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With an Elegant Structure and an Important History Dating Back to the Founding of Loyola, the Policy Debate Team Must Return

One of the areas in which Loyola prides itself the most is in the area of diversity.  Whether it is ethno-racial, economic or geographic, diversity is one of the key tenets that Loyola believes in and tries to promote. Nevertheless, this past year was one in which Loyola lost some diversity; last year the decision was made to terminate the Policy debate team at Loyola, the oldest debate team at Loyola and the oldest debate form in the nation.

Cutting Policy debate was a grave error because of its long history at Loyola and because doing so hurts students. Policy debate should be brought back as soon as possible.

Speech and debate as a whole at Loyola extends back to the 1860’s. Policy was the first standardized debate form at Loyola and in the United States, and the team has been quite successful since the team’s inception. Policy debate has had an incredibly long and important history at Loyola, fraught with successes.  One might, therefore, be inclined to wonder why Policy debate was cut in the first place.

One of the main grounds for Policy’s termination was on the basis of few interested students and cohesion. However, the number of students and Policy’s popularity had previously fluctuated over time.  From 2006 to 2008, the Policy debate team had only four students. But in 2011, the team had a renaissance, gaining six more students, who drove them to great success over the next two years.

After this rebirth, the team quickly declined until only two debaters were left.  As was evident from the late 2000’s, all forms of debate go through periods of popularity and disfavor. The Congressional debate team, which now has over 20 members, did not exist from 2003 to 2010. It was revived and brought back to prominence under the tutelage of Tom Vavra.

Policy debate, by nature, requires a large amount of students.  It is a form of debate in which two pairs of students are debating a policy that is the same throughout the year.  The two teams are divided into the affirming team and the negating team.  The affirmative side goes speaks, presenting their case on the policy at hand, followed by the negation side, who can either present their own case or negate the case of the affirmative speaker.  This is followed by another cycle of  an affirmative and negation speech.  Each of the four students involved have ample time to present their case, and the opposing side is given time to cross examine the speaker who just went, in between negative and affirmative speakers.  Policy is also a very research-heavy form of debate; however, this is not a problem when there are ten or more debaters on the entire team.

Policy hurts students’ ability to grow in debate and academics.  By giving students fewer options to choose from and limiting the potential further growth of the entire team by discouraging students from doing debate.

Lastly, Policy debate is beneficial because the skills practiced in it are more helpful for students in the future than those of the other debate forms. Unlike Public Forum debate, which involves teams of two debaters competing and discussing rather frivolous topics, Policy debate has only one broad, governmental policy for its topic. The more serious topic allows for Policy debaters to learn more information that could prove pertinent in their lives after they graduate from Loyola.  Additionally, Policy does not have the same pervasive culture of “spreading” as Lincoln-Douglas debate, which is when a debater speaks as quickly as possible in order to present as much information as possible. This technique is detrimental to debate as a whole because it makes it difficult for judges and audience members to understand what is being said and does not allow the debaters to practice concision or articulation.

Lastly, Policy debate focuses on U.S. policies that have relevance to the present instead of logical/ethical arguments that form the basis of Lincoln-Douglas or the bills in Congressional debate, which can be about nearly anything.

With the oldest form of debate no longer present at Loyola,  students and faculty are left to ponder why cutting the team was necessary and whether that decision should be reversed.  While some might say that its relative similarity to Public Forum debate is enough for it to have been justifiably axed from Loyola or that many/all of the skills learned in Policy are the same as those learned in Public Forum, Lincoln-Douglas, or Congressional debate, there is no debate form that can match the history and elegant structure of Policy debate.

While Policy debate was not perfect, it left an indelible mark on Loyola history by winning numerous accolades and educating countless students in the art of persuasion. ,The skills it taught students were invaluable and the potential it had to bring in students to the speech and debate program were numerous.  Bringing back Policy would be difficult and strewn with challenges; however, if recent history is any indicator, enough dedicated students and a dedicated coach are sufficient to allow the phoenix that is Policy debate to rise up from the ashes of the now terminated team and blaze a bright future for Policy at Loyola.


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