethical and inhumane behavior. Because "[e]thical perspectives dominate public discussion of advertising, politics, and corporate messages" (Gronbeck, p97), the ethics of communication has a powerful link to student's everyday lives. The relationship between the ethics of communication and the larger world of ethical decision making is obvious in that "many ethical decisions are tied to communication activity, including ends sought and means employed" (Anderson, p459). Georgetown considers the teaching of ethics an important part of its mission (Third Century). The Center for the Advanced Study of Ethics has established Georgetown as a leader in scholarship relating to ethics and is further evidence of the importance of this commitment.

Career Skills

Preparing students for professional careers is not always the most popular goal of education among faculty. The growing pre-professional nature of Georgetown students seems, however to render this criteria an important one. It is also important because data indicate it is a strong benefit of debate. A survey by Hobbs and Chandler showed that debate alumni overwhelmingly agreed that debate experience had aided them significantly in their professional careers (p5). In discussing their results, they report:

In general, it seems that training in intercollegiate debate provides students with a positive experience which helps them to develop skills which will be needed in their professions. Several respondents, in response to the open-ended questions, reported that debate was the most valuable educational experience they received. One minister wrote, "The most useful training I received in college for the ministry came from my experience in debate. Period." A lawyer wrote, "personally, debate was the single most useful experience I had in 19 years of education." Another respondent indicated "The lessons learned and the experience gained have been more valuable to me than any other aspect of my formal education (p6).

Hobbs and Chandler conclude that "this survey overwhelmingly supports the idea that participation in intercollegiate policy debate provides significant benefits for those entering the professions of law, management, ministry and teaching (p6)." Sheckels quotes a survey in which Midwest business hiring managers "listed debate first among twenty other activities and academic specializations that an applicant might present on a resume." In the same survey, debate was overwhelming the first choice of recruiting directors at major law firms (p 2). Surveys in the communication field indicate that many Department Chairs give credit to participation in debate/forensics for their success (Shroeder and Shroeder, p16). Specifically, Bill Hill, University of North Carolina, Charlotte; John Olsen, Everett Community College; Timothy Hegstrom, San Jose State; and Don Boileau, George Mason University cite participation in competitive forensics as an important source of their success (Shroeder and Shroeder, p16).

It appears that debate is an especially excellent pre-professional activity for future law students. "The data suggesting that forensics is valuable to the pre-law student is overwhelming" (Colbert and Biggers p238). Swanson found that 70.3% of law school deans recommended participation in intercollegiate debate. In fact, support from lawyers and law school administrators ranges from a strong endorsement of debate for all pre-law students to a suggestion that it be required. This seems to make a stronger case than even we might propose. The reason for such support may be the professional success of former debaters (Colbert and Biggers, p238).

This is an important discovery since survey data indicate that a third of top level competitive debaters go on to law school (Matlon). Explaining this data is not a difficult task. Debate is valuable as pre-professional education because the skills that are learned by a competitive debater parallel those required for success in many of the professions. Most obvious among these skills are those of critical thinking, examination of evidence, rational decision making, organization, oral communication and listening. The Chronicle of Higher education summarized the value of debate when reporting that "debate, perhaps more than any other extra-curricular activity, successfully bridges the gap between academics and careers, without skimping on either" (Muir). "In a time when many of our students ask us how educational activities will help them get a job, the answer seems to be unequivocal. Debate experience is highly valued by the business world" (Colbert and Biggers p239).

Enhancing the Value of the Classroom Experience

A commonly reported educational advantage offered by participation in debate is that it allows students to get more out of their classroom educational experiences. McCrosky argues that students trained in competitive speech do better academically and that most of the skills learned are transferred to other academic subjects. This appears to occur for several reasons. First, debaters appear to be more capable of processing information effectively. Their experience with debate enhances their listening and note taking skills. It also improves their ability to grasp complex information quickly and efficiently. Students involved in competitive debate programs are better equipped to participate in stimulating class discussion (Hanson). A student might also be more capable of connecting with their classroom experience, having actually debated the application of various theories to real world situations. The analytical skills taught by debate are central to the evaluation of ideas which occur in all other disciplines (Sprague; Boyer; Hopper and Daly; Modaff and Hopper). Undisputedly, debaters are better prepared to research papers and presentations for classes because of the skills they learn in debate (see above). These are crucial benefits of debate because function 2 of the Student Affairs functions is to provide an atmosphere conducive to academic achievement. Debate directly contributes to this goal in significant ways for the students who are involved in the program.

Increasing Student Knowledge about the World

The knowledge gained by students about the subject of the debate topic has been compared to masters research (Shroeder and Shroeder, p16), dissertation research (Interviews) and the knowledge of experts themselves (Brigance, p17-19). It is my personal opinion and experience that the educational value of the content of debater's studies would justify the existence of the debate program as an educational exercise even if one were to completely ignore each of the process values we have already discussed. Debaters in the Georgetown program spend an average of between 20 and 30 hours a week preparing to debate. They begin preparation in July with the announcement of the topic and finish in April when the national tournament is concluded. By the end of the season, one two person debate team will carry 4-7 large filing tubs (1.5' by 2.5') filled with briefs on the various issues covered by the intercollegiate debate topic.

The depth in which students examine the issues under the debate topic are unmatched by any other academic endeavor. A common research goal of a debate team is to examine every piece of published material in existence on a given topic (Interviews). Debate students report having read entirely or major portions of 250-300 books in a debate season (Interviews). Students study a debate question from every conceivable disciplinary angle. It is not uncommon for a single intercollegiate debate to include argument and evidence relating to political science, sociology, metaphysical philosophy, history, hard sciences and law. Debaters at Georgetown have thoroughly studied such questions in recent years as:

These questions are, of course, an infinitesimal portion of what students have studied, but it does represent the depth and diversity of thought that has been required of our students.


On the whole, support for the proposition that debate is a worthy educational activity for college and universities is more than extensive. I share Colbert and Biggers conclusion that "[i]t would seem difficult to imagine stronger support for any educational activity"(p239). Somewhat surprising was the difficulty in discovering not only any negative research relating to participation in debate programs, but the lack of any negative comments at all. Colbert and Biggers in their review confirmed this in saying "[t]he evidence is overwhelming, no negative evidence can be found" (p239). The only possible conclusion to be drawn from a survey of the research is that intercollegiate debate an extremely valuable educational activity, unmatched not only by any other student activity, but unmatched by any other academic activity that a student might engage in.


Does the debate program serve to educate future leaders?

Debate and argumentation are at the center of nearly all American political, social and economic decision-making. In many ways, it was a faith in debate itself that was at the root of the formation of American democracy and capitalism. The construction of our democratic institutions was founded on the notion that decision makers presented with a diversity of ideas, freely advocated and freely defended, could rationally choose different courses of action based upon the facts and arguments at hand. It would not be surprising if those trained in the principles of debate were most capable of succeeding within such institutions. Evidence for this proposition begins with the very origins of the nation, as our founding fathers were trained in the great traditions of argument and rhetoric:

Forensics disputations came through the Western Intellectual Tradition, from Greece and Rome, through the Catholic Church, through Great Britain and its schools, to the United States. Disputations were an essential part of the basic education at such universities as Harvard, Yale, William and Mary, and the University of Virginia from their earliest days. Seniors did not write a thesis, rather they gave a senior speech. Besides formal work in classes on rhetoric, students formed literary and debating societies. The Spy Club at Harvard and the Linonian Society at Yale, among others, debated issues, studied controversial current events, and invited speakers to their activities. This kind of education was essential in developing the minds of American Founding Fathers like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton. The kind of thinking and rhetorical skills this type of education produced can be seen in the expressions of the Federalist papers, The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution (Hunt, p3).

British debating societies have a similarly impressive historical record. The oldest debating society in the world, at Oxford, has produced "many, many members of Parliament and six British prime ministers, from William Gladstone to Edward Heath" (Chicago Tribune, p1).

More modern data confirms this relationship between debate and leadership. The most extensive survey of former debaters reported:

The specific positions held by former NDT debaters reads like a "Who's Who" in leadership. Here is a sample of positions currently or once held by our respondents: A Cabinet member; Congresspersons; presidents of bar associations, colleges and universities; educational leaders; ambassadors; commanding officers in the military; numerous state and federal government elected and appointed positions; publishers; bankers; corporate board chair persons; and judicial positions at all levels including law school deans and attorney generals (195).

"It is doubtful that many other activities can boast of so many successful alumni" (Colbert and Biggers, p239). Freedom and Union, a magazine, surveyed leaders in politics, business and various professions in 1960 to find out how many of these leaders, who represented success in their field, had debated. One hundred of the 160 respondents had debated, and 90 of the 100 believed that debate experience had been extremely valuable in their careers (Klopf, p7). Survey data from 1926 reported that debaters went on to become bishops, congressmen, college presidents, senators, and governors (Brigance, p22).

Official alumni records list the some of the following titles and occupations for alumni of the Georgetown debate program: U.S. Supreme Court Justice; President, Altman Consulting; Marketing Manager; Superior Court Judge; Senior Public Affairs Analyst; Counsel, Office of Independent Counsel; Vice-President, Star Bank; Professor of Business; Physician; Retired Judge; Senior Account Executive; Army Chaplain (S.J.); Senior Partner; Partner; Chairman and CEO; Executive Director, Strong Memorial Hospital; Professor of Philosophy; General Counsel; Chairman, Lombard World Trade; Senior Vice-President, Merril Lynch; Supervising Counsel; Associate Dean, University of Miami School of Law; Executive Officer; Ambassador to Singapore; Professor of Finance; Chief Financial Officer; Assistant Prosecuting Attorney; Vice President, Chrysler Motors; District Judge; Professor of Political Science; Cardiologist; Vice President, Bank of America; President, St. Mary's College; Branch Chief, Office of Management and Budget; Managing Director; Writer; Assistant Attorney General of the U.S.; Chief Administrative Law Judge, Federal Labor Relations Authority; Deputy County Administrator; Manager of Governmental Affairs; Director of Historical Records; Professor of Law; Professor of Religion; Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce; Director of War Gaming, Naval War College; Senior Accountant; Medical Director; Prosecutor; Chief of Labor Relations; Pastor; Jesuit; Field Center Manager; Treasurer; Producer, CBS Morning News; Professor of Medicine, Department of Neurology; Senior Physician, UCLA Medical Center; Chief of Neonatology; President, Quigly Publishing; Professor of Greek Philosophy; Monsignor, Archdiocese of New Orleans; Senior Policy Analyst; Academic Vice-President/Provost, Loyola College; Managing Editor, Times Herald Record; Assistant Deputy Undersecretary of the Army; Headmaster; Professor of Theology; Program Manager; Director of Strategy and Advertising, Arthur Anderson (Alumni List).

Survey data also demonstrates that debaters go on to leadership positions in a variety of fields. The Matlon data reveals that 30% became university educators , 15% were top corporate executives and 10% were working in the executive or legislative branches of government. Others entered the clergy, started their own businesses or became writers and publishers. A closer examination of data regarding political figures reveals interesting numbers and names. One survey showed that "over 80% of all current members of congress were on their schools forensics team" (Swanson, p2). Two lists can be found at the end of this section, one lists notable figures who were debaters and the other contains the remarks of notable leaders about the importance of competitive debate. Other scholarly material demonstrate the relevance of debate to leadership training. In a Chronicle of Higher Education article, Kaye (1991) argues that colleges must educate the next generation of public intellectuals. The primary responsibility for this lofty goal is given to competitive forensics because of their unique value in teaching critical thinking, public debate, training in argumentation, and the foundation of argument in history, humanities and social sciences.

The reason for this correlation lies in part in the skills that debate teaches. Debate programs typically draw some of the finest students in the University. The arguments stated elsewhere are clearly relevant here, debate teaches students critical thinking, communication skills, research techniques, and listening skills. It educates them in the ethics of communication and engulfs them in debate about values and society. Debate also gives students a taste of policy and valued based decision making. It allows them to engage in role playing which models argumentation which occurs at the highest levels of many fields. The learning occurs in a way that facilitates confidence and eliminates the communication apprehension that can block bright minds from participating in the great decisions of the day (Sprague; Bartanen). Debate training empowers students by allowing them to influence policy choices. Debaters learn not to be intimidated by the rhetoric of policy debate (Dauber, 205). Moreover, participants in debate are some of those most qualified to take on leadership in our society. The Matlon survey reveals some astounding figures. Of 703 former debaters surveyed, 633 had at least 1 advanced degree, and 209 had more than one. Additionally, four in ten had law degrees, four in ten had masters degrees and two in ten had a Ph.D. or other doctoral degree.

Notable Former Debaters from Various Fields

Comments from Noted Leaders about Competitive Debate

Gardner Ackly, former presidential advisor
"The skills I developed in debate were of inestimable value in my later graduate education, in my training and research, in my government service: learning to think on my feet, or organize ideas, to take and use notes, to marshal evidence, to use my voice effectively. But the more important lessons were not these more technical ones. I was fortunate to have a debate coach who also taught that intellectual effort can be exciting; that ideas are more important than things; that pursuit of the truth is more important than winning contests; that intellectual honesty and integrity are among the virtues most to be cherished; that one need never be ashamed of idealism and strong convictions..." (Klopf, p7-8).

Jerry M. Anderson, President of Ball State University
"My speech and debate experience and training at Pennsylvania State was the most important single educational experience of my life....Dialectical and communicative competencies and insights are the major educational values which result from participating extensively in forensics and debate. From my experience as a participant, coach and teacher, I believe those competencies and insights are better developed through forensic and debate experiences than any other educational experience" (Hunt, p15).

Sam Becker, former president, Speech Communication Association of America
"Years of observing high school and college students in forensics have convinced me that this is one of the major contributions we in speech communication can make to the education of youngsters. It is our various forensics activities, more than in any other of our programs, that most of what we believe in and study can be brought together and passed on to each generation of students. It is in our various forensics activities that we can most effectively communicate the values that form the base of speech communication. And it is these activities that can best help our students to develop their capacities for leadership. It is no accident that such a large percentage of the outstanding leaders in our country have been high school or college debaters" (Hunt, p15).

Representative Charles E. Bennet of Florida
"Debate not only improves one's ability to speak publicly but improves the thinking process of the debater" (Huseman and Goodman, p226).

Senator David Boren of Oklahoma
"As a Senator, my principal responsibilities are threefold: First, a Senator must do his best to reach logical policy conclusions about issues with which our nation is confronted. Second, a Senator should be able to effectively translate technical aspects of a position into language that will clearly communicate it to the public. Third, to be effective, a Senator must have the ability to persuade others to accept his policy conclusions. No aspects of my education was more useful in preparing me to meet these responsibilities than my training in speech and debate" (Hunt, p14).

Erwin Canham, editor of the Christian Science Monitor
"My debate experience at Bates was helpful in my post graduate study at Oxford. At all times the necessity of organizing ideas and presenting them vigorously has been pertinent to newspaper writing, asking questions at press conferences or interviewing statesmen was aided by my public speaking experience" (Hunt, p14).

Senator Frank Church of Idaho
"As a former debater I know of the tremendous benefits which can be derived from the process of educating oneself to take part in discussions of vital national issues (Huseman and Gordon, 226)."

Senator Dick Clark of Iowa
"The principal value of debate lies in the development of logical thought processes, and the ability to articulate your positions publicly" (Huseman and Goodman, p226).

Frank G. Clement, Governor of Tennessee
"I cannot think of any one in the country who owes more to his participation in the national Forensic League events than I do" (Freely, 1960, p121).

Admiral William Crowe, Four Star Admiral, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Ambassador to England
"Debate was the single most important activity I participated in at the Naval Academy" (Lundquist).

Samuel B. Gould, President, Antioch College
"If I were to choose any single activity in college which has contributed most to my career, I would certainly choose debating" (Hunt, p16).

Senator Howard Heflin of Alabama
"Debating is one of the most valuable academic exercises in which I have ever engaged. It taught me to speak on my feet, to organize my thoughts, and to defend and refute a point. All of these abilities have stood me in good stead during my career as an attorney, as judge and now, as a U.S. Senator" (Hunt, p14).

David B. Henry, President of the University Illinois
"The group developed fellowship and team camaraderie which had important by-products for personal growth. The visits to other schools, and travel experience, the living and working together - all under the high expectations of the 'Coach' and his most gently administered but ever firm supervision - made for an individual development which has remained for me a high point in my educational experience. The meaning of scholarship, the 'feel' for the handling of ideas, the fellowship of professional service were for me but some of the outcomes of my debate experience" (Hunt, 16).

Thomas F. Hozduk, Los Angeles Attorney
"The wisest advice I can give to persons considering debate as an activity is: 'participate.' In my opinion, hour for hour, the reward for time spent debating is greater than any other activity available to the typical student... In addition to the "academic" benefits, potential participants should be alerted to the life long friendships they will develop, the opportunity to associate with competitive, creative and bright young people, as well as the favorable view of the activity taken by potential employers" (Matlon and Keel, p201).

Lee Iacocca, CEO of Chrysler
"...I joined the debating team, which was sponsored by Mr. Virgil Parks, our Latin teacher. That's where I developed my speaking skills and learned to think on my feet. At first I was scared to death. I had butterflies in my stomach - and to this day I still get a little nervous before giving a speech. But the experience of being on the debating team was crucial. You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can't get them across, your brains won't get you anywhere" (Iacocca, 16).

Representative Paul E. Kanjoriski of Pennsylvania
"It was my experience with debating and public speaking in both high school and college that led me to become a lawyer, and ultimately, a member of Congress" (Williams).

President John F. Kennedy
"I think debating in high school and college a most valuable training whether for politics, the law, business, or for service on community committees such as the PTA and the League of Women Voters. A good debater must not only study material in support of his own case, but he must also, of course, thoroughly analyze the expected arguments of his opponent....The give and take of debating, the testing of ideas, is essential to democracy. I wish we had a good deal more debating in our institutions than we do now" (Freedom and Union, 7).

Raoul D. Kennedy, noted San Francisco attorney
"I truly believe I would have been as prepared for law school had I simply debated and not attended college at all. I have found that the practice of law - and I assume this is true of a large number jobs - consists basically of trying to solve problems in an organized manner...Debate placed a premium on the factors that I believe are essential to effective problem solving, including---breaking an argument down into its smallest components and then marshaling the factual data...for each element;...talking a problem through with others over a period of time that a contention or issue becomes fully perceivable;...verbally articulating ideas rather than just having a mental conception to appreciate the stresses and rewards of competition" (Matlon and Keel, 197).

Gerald Kogan, Circuit Court Judge
"I consider [debate] the most rewarding activity that I engaged in during my school years. Quite frankly, I considered it more important in preparing me for my life as a trial attorney than any of the academic courses that were required in order for me to get both my undergraduate and law degrees" ( Matlon and Keel, p197).

James Luck, Executive Director, Batelle Memorial Institute Foundation
"Forensics has influenced my personal and professional development more than any other activity or experience. Those who have participated in forensics often share this view. A survey of Governors, Senators, and other leaders across the country conducted by the Bicentennial Youth Debates found a high level of agreement about this key role of debate and speech activities. Debate teaches so many things - the complexity of issues, the importance of research, techniques of gathering and organizing information, analytic and verbal skills, respect for opposing views, the interaction of evidence and values, and a variety of frameworks for evaluating arguments and reaching decisions. At the heart of this is something crucial to our society - the open testing of ideas (Hunt, 15)."

Malcom X
"But I will tell you that, right there in the prison, debating, speaking to a crowd, was as exhilarating to me as the discovery of knowledge through reading had been. Standing up there, the aces looking up at me, the things in my head coming out of my mouth, while my brain searched for the next best thing to follow what I was saying, and if I could sway them to my side by handling right, then I had won the debate - once my feet got wet, I was gone on debating. Whichever side of the selected subject was assigned to me, I'd track down and study everything I could find on it. I'd put myself in my opponent's place and decide how I'd try to win if I had the other side; and then I'd figure a way to knock down those points" (Malcom X, 184).

Senator George McGovern, former democratic candidate for President.
There are few other activities in high school or college that are as important as speech and debate. Regardless of an individual's academic or career goals, the ability to research a complex question, marshal arguments and present them in a persuasive and compelling way, are skills that will serve you well all your life. Both my wife and I debated in high school and college. Before I entered public life, I taught debate and speech at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, S.D. I attribute whatever political success I may have enjoyed, in large part, to the training I received as a participant in debate and speech activities (Hunt, 13)."

Donald F. McHenry, US Representative to the United Nations
"Self expression is truly an art, and its successful development requires steady practice and determination. To articulate one's thoughts in a lucid and expressive manner - to capture and maintain the interest of an audience, whether it be in the classroom or in the United Nations General Assembly Hall - is strongly supported by the skill and knowledge one acquires from a forensic education (Hunt, p1)."

Alexander Meiklejohn, Former President of Amherst College
"As I look back upon my own experiences, when I try to single out from among the long line of college students some one group which shall stand forth as intellectually the best - best in college work and best in promise of future intellectual achievement - I cannot draw the line around my own favorite students of philosophy, nor the leaders in mathematics, nor those successful in biology; nor could I fairly award the palm to the Phi Beta Kappa men who have excelled in all their subjects. It seems to me that stronger than any other group, tougher in intellectual fiber, keener in intellectual interests, better equipped to battle the coming problems are the college debaters - the students who apart from their regular studies, band together for intellectual controversy with each other and with their friends from other colleges (Hunt, 16)."

Senator Edmund Muskie, former Democratic candidate for Vice President and Secretary of State under Jimmy Carter
"The development of leadership in a democratic society has a very direct relationship to the art of debate. One becomes a leader by molding public opinion to support a given course of action, not by dictating such an action. This involves the ability to pinpoint the critical issues of the day, and the willingness to apply oneself to the task of research in order to assemble all considerations bearing upon those issues. It requires the ability to apply logic, rather than emotion and prejudice, to the assembled data, the courage to accept the decisions thus indicated, and the ability to present the opinions thus developed in such ways as to persuade others to a like point of view (Hunt, 13)."

Jane Pauley, NBC television journalist
"One of the most important decisions in my life was when the student body of Warren Central High School in Indianapolis decided I should not be a varsity cheerleader. It meant my weekends were free. For the next three years, I spent most Saturdays on the road with the largest National Forensic League chapter in the country. While the fifteen-year-old girl inside of me still mourns the lost letter sweater, the adult Jane is grateful to NFL for something much more important a - career" (Hunt, 14).

Representative Claude Pepper of Florida
"Throughout my public life I have been very grateful for my early experience in formal debates. I believe the encounters are a valuable means of developing in our leaders of the future the ability to express themselves clearly and forcefully on the pressing issues of the times (Huseman and Goodman, 226)."

Richard S. Schweiker, former Senator and Representative from Pennsylvania and Secretary of Health and Human Services
"Debate trained me to analyze and articulate the complex national problems that confront our country today. Too, it was a tremendous help in campaign debates for my House and Senate seats...My intercollegiate debate training was the most valuable experience that I had at Penn State. I derived benefits from it far beyond the normal extracurricular activity that it encompassed" (Matlon and Keel, 198).

Helen M. Wise, former President, National Education Association
"No college freshman can project 25 years to decide what he needs to learn - subject matter is easily forgotten and in today's world, the knowledge explosion makes constant learning an inevitability. But all adults today need to be able to communicate with clarity, to articulate ideas, to reason, to separate key facts from the barrage of ideas we all are exposed to every day. No single activity can prepare one better than debating - the ability to think on one's feet, to form conclusions rapidly, to answer questions logically and with clarity, to summarize ideas are all processes which forensics activity develop and develop" (Hunt, 14).

Debate and the Jesuit Ideals

Does the Debate Program Serve the Jesuit Ideals of the University?


Attempting to evaluate programs to determine how they contribute to the Jesuit vision and goals of the university is by far the most difficult aspect of this evaluation process. Clearly, however, for this institution to maintain its Jesuit vision and character, it is an essential task. I approach this question by asking the question: Does the debate program serve as a necessary educational tool within a Jesuit institution? After some careful examination, the answer to this question is yes. Debate not only has important historical roots beneath the original Jesuit educational institutions, but advances a number educational goals which can properly be defined as distinctly and uniquely Jesuit. Each of these goals are aspirations which Georgetown already proclaims to pursue.

Historical Roots

The educational institutions from which the Jesuit alternative evolved were essentially great big debating academies (Freidrich and Boileau, p3-4). "It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that debate was the central feature of the medieval university curriculum...progressive training in debate provided the very structure of the educational experience" (Braham, p13). At Oxford, for example, the student spent the first two years studying a variety of fields including formal argument technique. After this, the student spent one year in formal disputation with fellow students, advancing and opposing propositions. The fourth year began a three year process in which students engaged in formal disputation with the teachers themselves. The final test prior to graduation was the Inception, in which the student was matched in a huge "debates" against "a succession of opponents who relieved each other at intervals from six in the morning till six in the evening" (Randall, 36 p479). Jesuit tradition could not help but be influenced in both the process and content by these historical realities.

Jesuit educational ideals held that great ideas (in the early days primarily philosophy and theology) are not learned and understood by listening alone (Biondi). Rather it is through discussion, argument and debate that true understanding and learning are achieved. It was important to train clerics who were able to "defend the church with well crafted arguments" (Freidrich and Boileau, p4). Donohue explained part of the Jesuit educational philosophy in this way: "Only under the press of controversy is a student of ideas forced to extend every nerve, cogimur omnes ingneii nervos in tendre. When he does so, he plumbs depths of his own thought which he would have never sounded had he remained in shadowy ease, in otio atque umbra"(p151). St. Ignatius himself advises that, "Those who are more advanced should debate with those lower down by taking subjects which these latter are studying." (Donohue, p152).


The original Jesuit institutions were considered quite progressive in their time, because they relied upon a much greater diversity of teaching tools than was prevalent in other schools of the 16th century. Perhaps the most prominent of these tools was competition. The celebrated plan for the curricula and methods of Jesuit schools, the Ratio Atque Instititio Studiorum Societatis Iesu (Ratio) recommended the use of concertatio or academic wars as a teaching tool. The class would be divided into teams and compete through anything from elocution exercises to spelling bees to intricate debates about philosophy and fact. These disputations, in which students practiced presenting and defending their own ideas and criticizing those of others, largely formed the basis of education as it evolved toward its modern counterpart in competitive intercollegiate debate (Pelligrini). No one would or should argue that the debate program should be continued because it bears some resemblance to an ancient classroom method. Rather, the point here is that providing an intellectual outlet which allows students to test themselves against the very best minds in the country is part of Jesuit educational tradition. We ask our students to achieve the best and they ought to have an opportunity to test themselves against the very best.

Diversity of Method

In addition to the notion of competition is the idea of diversity. As early Jesuit educators challenged the prevailing numb sculling lecture method with a variety of educational outlets, they emphasized the value of educating the whole person. This diversity of techniques also allowed each student to find a way to learn. Before anyone else, the Jesuits had discovered that educational diversity allowed each student to have a chance at success. "This humane and Christian spirit is embodied in that central Ratio principle: Diversify the classroom activities; variety is good because satiety is bad" (Donohue, p153). The debate program provides an outlet for a unique kind of student - the student who wishes to engage in an intense competition between minds, a competition that will take more time, effort and dedication than any other activity they could engage in at Georgetown. Eliminating the debate program saps student programs of an important aspect of its diversity and kills an important outlet for some of our brightest minds and most dedicated students.


A cursory reading of modern Jesuit educational philosophy demonstrates universal agreement that a crucial goal of Jesuit educational institutions in the modern age must be to educate and motivate effective and visionary leaders of society. As one author notes, "a remaining purpose of our educational enterprise is to help our students become more effective leaders in our society: to mold them to use their knowledge and expertise to serve and to lead others living and working in their communities" (Biondi, p99). Dean Donahue of Georgetown University lists educating leaders as one of his 7 key components of a Jesuit educational vision (Donahue, p54). The value that a competitive debate program serves in educating leaders is so overwhelming that it has been included as a separate evaluation point. Suffice it to say, no other program at Georgetown allows students to engage in such complex problem solving skills, nor teaches them the advanced skills of advocacy or public speaking.

Rhetorical Skills

A primary focus of the early Jesuit schools was teaching eloquence. The world in which the editors of the Ratio lived was one which made Ciceronian eloquence a prime aim of what we would call general education. Cicero was considered the ideal orator and students were taught to model this ideal in every way. While this method appears odd by modern standards, a focus on rhetorical skills surely has a strong role to play in continuing Jesuit educational philosophy. As Donohue notes, "[t]his wider aim rests on the conviction that the truly human man must posses both wisdom and eloquence; must know something and be able to say what he knows; must be able to think and to communicate" (p70). Georgetown has no communication department. As far as I know, the only trained rhetoric and argumentation professional teaching at the University is the Director of Debate.

Critical Thinking

All Jesuit institutions pride themselves on the ability to produce students capable of critically thinking about themselves and the world in which they live. For example, it might be said that an essential purpose of a Jesuit curriculum is to:

...foster the growth of each student in the Jesuit spirit in twentieth-century America. This means that our prime educational objectives are to form persons of reflective and critical judgment; persons broadened by literature and trained for expression and communication, comfortable in the contemporary world of science and technology; persons aware of history, cognizant of the present situation of human society, and actively concerned for the future of the human race....(Biondi, p98).

Essentially, this is what a competitive debate program does. It teaches students to question and argue. It trains them to look beyond the obvious and test critical assumptions. But it also provides them with the tools to advocate their arguments and present their difficult questions. The forum for this teaching is the debating of contemporary societal problems. No more successful means of teaching critical thinking has ever been devised. See p3-6 for a full discussion of critical thinking and debate.

Educating for Character

Perhaps the most unique aspect of Jesuit educational philosophy is its emphasis on educating the whole person. Practically, this philosophy separates Jesuit institutions from others because it implies the inclusion of a focus on ethics and values. Student Programs advertises that "co-curricular programs will provide opportunities for...the cultivation of virtues and the formation of character" (Student Handbook, p36). A perennial Georgetown question is: How do we teach character? The traditional Jesuit answer to that question is that we provide students with a "methodology for uncovering, discovering, and hiearchizing values" (Pollock, p71). This is one of the most challenging tasks that an educator faces. It is a challenge that is often met when students engage in competitive academic debate. Every debate topic and argument is embued with implicit value assumptions. Debate teaches students to uncover those assumptions, to test them and to weigh them against competing considerations. Moreover, it does this in an environment which forces students to confront vital questions of the day and even their own lives. This past year, students debated the topic, Resolved: That the U.S. Government should substantially increase its security assistance to one or more of the following countries: Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Syria, Palestinian National Authority. Georgetown students engaged in intricate debates about the orientalist bias in U.S. policy making. This is a discussion that reached the foundations of racial and cultural identity for human beings. Other debates raged about the meaning of security (personal, material, environmental or military). Still other debates focused on the human rights of Palestinians, the conflict between fundamentalism and modernism and the exclusion of feminine voices from Islamic society. All of these debates forced students to examine the fundamental values that drive our choices. Moreover the examination was rigorous and driven by research into the value each choice represented. Participation in such debates impact the student by:

Forcing the debater to analyze the paradigm from which the opponent argues and the paradigm from which the student advocates

Looking at questions through many disciplines, some orthodox, others creative and original

Noted competitive debate theorist Austin Freely put it this way:

Educational debate provides an opportunity for students to consider significant problems in the context of a multi-valued orientation. They learn to look at a problem from many points of view. As debaters analyze the potential affirmative cases and potential negative cases, including the possibility of negative counterplans, they begin to realize the complexity of most contemporary problems and to appreciate the worth of a multi-valued orientation; as they debate both sides of a proposition under consideration, they learn not only that most problems of contemporary affairs have more than one side but also that even one side of a proposition embodies a considerable range of values(Freely, 1976, p25).

Debate clearly functions as a means to achieve education about the content of various value related issues. But it also endows students with the value of tolerance which may itself be related to critical thought and empathy (Paul). According to Paul, for individuals to overcome natural tendencies to reason egocentricity and sociocentrically, individuals must gain the capacity to engage in self-reflective questioning, to reason diallogically and dialectically, and to "reconstruct alien and opposing belief systems empathically" (Paul, p64-65). Individuals are most able to achieve this kind of reflective thinking when they are taught to base beliefs on reason rather than some egotistical association between beliefs and integrity. Critical thought and moral identity must be predicated on discovering the insights of opposing views and the weakness of our own beliefs. The result of this line of reasoning is Paul's suggestion that role playing be utilized as a method of inculcating values and helping students achieve "moral identity."

According to Muir, "only an activity that requires the defense of both sides of an issue, moving beyond acknowledgment to exploration and advocacy, can engender such powerful role playing" (Muir, p289). Competitive debate exists as an opportunity for students to engage in such role playing. The role playing allowed by competitive debate is an exercise in reflective thinking, it engages the student in problem solving techniques which expose strengths and weaknesses of various beliefs (Baird). In fact, competitive debate may well constitute one of the few methods campuses have to achieve this purpose:

Firm moral commitment to a value system, however, along with a sense of moral identity, is founded in reflexive assessments of multiple perspectives. Switch-side debate is not simply a matter of speaking persuasively or organizing ideas clearly (although it does involve these), but of understanding and mobilizing arguments to make an effective case. Proponents of debating both sides observe that the debaters should prepare the best possible case they can, given the facts and information available to them. This process, at its core, involves critical assessment and evaluation of arguments; it is a process of critical thinking not available with many traditional teaching methods. We must progressively learn to recognize how often the concepts of others are discredited by the concepts we use to justify ourselves to ourselves. We must come to see how often our claims are compelling only when expressed in our own egocentric view. We can do this if we learn the art of using concepts without living in them. This is possible only when the intellectual act of stepping outside of our own systems of belief has become second nature, a routine and ordinary responsibility of living. Neither academic schooling nor socialization has yet addressed this moral responsibility, but switch side debating fosters this type of role playing and generates reasoned moral positions based in part on values of tolerance and fairness (Muir, p292).

One cannot say that the debate program consistently and automatically churns out students who are constantly and critically examining the values underlying their choices. The proposition simply cannot be reliably tested. Nonetheless, the training of modern competitive debate is unmatched in providing skills of critical thinking and focusing those skills on the values that underlie normative decision making. As a method of teaching and inculcating values, I would proudly compare it to any activity, academic or otherwise, that Georgetown students engage in. Many graduates that I have coached here at Georgetown and at George Mason University represent not only the finest minds I have discovered, but the finest people I have known.


The historical roots of debate in Jesuit educational philosophy undoubtedly explain the disproportionate representation of Jesuit institutions in competitive academic debate. The existence of the Catholic Forensics League is obvious evidence of the dominance of those institutions in high school debate. The early creation of the Philodemic Debate Society in 1848 at Georgetown is also strong evidence of the priority Jesuits placed on debate. Regardless of historical accident and influence, there are clear and persuasive reasons for Jesuit institutions to support and nurture a competitive debate program. It is difficult for me to point to a program or educational activity more rooted in the Jesuit ideal.

Recruiting and Reputation

Does the program enhance the reputation of the University and attract excellent students?

Recruiting of excellent students to the campus is reported throughout the literature as a significant benefit of a university debate program. Hollihan reports that programs should be justified and evaluated as laboratory activities for gifted students which bring outstanding students to the University (p438-9). One administrator reported that the effectiveness of forensics in recruiting students makes it one of the primary reasons for keeping such a program (Shroeder and Shroeder, p18). The Chair of the Department of Speech Communication at the University of Texas-Austin writes, "[t]here is absolutely no question or qualification in my mind that debate and individual events attracts some of the finest students on campus and that the activity itself prepares these students to be effective and responsible citizens, community leaders, and often national leaders" (Shroeder and Shroeder, p19). Charles Bantz, Chairperson of Communication at Arizona State University suggest that "[t]he university gains greatly by our enhanced scholarly reputation - forensics is after all one of the few nationally visible intellectual activities by undergraduates. The forensics program has helped us recruit outstanding undergraduates" (Shroeder and Shroeder, p16). Colbert and Biggers also report that debate may "allow a university to develop a reputation for competitive excellence, to recruit outstanding high school students" (237).

The high school debate community is a relatively well defined group in which many of the brightest high school students reside. Most high school debate coaches recruit students with high academic achievement. Because of the heavy academic commitment required by debate, only those students with a significant interest and ability in academic affairs are typically attracted to debate programs. This community of students is an excellent pool from which to recruit outstanding students. Moreover, high school debate students learn a great deal about college debate programs. The judges at high school debate programs are often college students. In the case of Georgetown, our students judge at some of the largest and most prestigious high school debate tournaments in the country. Their visibility is a huge boon to the academic reputation of Georgetown within the largest discrete pool of outstanding high school students in the U.S. It has even become the case that the strength of debate programs is listed in college catalogues (The Des Moines Register). Finally, it must be noted that some of the finest high schools in America have outstanding debate programs. These include, Bronx School of Science, Stuyvessant High School, Blake Academy, Greenhill Academy, Montgomery Bell Academy, Harvard High School, Damien High School, Glenbrook South, Jesuit High School in New Orleans and Lexington High School.

In recent years, one college program has been established apparently in large part because of the advantages of recruiting. The University of Washington was the only major college in the Pacific Northwest that did not maintain a competitive debate team. Internal studies and survey data indicated that they were losing large numbers of excellent students to other universities in the region which maintained strong programs (Hanson). These losses occurred at the initial college selection point and through the loss of students by transfer. Many outstanding students at the University reported that their educational experience was hindered by the lack of a debate program (Hanson).

Data directly from the Georgetown campus verifies these recruiting benefits. Every debater who participated from 1993-1996 indicates that debate was a major, if not the key consideration of their choice of Georgetown over alternatives. During this time, 4 students have transferred to Georgetown solely because their original institution did not offer debate or because debate at Georgetown offered them the prospect of a superior experience. One student reported that he chose to attend Georgetown rather than Harvard primarily on the basis of his preference for the debate program at Georgetown. Each year, the Director of Debate fields over 100 calls from students and parents who are interested in Georgetown debate. Last year, 25 potential students who visited the campus were interviewed by the Director of Debate. At the request of the admissions office, the Director of Debate has interviewed outstanding students who have been accepted by Georgetown, but have yet to make their college decision. In 1992, the admissions office quoted figures that indicate approximately 1/3 of all admitted freshman had some sort of experience in debate.

Clearly, this recruiting effect is larger than individual participants on the debate team itself. Less than a third of students recruited to the debate program ever actually participate in more than a single intercollegiate debate. For a variety of reasons a student may decide to participate in other activities. A student might discover that participation in debate is simply too demanding, this is especially the case for science students. Additionally, many students discover that they have to maintain jobs rather than participate in any demanding co-curricular activities. Many other students undoubtedly learn about Georgetown through its competitive debate program, though they may not be considering continuing their debate careers in college. The success of Georgetown debate is well known within all debate circles. What other activity does the University engage in that so directly supports its academic reputation and recruiting efforts?

Discontinuing the debate program would clearly impede the University's attempt to recruit the best students possible. Amongst the schools Georgetown directly competes against for students are several with outstanding debate programs. These include Northwestern, MIT, Cornell, Dartmouth, Michigan, Harvard and Emory. In the region, George Mason University, American University and George Washington University all have stable successful debate programs. Countless times in my discussions with high school students, I hear students list combinations of the above as the schools to which they have applied. Undoubtedly, the elimination of the debate program would cause a substantial shift of talented students toward these alternative institutions.

Evaluating Participation

Does the debate program maximize its resources to achieve the greatest degree of participation possible?

Program Participation Numbers

Overall Averages

Total # of tournaments attended: 10.8
Total # of different students traveling: 10.6
Total # of different students traveling to 4 or more tournaments: 8.2


Total # of tournaments attended: 10
Total # of different students traveling: 8
Total # of different students traveling to 4 or more tournaments: 7
Competitive Summary: NDT Qualifier (53rd)


Total # of tournaments attended: 11
Total # of different students traveling: 10
Total # of different students traveling to 4 or more tournaments: 8
Competitive Summary: NDT Qualifier (45th)


Total # of tournaments attended: 10
Total # of different students traveling: 12
Total # of different students traveling to 4 or more tournaments: 9
Competitive Summary: Double Octafinalists (25th)


Total # of tournaments attended: 11
Total # of different students traveling: 10
Total # of different students traveling to 4 or more tournaments: 8
Competitive Summary: National Debate Tournament Runners-Up (2nd)


Total # of tournaments attended: 12
Total # of different students traveling: 13
Total # of different students traveling to 4 or more tournaments: 9
Competitive Summary: National Debate Tournament Champions (1st)

List of Tournaments Attended

The following are the tournaments attended in a typical season (dates are from last year and change over time):

Sept 22-24 University of Northern Iowa
Reason for attending: The first tournament of the year, all serious teams attend. It provides the first look at how the topic will be interpreted and what arguments will be common.

Oct 14-16 University of North Carolina
Reason for attending: A tournament we can drive to, that provides some outstanding national level competition.

Oct 28-30 Harvard University
Reason for attending: Selective national tournament - basically the top 40 teams attend.

Nov 4-5 James Madison University
Reason for attending: Small, local tournament which provides a good opportunity for teams with less experience.

Nov 10-12 Northwestern University
Reason for attending: The last big national tournament of the semester.

Jan 13-15 West Georgia College
Reason for attending: First national tournament of the new semester, often requires students to miss no class.

Jan 19-21 George Mason University
Reason for attending: The closest tournament of the year.

February 2-4 Naval Academy
Reason for attending: Close tournament which provides an important opportunity to scout teams for the district tournament.

February 10-12 Wake Forest University
Reason for attending: The last open national tournament of the year. Critical preparation for Nationals.

Feb 24-26 District Tournament @ Regional Site
Reason for attending: Qualifier for nationals.

March 28th - April 1 National Debate Tournament @ National Site
The NCAA tournament of debate.

Quantifying Academic Work

Student efforts ranged from an average of 10 hours per week to 30 hours a week. Students reported having read all or major portions, during the debate season, of anywhere from 100 to 300 books. As Director of Debate, I checked out 173 books during the academic year in preparation for debate tournaments. During the 1994/95 season, students made over 40,000 photocopies of briefs, articles and other materials related to the debate topic. Each student receives an average of 7 hours of individualized attention per week during the season. These instructional periods include discussing research assignments, critiques of practice speeches, speaking and thinking drills, strategy sessions, discussion of theoretical and practical aspects of various arguments and joint construction and filing of various arguments and materials. Students also receive non-debate advice relating to personal problems, academic studies, choosing graduate schools, finding jobs, relationships and a variety of other topics. Surveys reveal that fewer than only 23% of today's students spend 16 or more hours each week in out-of-class study (Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching). Against this standard, debaters appear to be the most diligent students on modern college campuses.

Evaluating the Numbers

While no specific numbers are available, it is apparent that the debate program spending, calculated on a per student basis, is large. There are a variety of reasons to conclude that while this spending is high, it is not excessive. Initially, many argue that measuring the program by this criteria is unfair. Because of the intensity of the debate experience it might be more appropriate to compare the cost to hours of student effort or number of debates in which a student participates (Hollihan, p439). Georgetown has always considered the quality of the education received to be a more important factor than actual numbers of students. This can be seen in our strong attention to individualized attention; "[t]he individual attention faculty devote to undergraduates--in their classrooms, laboratories and offices--stand out as one of Georgetown's greatest strengths" (Third Century, p5)

Undoubtedly some students at the University benefit from the expenditure of a higher degree of resources than average. Students in athletics clearly benefit from the expenditure of resources exceeding those which are spent on the average student. Some of the coach/competitor ratios in these activities are clearly similar to debate. Besides athletics, students working on the student newspaper and science students clearly also receive extra resources per student. Students in seminar classes also receive a higher degree of resources per student than those in lecture classes. If the university is willing to spend extra resources on certain students, the real question becomes: What are the benefits of debate for these students compared to the benefits of those other programs? The conclusions of this evaluation seem to demonstrate that the debate program has extraordinary value in areas critical to the Georgetown mission. Increased support for intercollegiate and intramural athletics is listed as a goal of the Capital Campaign (Third Century). It is difficult to imagine the priorities of a university in which such a commitment can be made while intercollegiate debate is considered for elimination. Compared to the resources expended by other universities on debate, Georgetown's efforts could hardly be called "excessive." Remember that the average number of students participating on the Georgetown debate team is 10, the core participants, those going to 4 or more tournaments is about 8.5. The most comprehensive examination of debate programs demonstrates that Georgetown's program is only slightly smaller than the average top 50 program. The range of top 50 programs reached from 2-27 and the average size was 13. The survey also concluded that the average program sent 10 competitors to 5 or more tournaments per year. This is also supported by survey research undertaken by Sternhagen, who indicates that: "responding programs reported participation levels of between 1 and 20 students." Thus, the "typical forensic program might be thought of as involving less than 21 students (Sternhagen, 104). Additional support comes from survey data collected by Murphy which shows the average top 50 program to be made up of 10.6 students (50). The Murphy data show that 68.7% of programs travel 10 students or less (50).

These numbers appear even more positive in light of additional data gathered by Hunt, Inch and others. According to their data, Georgetown's 1996 travel budget ($15,000) was less than half of the average top 50 program's 1992 travel budget ($34,893). The Murphy data shows that approximately 75% of programs spent more on travel in 1989-90 than Georgetown did in 95/96. Data collected by Rogers indicated that the average Top 20 program in 1989-90 spent $41,346 on travel (see table 1). With regard to staffing, the Hunt and Inch survey data show that Georgetown is one of only two programs ranked in the top 50 that is run by a single director. The average staff of a top 50 program was 4 and the most common staff size was between 2 and 3 (Hunt and Inch, 11). Murphy's data shows the mean program to be composed of 3.27 staff members and the largest number of programs to be comprised of a director and an assistant (46). The Rogers data show the average salary of top 20 debate directors to be $38,920, roughly 35% more than the $28,600 paid by Georgetown. Finally, of the top 50 programs, only 13 have no scholarships or tuition waivers of any kind. When considered in this light, Georgetown participation numbers appear quite impressive.

How do other college administrators view participation rates? A recent survey showed "overwhelming support" among administrators for intercollegiate debate and forensics (Shroeder and Shroeder, 16). Besides support for the existing programs, "[a]dministrators overwhelmingly indicated that debate was the single most important educational activity they engaged in and attributed many of their administrative skills to forensics" (Shroeder and Shroeder, p19). The survey concluded that from an administrative perspective, participation in debate "contributed to the development of or enhancement of skills in critical thinking, listening, argumentation, research, organization, group interaction, self confidence, and public speaking" (p16). Hunt and Inch concluded that a travel budget, twice the size of Georgetown's was justified:

$35,000 may seem like a lot of money to commit to a co-curricular activities program, but expenditures for forensics shrink in significance when compared to sports, music, drama, or even student government on most campuses.

This data is backed up by my own collection of program review information. Several interviews and a request for examples from over 300 debate programs resulted in a tiny number of negative review outcomes. Program directors simply could not recall debate programs that had been formally evaluated and discontinued. Two programs were reported to have been eliminated in the last 20 years. Neither program was apparently the subject of formal review. While a significant number of programs report having been reviewed for various purposes, only a handful indicate that they have been reviewed for the purpose of determining whether or not the program should be continued. The following examples of review outcomes were discovered:

Mary Washington University Reviewed in recent years and the program was continued.

U.S. Naval Academy Reviewed this year, the program was preserved with several admirals indicating that their experience debating in college was an important aspect of their educational experience (Lundquist).

University of Rhode Island The subject of review during significant budget cuts by the state legislature, the program was preserved (Providence Journal, p1C).

Southwest Missouri State The subject of review in 1995, the program was recommended for enhancement (Fritch).

University of Vermont Reviewed in 1992, the program was enhanced (Schnorer).

University of Washington An evaluation was conducted on whether a program should be established and the decision was affirmative (Hanson).

Whitman College Evaluated in 1994, the result was continuation of the program with increased resources (Hanson).

Reform Options

Several possible reforms of the debate program have been discussed. Each is examined in this section.

Cutting the Program Back to Local Travel Only

Some have apparently suggested that the resources of the program should be reduced and travel limited to local tournaments. This alternative was found to be unwise for several reasons:

  1. Resource savings would be limited. Approximately 2/3 of the program budget is made up of salary and benefits. Cutting the travel budget simply offers little savings in comparison to the size of the budget. Cutting the salary would significantly impede the ability of the University to attract a qualified Director of Debate.

  2. Recruiting would be catastrophically impacted. Students come to Georgetown as a place where they can compete against the very best. Students here wish to be tested against the finest universities in the United States, which clearly requires attendence at those National tournaments. Local travel supplements current travel activities, it cannot replace them.

  3. The competitive effect of this action would be disastrous. Competition at the National tournament is an inevitable goal of debaters regardless of their travel schedule. It simply would be impossible to ask these students to compete against larger programs at Nationals without having the experience of facing them during the year. The analogy here would be to ask the basketball team to do well in NCAA competition but ban them from playing any top 25 teams during the year. Survey data from Rogers seems to support this conclusion. According to his results, "[n]ational competition is critical for preparing a program to compete effectively" at the national tournament (p99). "No program was included in the successful grouping that did not compete in at least three national tournaments" (p99).

  4. Recruiting a director would be difficult. Certainly, I would not continue under such circumstances. I cannot imagine who would take a full-time debate position at a university that has no communication department and which is financially excluded from competing with the best of the community.

  5. Much of the educational benefit of the activity would be lost. Prohibited from competing against the very best, how could we expect students to put forward their best efforts?

  6. Students at Georgetown are already handicapped by resources which are half the national average in both staffing and travel allotment (see chapter 8). To ask students to operate under even more significant restraints seems incredible.

Other Student Organizations as an Alternative to Intercollegiate Debate

Alternative organizations on campus appear incapable of substituting for any of the educational advantages debate has to offer. In this realm, the on-campus debate society and the parliamentary debate society are evaluated. The following distinguishing characteristics justify the judgment:

  1. These organizations are student run. The co-curricular value of the programs is substantially impacted by a lack of access to formal coaching and hence education in the art and practice of argumentation. The lack of formal linkage to a coach or faculty member also prevents clear and relevant standards from being imposed which would assure that educational benefits are met. In fact, the lack of a coach may prevent these organizations from establishing clear goals at all. Competitive forensics clearly constitutes a professional discipline (Bartanen). Our current competition is governed by the rules of the NDT and CEDA and follows the AFA code which proscribes clear ethical standards for the use of evidence and other program practices.

  2. Neither of these organizations engages in research. The quality and nature of a debate are severely impacted by this qualification. Students in the competitive program are clearly involved in an academic pursuit which requires extensive research, practice and study.

  3. Recruiting could not be maintained by relying on these programs. The visibility of the competitive program is maintained by extensive travel and competition against the other renown debate powers. Neither of the student organizations could attract this type of publicity within the debate community because parliamentary debate has very little academic respect and the on-campus society does not travel.

  4. The content of the debate is not governed by a clear set of academic standards. An on-campus debate is governed by complex rules, but these are rules designed to accomplish a good parliamentary result. They are not rules and principles designed to sustain an educational experience for the students. Neither debates sanctioned by parliamentary debate or the on-campus society are decided on the basis of argumentation principles. They are much more likely to be decided by public speaking skills. While these are important and valuable skills, they are only a thin slice of the skills offered by the competitive program which emphasizes analytical and research skills as well.

  5. To draw an analogy that several Georgetown debate alumni suggested to me when queried on this topic, "replacing the intercollegiate team with the on-campus society is like telling the basketball team we don't need them because we already have intramural basketball."

Let me be clear. These organizations engage in a form of oral communication that is valuable for a number of reasons. The sole point to be made here is that they cannot achieve any of the benefits offered by the competitive program because many of the benefits are intrinsic to sustained, research driven competition against the best that other universities have to offer.


In the Matlon and Keele survey of former debaters, 403 of 406 respondents recommended that students participate in intercollegiate debate (Matlon, p200). This figure represents 99.26%. Such a number is an incredible endorsement of debate as a worthy activity. It is nearly mathematically impossible for any other program to establish a higher endorsement from their alumni. The incredible lack of any negative articles, results, data or comments in the literature is another impressive endorsement of the value of competitive debate. Colbert and Biggers confirm this amazing lack of contrary data (p239). As a strong advocate of intercollegiate debate, even I was surprised by the overwhelming consensus supporting the value of the activity.

This evaluation showed strong support for debate in every area for which a criteria was established. The educational value of debate to students has been firmly established. Debate enhances critical thinking and oral communication skills. It trains students in effective research, organization and arrangement. Debate teaches the ethics of advocacy and increases student knowledge about the world. Finally, debate trains students to be effective listeners, gives them valuable career skills and enhances the value of the classroom experience. Debate is a proven and effective means to train students in the skills of leadership. External data and materials support this conclusion. More impressively, an examination of the career progress of former Georgetown debaters reveals an impressive list of leadership positions, including a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Jesuits, professors of many disciplines, judges, corporate executives and leaders in medicine. Competitive debate has strong roots in the historical traditions of classical and Jesuit education.

Intercollegiate debate appears to fulfill many of the most obvious Jesuit educational ideals. It trains students in critical thinking, leadership and rhetorical skills. Scholars have also identified competitive debate as one of the few effective means available to teach students to engage in the critical examination of values necessary for character building. Recruiting students to the campus and enhancing the academic reputation of the institution are also clear benefits of the debate program. This is confirmed by even cursory discussions with current and past Georgetown debaters. Recruiting data and references to other published evaluations provide additional support for the notion that the debate program recruits outstanding students to the University. Attempting to determine whether the resources provided to the debate program are excessive compared to the number of participants is a difficult task. There are few, if any, fair or objective ways of comparing debate to other programs. Nonetheless, there are strong reasons to believe that these expenditures are not excessive. Georgetown spends far fewer resources on debate than nearly every other top 50 program. Evaluations and comments by other administrators indicates universal support for the continuation of debate programs. Georgetown singles out many classes of students for extra resource expenditures. In this realm, debate might be seen "as one of the best programs ever for gifted and talented students as it has been for over one hundred years" (Hunt & Inch, p23). Current fundraising efforts by alumni might well allow the program to significantly expand the number of students served.

Georgetown University has repeatedly proclaimed its commitment to provide an educational experience in which students are allowed to achieve excellence. Competitive debate provides students with an opportunity to prove themselves against the very best minds in America. No other program on the Georgetown campus has the historical tradition of the Philodemic Debate Society. The 2,500 year history of debate at the center of the Western Intellectual Tradition is unmatched by programs, courses and entire departments at the University. The goals, missions and traditions surrounding Georgetown, Student Affairs and Student Programs all indicate that maintaining a strong and healthy competitive debate program should be a fundamental commitment of the University.


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