We have doubled down on our efforts with Policydb8. Here is what is new:
- New theme: We have made one universal theme for the site to a) establish a singular universal look for the site and b) get a sleeker appearance focused on user experience and readability. We aim to lock down this look for a long time to come and improve upon it. Our previous themes are still available with caveats: being an owner, being a moderator, or reaching a post count of 250.
- Logo contest: With a new theme, we need a new logo to both revamp our look and get our users more involved with the development of the website. This logo contest will come with a $50 prize and the user's name being enshrined permanently on "Our Partners" page. Read more about it here!
- Books threadstarter: We have filled a gap in our community by creating a Books and Articles forum. Even better, we have modified it with a "Threadstarter" feature that allows for users starting a thread to search for a book title and have its information (title, synopsis, related books, and where to buy) automatically published in their post. Check it out!
With a new look, we need a new logo!
We are calling upon members of the debate community to submit their best design for a new Policydb8 logo. The winner will be selected by Rob, Chris, and myself and receive a $50 prize and have their name permanently kept on the "Our Partners" page for helping us to develop Policydb8 as the premier Policy Debate community on the web.
The 3 best runner ups will have their work honored in an article and receive a 5% site coupon.
This contest will end on February 28, 2019 at 11:59 pm. Results will be announced March 3, 2019.
To be eligible for consideration, users must submit:
a) A wordmark logo to both go on the site and work as our sharing logo.
b) A brandmark logo to be used as a favicon along with other associated branding.
- We prefer a wordmark logo as the primary site logo, however we will evaluate lettermark or combination designs if submitted.
- Entrants should consider the current site appearance and color scheme in their logo design.
- Be creative!
Users may submit as many entries as they like within the contest timeframe.
To submit, users should start a new thread in the Logo Contest forum. The settings on this forum ensure that only site owners and moderators can see new threads started so there is no concern for work being copied or stolen. By submitting an entry, users acknowledge that a) their work is their own and b) if selected, they forfeit their rights to the logos designed.
Good luck to everyone, we look forward to seeing your work!
I get asked that question a lot by a variety of people — debaters and civilians alike — and the truth is, no one can answer that question for you but you. But (there’s always a “but” isn’t there) there is probably a lot more involved in answering that question than you probably think.
But before we get into the nitty gritty who the hell am I and why am I at all qualified to counsel you on your future career. Well, I am a lawyer by trade, after my own debate career I went to Columbia Law School and proceed to work at a top law firm for a number of years (what we refer to as “Biglaw” in the industry) all the while continuing to coach college policy debate (first at NYU, now and for the last 13 years at USMA). Now I’m a Senior Editor at Above the Law (“ATL”) the most widely read legal industry blog. Working at ATL allows me to turn a critical eye to the legal industry and legal education and come up with some pretty definite opinions on the subject.
So, should you go to law school? Well, the first question is really, “do you want to be a lawyer?” Maybe that sounds silly or rudimentary, but a surprising number of law school applicants don’t want to be lawyers or, perhaps more accurately, have no idea what it’s like to be a lawyer. See, a lot of people (myself included) go to law school because it seems like the thing to do. Perhaps you've considered and rejected an academic career, but you’re otherwise pretty smart, and law school seems like an easy way to jumpstart a career. Or you’ve taken and done pretty well on the LSAT and so it seems like the next logical step. Or your family has always presumed that your argumentative penchant means you’re destined for a career in the law. All of those are… not great reasons to go to law school.
So ask around (there are a ton of debate alumni that made their way to law school) and see if actually practicing law is something that you’re interested in before you go any further. And ask a lot of different sources because the work a litigation partner at a top firm does is different than working at a small firm in trusts and estates, which is different than working in-house at a hedge fund advising on deal. Also, to be honest, a lot — and I mean a lot — of lawyers are quite miserable. Substance abuse and depression are much higher in lawyers than other professions. For a lot of law firm attorneys, the long hours (we are talking a minimum of 2000 billed hours a year — note billed hours are a subset of total hours worked), high pressure, and terrible personalities are a recipe for disaster.
Next, you need to consider if law school makes sense for you financially. That’s obviously a very fact-specific inquiry, and I mean if you or your family are fabulously wealthy, then what the hell, go to law school, but law school is a giant financial investment that can/has ruined lives. You need to carefully think about a number of factors to see if it makes sense for you and I’ll try to give you a few guidelines to think about.
Law school is expensive — like, very expensive — and most law schools don’t give out a ton of financial aid. So you need to weigh the debt load you can expect to take on by going to law school compared with your expected salary when you graduate.
(Law School Transparency has some great school by school breakdowns on the debt load of graduates and employment rates that you should definitely be looking at before you make a down payment on tuition.)
People often, mistakenly, think a JD is a ticket to instant wealth. And there’s a reason for that — starting salaries at an elite law firm (AmLaw 100 level) are an eye popping $190,000, plus yearly lockstep bonuses. That’s a stupid amount of money for a 25 year old with no work experience to be pulling down — but not everyone is making that much money. Let me acquaint you with the bimodal salary curve. As you can see, a very small percentage of law school applicants are going to be making the really big money. The average starting salary for recent graduates is about $70,000. That’s nothing to sneeze at but it doesn’t go all that far when you’re servicing $200k in student debt.
Be honest with yourself about the job opportunities you have for the law schools you can realistically get into. The legal profession is very elitist (as if the Kavanaugh hearings weren’t enough evidence of this fact) and you will not have the same opportunities as a graduate from every institution. Elite firms don’t go to on-campus recruiting at mediocre law schools, public interest opportunities are just as, if not more, competitive as Biglaw ones, being a federal law clerk is one of the most sought after markers of prestige and those jobs are determines based solely on your grades your first year (if not first semester) and the name of your law school.
Here are the basics of what you need to know: the number one factor that determines what law schools you get into is your LSAT score — winning the NDT might have been cool, but if you can’t get over a 170 on that test, Harvard is probably out of your reach (Yes, a growing number of law schools accept the GRE in lieu of the LSAT but it is a very new program and no one is exactly sure where the cut offs for GRE scores will be);
the top 14 law schools as defined by US News & World Report (referred to as the T14 ) are a tier unto themselves;
some schools have good employment statistics but only for a particular region of the country (for example I wouldn't go to University of Iowa unless I wanted to work in the midwest);
for-profit law schools are absolute trash more concerned with raking in tuition dollars than educating lawyers;
and, relatedly, look at the bar passage rates, you cannot get a job as a lawyer if you cannot pass the bar exam.
Obviously these factors are a bit of a sliding scale — should you go to a Tier 1 (but not T14 law school) with a full ride over Yale Law School with no financial aid if you want to practice in Biglaw? What about a solid regional school with $10k of aid versus school on the bottom half of the T14 if you dream of public interest work? You should check out The Decision series on ATL or the podcast Thinking Like A Lawyer for examples of how other industry pros answer these tough questions.
So should you go to law school? I don’t know. But here’s what I know: a lot fewer people than want to go to law school should go to law school, I am way happier being a non-practicing attorney than a practicing attorney, and I am still paying off my law school loans.
Kathryn Rubino is a Senior Editor at Above the Law, host of The Jabot podcast, policy debate coach at the United States Military Academy, and former Cross Examination Debate Association President. Feel free to email her and follow her on Twitter (@Kathryn1).
Over the past few months I have been analyzing the voting histories of over 400 active judges on the College Policy Circuit, covering just about every judge who has been to a major national or large regional tournament in the past year and a half. I have posted publicly about some of the insights this brings on which judges have judged the most rounds, and what this can show about how judges behave and the question of judge predictability.
For my latest project I’ve been investigating school bias in judges, testing to see if judges can be biased towards teams from a school (or set of schools) when compared to other judges. That analysis is still in its embryonic stages, but in the meantime I felt that there might be interest in what the raw data tells us about the successes of various schools.
I will make a separate, longer, post going deeper into the methodology behind this data, however the basic process was scouring through the Tabroom judging record of 416 Judges, analyzing the over 48,000 ballots that they had between them, parsing which schools were involved and who won, and then compiling that data. While this isn’t a complete history of the tabroom era it does give a relatively representative understanding of the past six years of debate history.
Below I present three relatively basic metrics for school success: Percentage of ballots won (the data treats each ballot as a separate decision as opposed to analyzing panel decisions holistically), the total number of ballots won, and the most ballots contested. This data explicitly excludes swing-teams but does count the rounds of teams who were debating swing teams. There was no differentiation made between Novice, JV, or Varsity divisions in the compiling of this data.
The top ten most successful teams* by percentage of ballots that they’ve won are:
1. Harvard – 63.0% of ballots
2. Northwestern – 62.1% of ballots
3. Towson – 60.7% of ballots
4. UC – Berkeley – 59.2% of ballots
5. Georgetown – 58.8% of ballots
6. University of Michigan – 57.8% of ballots
7. Oklahoma – 57.3% of ballots
8. Rutgers-Newark – 57.3 % of ballots
9. Kansas – 56.6% of ballots
10. Wake Forest – 56.2% of ballots
The top ten most successful teams by won ballots are:
1. Liberty University – 2,583 Ballots
2. George Mason – 2,268 Ballots
3. Kansas – 2,186 Ballots
4. Wake Forest – 1,777 Ballots
5. Emory – 1,562 Ballots
6. University of Michigan – 1,556 Ballots
7. Harvard – 1,509 Ballots
8. Oklahoma – 1,346 Ballots
9. Northwestern – 1,189 Ballots
10. James Madison University – 1,181 Ballots
Honorable mention goes to Binghamton University in a very close 11th place.
The top ten most successful teams by ballots contested are:
1. Liberty University – 4,681 RBallots
2. George Mason University – 4,090 Ballots
3. Kansas – 3,860 Ballots
4. Wake Forest – 3,162 Ballots
5. Emory – 2,844 Ballots
6. University of Michigan – 2,693 Ballots
7. James Madison University – 2,625 Ballots
8. Harvard University – 2,394 Ballots
9. Binghamton University – 2,393 Ballots
10. Oklahoma – 2,347 Ballots
* Not including teams with under 40 ballots in my data set. Apologies to Columbia, SUNY Broome, and City College who would otherwise have places on this list.
Editor's Note: This speech was originally presented at the Barkley Forum a number of years ago. It is one of my favorite pieces of debate writing, and Les Phillips has honored us by letting us reprint it here, with a few, very minor, updates.
I turned forty in October. I don't feel old, or middle aged, but I don't feel young either. I am a person who counts years. When I see a newspaper article about a new Clinton Administration appointee, or a profile of some suddenly successful actor or businessman, my mind quickly settles on the detail of age -- two years younger than me -- one year older than me -- six years younger than me. Until recently, I thought of myself as young. So, it astonishes me to count back and realize that this is my twenty-sixth year in forensics; my fifteenth year in coaching high school debate; my fourteenth Barkley Forum. When St. Augustine sat down to write his Confessions, and toted up all his misdeeds, his work in forensics was near the head of the list. He wrote: "From my eighteenth to my twenty-seventh year I was led astray and led others astray in turn. I was a teacher of public speaking. How wicked are the sins of men!"
I have now exceeded Augustine's record of depravity by thirteen and one half years. I have sinned, I continue to sin, and I shall go on sinning. I know who to blame. I blame not my parents for raising me badly, nor the Christian education of my childhood for its inadequacies. I do not blame society for creating an imperfect world. One person did this to me. I blame Mrs. Charline Burton, of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. You may recoil in shock at my bad taste. Blame Charline Burton! Such a wonderful lady. Not even here to defend herself. But listen: Eight years ago this evening it was Mrs. Burton who stabbed the key into my breast and emitted a bloodcurdling exhortation: "Les! Become one of our old warhorses!" This command has hovered over my life ever since. It has had the effect of a curse or a prophecy in a Greek tragedy. After much consideration of the difficulties of a beast of burden, and with one eye on the glue factory, I'd have to conclude that, indeed, I'm going to be an old warhorse. And I want to share with you this evening my reflections on that decision -- on why I will grow old in debate, and how.
It has not exactly escaped my attention that fewer and fewer people are growing old in this activity -- even as old as I am. This is not new. I had two wonderful high school coaches. The first one got out when she was twenty-eight and never looked back. Her successor made it to thirty. Most of the people I coached with in the Northeast ten years ago have gotten out. Fifty women and men have been named Key Coaches of the Barkley Forum in the past fifteen years. Twenty of them have gotten out. Several good coaches my age or younger are hanging on by their thumbs, desperately seeking a successor; they are trying to get out. They are tired. I am tired. Some weeks I am just exhausted. The driving -- farther and farther each year, as New England debate completes its collapse. The practice rounds, sometimes four or five a week. The grading, the fundraising, the talks with parents, the amateur medical treatments, the photocopying, the adolescent crisis management, the adult crisis management, the tournament-running, the seven years' war against the assistant principal, the state tournament-running, the district tournament running, the thirty years' war against the custodians, the car washes, the undone laundry, the friends not seen, the letters unanswered, the family neglected, the van which breaks down at 1 a.m. on the Massachusetts Turnpike when the wind chill is thirty below. Inherency asks: Why do good men tolerate evil? Debate coaching asks: Why do sane women and men tolerate this?
But when I asked myself whether I wanted to quit, the answer was always surprisingly clear. No. Will I keep the same pace into middle age? No. I've cut back already. Do I want to travel less? Yes. Do I want to go home earlier? Yes. But I will keep going. And what keeps me going, apart from a compelling need to appease my landlord and pay the Visa bills?
I do love my students. But I could find students to enjoy outside debate. I like arguments, but the fascination I used to have with the design of a debate round is gone. I am not looking for one last championship to crown a career. I have been to enough round robins. I am not sentimental about the value of what I do. And I do not think I am indispensable.
But I will keep on because I think we have a mission. There are special things that we have to do.
First of all, debate must be a force which counters the dilution of secondary education. Now I am very uncomfortable in the role of educational traditionalist. I am not frequently confused with a conservative of any sort. But I hope I am not the only person who notices that high schools are dumbing down their curricula and expectations. I speak only for myself, but I find that year by year I must pull and push and stretch and goad my freshman debaters harder, longer, more vigorously to get them where they need to be intellectually. Their middle school preparation has simply left them without the social studies context, the reading skills, the notetaking skills, the attention span, or the simple work ethic necessary to do this activity well -- or to do any other serious academic work. I know that academics is not all of secondary education. I truly believe that schools must help build a whole person, and that self-esteem is the key to that whole person. But when schools make self-esteem and challenge mutually exclusive, when they seek to insulate students from difficulty or the possibility of failure, they have betrayed the meaning of self-esteem. No one knows better than the people in this room that self-esteem is built by presenting students with challenges -- goals beyond their reach -- and then preparing them to meet that challenge. When schools allow their expectations to decline to the level of what a fourteen-year-old happens to feel like doing that day - - when schools treat sloth as a "learning style" instead of a deadly sin -- they betray education. Robert Frost once defined education as "hanging around until you've caught on." Robert Frost was wrong. An educator, true to the Latin root of the word, leads the student out of his self-satisfaction to something new. I will go so far as to predict that as the rest of education is watered down, and as it becomes "incorrect" to focus on gifted students, parents will rediscover the value of forensics. I want to be around to see that happen.
The second thing we need to do is make certain that debate continues to be education. There are any number of committees, platforms, and movements afoot to enhance, reform, and expand debate in America. My three predecessors at this pulpit have spoken somewhat programmatically, and I'm not going to try to improve on what they have said. My particular worry is that fewer debaters seem to understand that debate is arguing, not reading; that the best arguments are those you derive, not borrow or purchase; that evidence should come from the library, not the friend who knows someone who was in Cheshier's lab last summer. I worry that actual debate, rather than reading, may be retreating into a small elite corner of the activity. Working on the fundamentals with students is not always interesting. But it is what we on the front line of debate education must do. The summer institute teacher may know the evidence better. She may be the superior strategist. But no one at Dartmouth or Michigan or Northwestern is better equipped to teach thinking better than the people in this room.
None of these good things happen if we all get out.
I can't presume to tell anyone here how to live their lives. Each of your circumstances are different, and I don't know them all. But I know that, as I decided not to get out, I knew that I could not stay in unless I made some changes in the way I did things. And I was able to see how to make those changes precisely because I am getting older. Four years ago my aunt, a person I loved very much, died too young.
Then an uncle, a year later. My mother and father are in good health, but those other deaths forced me to really think about my parents' mortality. They will die. Which means -- you are unequivocally the adult now. Your full maturity is not something that will happen later. You have become what you will be. So, if you are a debate teacher, it's time to batten down and prepare for the long haul.
That meant confronting the workaholic martyr in myself. The part that worried that if I admitted that any portion of the work that I did turned out to be dispensable, somebody might come along and get rid of all of me. The part of me that needed to think of the job as huge, impossible, thankless. I had to begin to tame that inner workaholic. I had to start delegating. I had to learn to get in the car and go home at four-thirty. I can assure you that my program has not collapsed as a result. My principal has not hauled me up on charges of negligence. My students have noticed that I stay home once in a while and don't hear quite as many rounds. They have also noticed that I'm a little more approachable, a little more fun to be around, less exhausted. Besides, everyone has noticed that Lexington never wins the final round if Phillips is present at the tournament.
I'm going to work hard for thirty more years doing what I think I do well -- teaching novices, especially, and advanced debaters to be critical, to be subversive in their questioning and thinking. Whether you stay in for another year or another thirty, or more, please do what you do best. Teach the young. Love your work.
And goodnight, Mrs. Burton, wherever you are.
- Les Phillips is the Director of Debate at the Nueva School, for many years he directed debate at Lexington High School. His students have won national championships in Policy, Lincoln Douglas, and Public Forum.
Institutions of higher learning all have mission statements and make public proclamations that espouse the value of developing critical thinking skills, creating engaged citizens, and building rigorous educational programming. Policy debate programs help universities meet these requirements like nothing else can. When done well full-service policy debate programs are more academically rigorous than any class students will take, and when combined with an extensive public debate program have the potential to engage the entire student body.
Seven years ago, JMU Debate received a fairly large budget increase. It was in my 5th year as Director of Debate and interestingly it had only a slight connection to our competitive success as a team. We had grown very rapidly and it was due in large part to my inability to say no and belief that debate should be open to everyone (if you aren’t willing to embrace the big tent model of the debate that allows people at all levels to be involved you should probably stop reading right now). We were bursting at the seams, and our budget simply did not allow for me to recruit any more debaters. We had 12 fairly committed students returning and I did not know how we could continue to recruit students in good faith that we could not afford to travel.
Honestly, this is not a problem that would have led to our budget increase. The university would have been fine at the budget level we were at with us having a half dozen successful teams at the junior varsity and open levels. The thing they really cared about were our public debate and outreach efforts. The simple truth is that for really good public debates you need to have experienced students and if more and more of our debaters were sticking around it meant that we would have no new debaters to train for public debates in the future. I made the argument that if you want to have a robust public debate program in three years we need to recruit and train those students as first year students and that work could not be done without a budget increase.
In my budget proposal I outlined all of our public debate and outreach efforts, the incredible students that we were recruiting and value that having debate students in class added to class discussions (complete with testimonials from professors from almost every college on campus). I explained that we had grown to our capacity and if the university wanted us to continue to do our good work they would have support us financially. I even threatened to dial back our efforts and only focus on competition if our budget stayed the same (I’m not sure what I would have done if they had called my bluff).
I probably need to mention at this point that our competitive success mattered as well. If we had just had a vibrant public debate program then I doubt we would have been able to recruit the same students and, more importantly, our triumphs let me make the argument that we had superior debaters who had honed their skills against the best teams in the country. And we had the tournament success and national rankings to prove it.
So, we were doing it all on a shoestring budget and the university was touting our successes as an example of what the engagement university should strive for. Only after we had done all of that work did we receive a budget that allowed us to compete at the level we were capable of (even though it was still well below the national average). Imagine if a football team had to show they could be competitive (plus do a ton of community service) in order to get their budget approved.
So, the real question is why doesn’t every university in the country have a debate team, and why don’t those who do have them support them at the level that they support less academic endeavors? There are 774 college football teams in the United States, but there are significantly fewer college debate programs. Whose fault is that? Is it the universities that fail to support college debate programs or is it the fault of the debate programs themselves? The truth is both parties are to blame.
The Failure in University Priorities
Many universities’ priorities are way out of whack. This is not to say that the university cannot focus on athletics or great facilities or top-notch graduate programs. What I am saying is that when those things are done while undergraduate education is ignored then a university has to take a long hard look at what they place a value on.
A debate budget is tiny when it comes to the general operating budget of a university. Yet debate budgets are often on the chopping block when departments or universities are looking for savings. This demonstrates that many universities are simply not willing to match their stated goals with their spending priorities. I was extremely lucky that at JMU our debate program was safe and, after pushing for a budget increase for years, well supported.
That didn’t happen by accident though. It required a sustained and consistent effort to raise the profile of the debate program and ensure that individuals throughout the university understood the importance of supporting the debate program.
The Failure of University Debate Programs
There are very few college debate programs that are truly safe from budgetary issues. You can count on two hands the debate programs that are so well supported and so well-funded that they are guaranteed to exist long into the future. Additionally, there are only a small contingent of debate programs that can exist on the basis of competitive success alone. Most debate programs need to find ways to connect with broader university goals in order to justify their existence. Here is my advice based on what worked for us at JMU.
First, connect the work your debate team does to the university mission and vision statements. This is low hanging fruit. An analysis of over 120 university mission statements from universities (thanks to Marie Eszenyi and Oliver Brass for their assistance with the coding) that have had policy debate programs in the past ten years indicate an emphasis on the following attributes that align directly with most debate programs:
· Autonomy, Choice or Democratic Problem-Solving
· Experiential Learning or Applied Research
· Critical Thinking, Debate, Advocacy or Communication
· Diversity of People or Ideas
· Responsible Civic Engagement
· Holistic Personal Development
· Academic Rigor
Every single university mission statement that was included contained at least three of these characteristics with some containing as many as nine. Interestingly, the results did not vary based on the type of institution. Community Colleges, regional public universities, small private universities and big national research universities all placed the emphasis on creating deep learning opportunities for undergraduate students.
This analysis proves that universities already value what we are doing. The fact that they don’t realize how central debate is to their mission and vision is our fault. For too long we hid out on the weekends afraid that someone would find out that we are speaking fast or talking about topics that seem to the untrained observer as unrelated to the resolution. Thanks to Youtube that cat is out of the bag. Everyone can see what we are doing and it’s time for us to embrace it. It’s time for us to say that speaking quickly increases the research burden and the academic rigor of what we do and that just as performance studies or critical race studies or any other disruptive practices exist on our campus then also exist in debate (and give students often great access than they receive on their own campuses).
As we defend debate we should do so in a way that confronts university administrators’ perceptions of debate by tying it directly to the official statements that universities make about what they value.
At the same time, we need to add to our repertoire. We can no longer just compete and hope that is enough. We need to reach out and form partnerships across campus and into our local communities. We need to do big public debates so that others on campus can no longer say “I didn’t know we had a debate team.” Finding ways to showcase our students’ ability to research and capacity to teach our communities how to engage with difficult or complex ideas is the best path to making sure that debate survives for future generations. It is hard work, but if we find ways to embrace what our universities think matter (especially when we are already doing much of it) then we might just leave something for the next generation of debaters.
- Dr. Mike Davis is the Executive Advisor to President Jonathan Alger of James Madison University. Before his he was the Director of Debate of James Madison University's debate team, and coached at the University of Georgia and the University of Rochester. He debated for Syracuse University, and is the namesake of the Michael K. Davis Award given annually by CEDA East.