June 18, 2019 | 65° F

Debate team ranks fifth in nation, supersedes Princeton

Photo by Courtesy of Henry Phipps |

Meryem Uzumcu, a member of the Rutgers University Debate Union, argues against the American University debate team on whether the United States should sign the Outer Space Security and Development treaty at the Novice Semifinals at Johns Hopkins University.

While Harvard University and Yale University top the charts for college debate teams, the Rutgers University Debate Union now boasts a higher national ranking than its New Jersey Ivy League rival. 

“We are beating Princeton [University],” said Henry Phipps, public relations chair for RUDU.

The team, made up of about 50 university students, is ranked fifth overall among nearly 250 collegiate debate teams in the National Parliamentary Debate Association, said Phipps, a School of Arts and Sciences junior.

He said the University’s team has been improving consistently over the past few years, moving up from ninth last year to now, fifth overall.

“We were actually fourth earlier this year, before this past weekend,” said Phipps, referring to a Nov. 16 tournament at Fordham University where the team lost in the final preliminary round.

The teams compete in two-on-two matches where opposing pairs get three chances each to argue and counter-argue their points, Phipps said. The first pair to speak is designated the government and it is their job to come up with the topic and the opening argument. The other pair is then designated the opposition and attempts to refute.

Not only is the University’s team ranked highly overall, but individual members also rank among the best in the nation, he said.

Ashley Novak, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, is ranked fifth best individual speaker, while Chris Bergman, RUDU’s president, and Quinn Maingi, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, are ranked 11th among two-man teams.

Rankings for overall team and two-man teams are based off points scored in the quarterfinal, semifinal, and final rounds of each tournament. Individual rankings are determined by cumulative speaker score over the year, Phipps said. First-year debaters, called novices, are also rated individually against each other based on speaker score, he said.

“[Debaters are judged on] who can create the better logical argument,” he said. “We’re not supposed to rely on how much factual information we know.”

Phipps said in a tournament, the team with the highest combined score wins the round and moves on to the next, eventually reaching quarterfinals, semifinals and finals, referred to as out-rounds.

The team competes in a different tournament every weekend, he said. The team of the host school, which changes every tournament, does not compete but instead judges the competition.

Topics range from the serious to the somewhat lighthearted, Phipps said. All topics brought forward for debate have to be common enough knowledge that the opposition can prepare a rebuttal after being introduced to the topic through the government’s opening seven-minute speech.

“We range from ‘would you have dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima?’ to ‘would [the ownership of] Pokemon be ethical?’” he said.

Novak said her two-and-a-half years were a tumultuous experience. In her novice year, she ranked second best novice, but fell to 30th in her second year before shooting back up to her current position as fifth in the nation.

She said her time with RUDU has been worth it regardless of her struggle.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s really enjoyable and the team is really great,” she said.

Training is largely an independent effort, as it involves keeping up with current news and researching topics to bring up for debate, Novak said.

“If you’re on the team, you have a responsibility to keep up with the news and write your own cases,” she said.

Bergman, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said team practices are also vital to success, and the team has the advantage of having a coach who takes a leading role.

“A lot of coaches just run practice rounds,” he said. “Our coach is more-hands on in helping us research and prepare cases.”

By Domenic Ruggeri

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Targum.