January 20, 2006

U of C students place second in international debate competition

A University of Chicago debate team placed second in the World Universities Debating Championship, hosted in Dublin earlier this month. The international debating tournament is the largest of its kind in the world, consisting of 324 two-person teams and 300 judges.

Each team debated nine rounds in the first three days, after which the 32 top-ranking teams paired off to determine the final rankings.

Daragh Grant and Patrick Emerson, both graduate students, lost the final round to a team from the University of Toronto.

“It’s obviously disappointing to get that far and not win,” Emerson said. “I guess we did pretty well.”

The teams were given their motions only 15 minutes before the debates. “If you’re the first team up, you have 15 minutes to prepare 14 minutes’ material,” Emerson said. “There’s a lot of pressure weighing on everyone.”

“You tend to have to wing it a lot,” Grant said. “You rarely know a lot about the subjects.”

Emerson added that the time constraints made the debate more exciting. “My stomach still turns every time I do it, although it turns a lot less now,” he said.

The 26th annual tournament included issues ranging from the U.S. stance on illegal immigrants to assisted human reproduction for women over 45 to whether the Catholic Church should allow condoms in the fight against AIDS.

“That was a messy debate,” Grant said, referring to the latter topic. “People started talking about religious doctrine, which nobody ever knows about.”

“Debating is different from academia,” Emerson said. “It’s not designed to be thorough. It’s designed to be persuasive.” He added that he would probably stop debating for some time.

“We tend to be called the fake American team,” said Grant, who is Irish and whose debating partner, Emerson, is Scottish.

Grant added that he has formed numerous friendships at debating tournaments. “It’s as much of a social thing,” he said. “It tends to be quite a good way to travel anywhere in the world and have somewhere to stay.”

Grant said that his interest in debating stems from “getting a kick” out of speaking in front of large audiences. “Also, winning is fun,” he said.