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MIT Debate Club off to a promising start

By Chris Schechter

The recently reincarnated MIT Debate Club hopes to survive longer than past clubs by emphasizing the parliamentary debate format, which requires little preparation, and by sending MIT students to an international speaking tournament in January. To top it off, they plan to host a national debate tournament next spring.

A group of freshmen formed the new debate club last spring because "I felt that at MIT, opportunities in speech and debate were lacking," said club President Per E. Juvkam-Wald '94. The only other outlet for debate students had was Debates and Arguments (17.803), a political science subject in which students receive a formal introduction to debate.

The club consists mostly of sophomores and freshmen, although many juniors and seniors have expressed interest in joining. Most of the students involved in the club had previous debate experience in high school.

"The workload at MIT is the main reason why no debate club has ever lasted," said club advisor Professor Hayward R. Alker, who teaches 17.803. Previous debate clubs usually folded after the few members willing to devote time to the activity graduated.

However, this group's members are optimistic about their prospects for long-term survival, and they think their emphasis on parliamentary debate is their key to success.

Parliamentary debate, unlike other debate formats, requires no prior research or extensive preparation. The only prerequisite for doing well is "to know what is going on in the world," Juvkam-Wald said.

"Parliamentary debate teaches communication skills, to think on your feet and talk intelligently about topics of general public interest," Alker added. For beginners to acquire these skills, the debate club includes practice rounds and instructional sessions in its weekly meetings.

In parliamentary debate, two teams of two debaters, called the "government" and the "opposition," discuss a quote in a series of four eight-minute and two four-minute speeches. The government is given 20 minutes to prepare a logical argument related to the quote, and then the opposition has an equal amount of time to counter the government's position. The team that demonstrates superior oratory skills, analytical reasoning and logical arguments wins.

Debate Club has ambitious goals

In January, the club will send speakers to a international tournament in Dublin, Ireland to compete with debaters from around the world. Two graduate students with prior experience and a successful track record will represent MIT.

In the spring term, the Debate Club will host the Parliamentary Debate Nationals, a national collegiate competition. Approximately 60 teams from around the country are expected to attend the meet here, which is planned for April. "Through nationals the MIT team will gain recognition both by the administration and by other universities." Juvkam-Wald said. Although the exact location and administrative details have not been finalized, advertising for the the tournament will begin in February and spectators will be encouraged to attend.

The team may also hold a combined MIT-Wellesley tournament in mid-March to raise funds for entry fees and other expenses.

So far, the club has won the Providence Tournament and finished a Harvard University tournament with a record of 4-1. "We are doing well for a beginning team," Juvkam-Wald said.

In the beginning the MIT Debate Club received financial assistance from Harvard's debate team, the American Parliamentary Debate association and the Undergraduate Association Financial Board.

The club hopes to get debaters interested in other speech and debate events and recruit enthusiastic new members. A demonstration round between Harvard and MIT will be held during Independent Activities Period to introduce debate to the MIT community. "Debate is an invaluable experience especially since some MIT students or not notable for their verbal acuity," Alker said.