Frequently Asked Questions
As we approach the 100th
anniversary of Macalester’s entry into the world of intercollegiate
debate, we will be doing some of the same sort of debating that Macalester
students did back then. Before the invention of the debate tournament,
schools entered into contracts for public debates against neighboring
schools as well as inviting in opponents from more distant parts of
the country. Before the forward pass was legalized, such debates
were more popular than college football. While we can’t completely
turn back the clock, we will be arranging public debates on a variety
of topics with other schools in the area. Following tradition,
each debate will involve an affirmative team that will be debating on
our campus and a negative team that will be venturing to the opposition’s
lair. As this event develops, we hope to involve both Macalester
faculty and Macalester alumni as part of these public audience debate
teams. If there are alumni out there who would like to volunteer
to win another round for dear old Macalester, feel free to suggest a
topic that intrigues you.
CEDA-NDT Policy Debate
Students who desire an intensive learning experience in argument theory, systematic policy research, and the principles of public advocacy will find that competition on the national debate circuit is both challenging and rewarding. An area for debate is selected by the debate community in late May and the actual debate proposition is announced in the middle of July. Our program is a highly competitive program that is geared toward competing at the National Debate Tournament and Cross-Examination Debate Association’s national championship tournament. The tournament season stretches from mid-September until the end of March and we will attend a mix of regional and national tournament in preparation for NDT’s district qualifying tournament and CEDA nationals.
League of the Upper Midwest hosts a series of inexpensive but high-quality
one-day intercollegiate debate tournaments for college and universities
which attracts schools from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and South Dakota.
In addition to the PLUM events, we will also be traveling to some weekend
tournaments in our region.
formats give the debaters considerable warning about the proposition
that they will be debating and debaters feversishly begin researching
the topic. Parliamentary debate gives debaters a scant 15 minutes of
warning before the start of the round. Rather than rely on heavy
files that are carried from room to room or a huge collection of information
stored on a laptop, debaters in the Parliamentary League of the Upper
Midwest are limited to the knowledge that is stored inside of their
cranium. These sort of debates place a premium on having a breadth
of knowledge regarding enduring questions of philosophy and political
theory as well as knowing a considerable amount about current events.
Without resorting to prepared files, debaters must quickly analyze the
topic, discover the available means of persuasion and craft speeches
that will appeal to a diverse judging pool that may range from an experienced
debate coaches and practicing attorneys to college professors and ordained
ministers with more experience in the pulpit than with a debate ballot.
Those who are most successful in the PLUM are those who work hard at
what Professor Donald C. Bryant has described as “the art of adapting
ideas to people and people to ideas.”
A few years ago, a former parli’ debater sent me the following e-mail.
The author is Sarah Norman ’00, an actor and director in London.
emailing because I was just thinking about Macalester the other day,
and my education there, and I wanted to let you know that I think that
parliamentary debate was one of the best things I did with my time at
Macalester. It was one of the most genuinely educational aspects
of my four years. This is not so much in reference to the general
knowledge that I acquired in debate but rather the improvement in my
ability to listen carefully to other peoples' ideas, and then to formulate
and express my own. I guess basically I think parliamentary debate
did some fundamental work for me in terms of simply being able to think
clearly and carefully, which is a skill that I don't think is at all
common. In a certain sense, I can't think of any strand of classes
that was so fundamentally useful.
Our newest event, the Ethics Bowl competition, is an event that combines
elements of debate, discussion, and impromptu speaking.
The sponsors of the event, the Association for Professional and Practical
Ethics, provide this summary of a contest that has both competitive
and collaborative elements:
“The Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl (IEB) is a team competition that
combines the excitement and fun of a competitive tournament with an
innovative approach to education in practical and professional ethics
for undergraduate students. Recognized widely by educators, the IEB
has received special commendation for excellence and innovation from
the American Philosophical Association, and received the 2006 American
Philosophical Association/Philosophy Documentation Center's 2006 prize
for Excellence and Innovation in Philosophy Programs. The format, rules,
and procedures of the IEB all have been developed to model widely acknowledged
best methods of reasoning in practical and professional ethics.
“In the IEB, each team receives a set of cases which raise issues
in practical and professional ethics in advance of the competition and
prepare an analysis of each case. At the competition, a moderator poses
questions, based on a case taken from that set, to teams of three to
five students. Questions may concern ethical problems on wide ranging
topics, such as the classroom (e.g. cheating or plagiarism), personal
relationships (e.g. dating or friendship), professional ethics (e.g.
engineering, law, medicine), or social and political ethics (e.g. free
speech, gun control, etc.) A panel of judges may probe the teams for
further justifications and evaluates answers. Rating criteria are intelligibility,
focus on ethically relevant considerations, avoidance of ethical irrelevance,
and deliberative thoughtfulness. “
Rare among forensics events, the IEB tournament schedule consists of
two and only two tournaments. Regional qualifying tournaments
are held in November and the top 32 teams in the nation advance to the
national championship in March. Since there are no tournaments
prior to the regional tournament, students on the Ethics Bowl team will
be doing a great many practice rounds on campus to get ready for the
More information on this competition may be found at:
Mock trial is a combination of debate,
theater and a real-life learning experience in small group communication.
Collegiate mock trial teams consist of 6-10 members and Macalester typically
fields at least three teams. While some members of the program
aspire to law school, the full range of majors and professional interests
are represented for the skills that are taught by mock trial are useful
in any career.
While high school mock trial typically involves only a couple of tournaments,
the intercollegiate tournament season stretches from October until April.
Tournaments are typically four-round events and each team must be prepared
to argue both sides of the case. In any given round, three of
the students serve as attorneys and three serve as witnesses.
The attorneys deliver opening statements, direct and cross examine witnesses,
argue the admissibility of evidence, and deliver closing arguments.
The witnesses are charged with breathing life into the affidavits that
are provided with the case materials and creating interesting and credible
characters. In mock trial, the whole is nearly always greater
than the sum of its parts. Great teams are skilled at telling
their client’s story in a dramatic and persuasive fashion that involves
mastering the basic elements of drama. Over the course of season
that stretches across both semesters, students also have ample opportunities
to explore the fine art of effectively managing a small group charged
with a difficult task.
For more information about intercollegiate mock trial, you might look
at the web-site of the American Mock Trial Association: