The next Passion and Civility Debate Tournament will take place during the 2017-18 academic year.

Passion & Civility Debate: a 30-minute, no-preparation debate tournament

"Debate is a skill in critical thinking and rapid response. The cliché falls short, lack of knowledge is showcased and one’s weakness is exposed. We need civil debate in a time of ‘spin doctors’ and media manipulators that try to do our thinking for us. Life is too complex to let someone else form our opinions. If we had more debate, we might have less conflict." -- Fr. Rick Wilkinson, CSC, former Director of Campus Ministry, St. Edward's University

What is it?

This tournament, hosted by the Center for Ethics and Leadership and Campus Ministry, brings students together to debate the issues that affect our world. Unlike the tone of rhetoric that one might find within the current mainstream news and talk-radio, the purpose of this tournament is to promote debate topics that are passionately argued, but with civility and respect for one’s opponent. The format of the debate allows beginners and experienced debaters to enter and is intended to minimize personal investiture in a particular issue as topics and positions are not determined until the start of the debate. You might find yourself arguing for a particular stance that you personally might not support. Such a scenario is meant to help promote understanding and openness to the position of those we might be in disagreement with, and to foster the ability to assess and formulate a reasoned argument.

Why do we do this?

This tournament seeks to capture the intent of the Holy Cross understanding of forming both “mind” and “heart.” The Catholic tradition is one rooted in our current reality that we are called to navigate:

Catholic institutions need to encourage debate, even on the most controversial issues. Such debate will lead opposing sides to become more informed about one another's views and, in the long run, can promote a greater appreciation of the complexity of the created world. The mystery of Christ as revealed in creation and to creatures is a superabundant, all-encompassing reality that is continually unfolding. Careful research and free debate is essential for advancing knowledge.

St. Edward's University seeks to foster students who are “trained in creative and critical thinking as well as moral reasoning, to analyze problems, propose solutions and make responsible decisions.” Graduates are asked to “confront the critical issues of society and to seek justice and peace.” This is an explorative process that does not always offer clear direction. In the words of one Holy Cross educator: “The heart struggles with ambiguity, weighs choices, and considers consequences. The heart given space learns to risk once it finds courage and hope.” It is our hope that these debates will offer such an opportunity for students to engage global topics in a public forum, utilizing the best attributes of a Holy Cross education while providing an example to a world that tends to polarization rather than constructive debate.

So, take a risk and enter into the fray. There’s nothing to lose -- except a debate.

Tournament Directors:

James Puglisi, Associate Director of Campus Ministry, jamesjp [at] stedwards.edu, 512-233-1693

Jack Green Musselman, Director of the Center for Ethics and Leadership, jackgm [at] stedwards.edu, 512-428-1026

Sherri Defesche, Tournament Coordinator, sherrid [at] stedwards.edu, 512-464-8871

FAQs

What's most important for me to know?

No outside preparation needed
No prior debate experience required
Debates scheduled around your availability 
Prize money up to $300 for the top four finishers

What is the Passion & Civility Debate Tournament?

This tournament brings students together to debate the issues that affect our world. Unlike the tone of rhetoric that you might find within the current mainstream news and talk-radio, the purpose of this tournament is to promote debate topics that are passionately argued but with civility and respect for your opponent. Each spring or fall, the Center for Ethics and Leadership and Campus Ministry host the tournament (currently in its 10th year).

Who is eligible to sign up for it?

All traditional undergraduate students at St. Edward’s University are welcome to sign up for the debates.

Is there any prize money?

Yes! Since the tournament is single-elimination (one loss and you’re out), there will be a tie for third place. Each third place debater will receive $100. Second place will receive a check for $200. And, the grand prize is $300.

How do you schedule the debates?

Debates are scheduled around student and judge availability. In other words, we will not schedule a debate when you’re in class, at work, etc. A debate typically lasts from 30 to 45 minutes, and you would likely have a maximum of two debates in a week. This semester, the tournament will start in October until the finals in November or until you lose a debate during that time.

Do I need debate experience to join?

No. This is not the same as formal debate tournaments seen across high schools. It is much more informal. Winning relies on the structure of your argument and your ability to refute your opponent’s argument. You rely on the many skills you hone here at St. Edward’s: critical thinking, argument formation, and moral reasoning.

What kind of preparation is needed for a debate?

You do not have to prepare outside of the debates. When you arrive for your debate, you are given two topics to choose from with ample information for you to form an argument on either side.

Do I have to debate in front of other people?

Only the last four debaters will debate in front of an audience. The semi-finals and final debate will be held on November 19 at 4pm in the Mabee A Ballroom.

Who judges the debates?

We ask for faculty and staff volunteers from all areas of campus. Only one judge will be in the room with you during the first few rounds. The semi-finals will have a panel of three judges, and the final debate will have a panel of five judges.

So, why should I participate?

It is our hope that these debates will offer an opportunity for students to engage global topics in a public forum utilizing the best attributes of a Holy Cross education, while providing an example to a world that tends to polarization rather than constructive debate. For you, personally, it will be something to put on a resume; and it will sharpen your problem-solving, critical thinking, and moral reasoning skills. Some of you may get extra credit for class. You may meet new friends, and it’s fun!

How do I sign up?

A link to the registration page for the debate will be provided one month prior to the tournament.  If you have general questions, contact jamesjp [at] stedwards.edu.

 
How It Works

Debate Format


Each debate begins with a coin toss. The winner of the toss has the choice of selecting one of the two topics provided, or to defer the selection to their opponent, who will have the option to decide whether he or she will argue the affirmative or the negative position. The participants will then have 5 minutes to prepare their arguments. Once the first speech begins, each speaker has an additional preparation time of 5 minutes. For example, if the negative speaker uses 3 1⁄2 minutes of preparation time right before his/her first speech, he/she will have 1 1⁄2 minutes of preparation time to use prior to the final speech.

Judging

The main question that a judge should be concerned with is this: which contestant better supported his/her side of the topic? Verbal delivery and organization are important, but the primary voting criteria is the overall quality of a student’s arguments and the student’s refutation of their opponent’s arguments.

Generally speaking, a judge should take a Tabula Rasa (blank slate) approach to the debate.

This means that only those arguments which occur in this debate should be considered. This also means that every assumption is contestable. Finally, this means that a judge should recognize his/her bias on the subject, and avoid both the influence of that bias and the influence of overreaction to bias (i.e. trying so hard not to be biased that you end up favoring the side you personally disagree with). Judging is based on what the students are saying and not what the judge knows about the topic.

General Information

Information sessions may be scheduled for students and judges. They will cover detailed information pertaining to the tournament, including judging criteria and tips for unexperienced debaters. Dates and times for the information sessions will run in the St. Edward's e-newsletters (Horizon, Student E-News).