The Best Ballot Ever: Scott Harris’ NDT 2013 Final Round Ballot

safe_imageThis ballot by Scott Harris


What would I do if I could feel?

What would I do

If I could reach inside of me

And to know how it feels

To say I like what I see?

Then I’d be more than glad to share

All that I have inside of here.

And the songs my heart might bring

You’d be more than glad to sing.

And if tears should fall from my eyes

Just think of all the wounds they could mend.

The Tin Man from “The Wiz”


This ballot will make me no friends.  This ballot is not intended to make friends.  This ballot is about my experience judging a debate.  It was an unusual debate and this will be an unusual ballot.  Many things will be read into the meaning of my vote in this debate, more so than in most debates, because it decided a debate about debate.  Identities will be ascribed to this ballot that I have no control over.  A ballot, once cast takes on a life of its own.  This ballot will be read by some as playing a part in a historic revolution.  This ballot will be read by some as a signal of where I belong or don’t belong on their pref sheets.  This ballot will be read by some as a sign of incompetence by a crazy old man.  This ballot will elicit disagreement from those who saw the debate differently.  This ballot will frustrate both teams and probably make them both mad.    This ballot will be seen as a sell out by people from both sides of the ideological divide in debate.  This ballot will lead debaters to say “but I said that.”  This ballot will make somebody angry.  This ballot made somebody cry.  This ballot may raise more questions than it answers.  Unlike my preferred form of post round ballot this ballot is presented as a monologue and not a dialogue so those questions will hang in the air without answers.  This ballot will take me hours to produce because I can’t type.  This ballot may be the most unusual thing I have ever written.  This ballot will be filled with non sequiturs. This ballot will switch tenses randomly.  This ballot will meander.  This ballot is about my voyage to and through this debate.  Like any debater who has ridden in a van with me there is a good chance that you will get lost several times on the voyage.  This ballot may be so long that no one will actually read it.  This ballot says too much.  This ballot says too little.  This ballot will leave most people including me unsatisfied.  This ballot is about a debate.  This ballot is about debate.  This ballot is about me and my relationship to this debate.  This ballot was cast for the affirmative from Emporia.

Several years ago I was in Chicago for a National Communication Association convention and I took my family with me since I had not spent much time with them in the fall.  NCA comes at the end of the fall semester after we coaches have spent most weekends traveling away from our families.  In debate “weekend” is such a funny term since the debate weekend runs Friday through Tuesday leaving two days in town for family and teaching and cutting cards for the next “weekend.”  Upon arriving in downtown Chicago a man ran up to me and asked for money because his daughter had a crisis and had run out of gas and desperately needed money for her car because she had to get somewhere important.  He pointed to a distraught looking young woman and pleaded for help.  I gave him enough money to get some gas.  He thanked me and we headed down the street toward the convention hotel.  It would surprise no one to know that I may have made a wrong turn in heading for the hotel so we ended up backtracking a bit en route to the convention site.  As a result of my meandering I had another chance encounter with the man who had asked me for gas money.  I spotted him asking someone else for money.  In a move unusual for someone as introverted as I am I went up to him and his new target and heard him tell the same tale of woe he had told me.  I told the new target that she was being lied to because I had already given him gas money and it was obviously a con and I walked away.  The man followed me down the street and argued with me trying to convince me that he was not a con man and that his daughter really needed gas and that I was wrong to question his sincerity.  A half an hour later I was standing in the lobby of the convention hotel with my family when I was approached by two police officers who informed me that they had been tracking the father/daughter con artists and had arrested them and that they might need me to return to Chicago to testify.  One of the officers gave me the money that I had given the con man and told me to spend it on my children.  He told me, “Home comes first.”  This story may or may not have anything to do with this debate.  I will let people determine its potential meaning for themselves.

In the pre-debate introductions John Fritch introduces me as having first judged the final round of the NDT in 1985.  Lindsey Shook leans over to me and observes that the debaters and most of the judges had not yet been born in 1985.  Lindsey reminds me that I am old.  Old coaches are not frequently thought of as a meaningful category in debate but we are a somewhat rare creature.  Debate coaching is a high burn out profession.  Long term coaching of debate at an intense level is difficult to do.  The sleep schedules, food schedules and stress levels experienced over time do not seem conducive to a healthy life.  I am sick while judging this debate.  I’m sure the diet and multiple all-nighters I have experienced in the past two weeks are a contributing factor.  I am even sicker at home writing this ballot and I have pulled another all-nighter working on this ballot which is probably insane.  I am depressed because my team lost three straight break rounds on 2-1 decisions and I feel like I failed them as a coach.   I have tremendous respect for all of the coaches who devote their lives to helping others have an opportunity to debate.  I have a special admiration for those who do it with sustained excellence like Ken Strange and Dallas Perkins and Sherry Hall and Roger Solt and Donn Parson and George Ziegelmueller.  (The above is not to suggest that Sherry is old.  She is clearly a young and vibrant member of the debate community.  I would like to announce as President of the AFA that I have appointed Sherry to serve another term on the NDT Board of Trustees.  We are all extremely grateful that she has agreed to continue to serve in this capacity).  Ahh George Ziegelmueller.  The thought of George just made me cry while typing this ballot.  I owe my life to George in so many ways.  He is my father in debate and my role model.  I was in Chicago for the Northwestern tournament not long ago and I did not go visit him.  I feel terrible that I do not visit and call.  I am a bad son.  I do not love him any less despite my inattentiveness.  I have never considered myself to be on the level of the iconic figures in debate I mentioned above.  I’m just a guy who lucked into a world that has allowed a strange bird like me to have a place.  Being recognized with the Ziegelmueller award was one of the proudest and most humbling moments of my life.  I am no George Ziegelmueller,  I have been a college debate coach for over 30 years.  I am old.  In some cultures being old is thought to be a source of wisdom.  In debate being old means you are thought to be out of it.  You are thought to be less relevant.  You have voted against so many debaters and teams on so many different arguments that it is easy to be categorized as a bad judge.  It is an activity that thrives on youth who think they are inventing what debate is and are better and know more than those who preceded them.  As this ballot makes clear I do not have much wisdom to pass on despite my age.

I am unsure why my voyage has led me to judge this particular debate.  I have avoided judging the final round many years because the NDT directors have been kind and acceded to my request not to be placed on the final round panel.  I have always thought the opportunity should go to those who want to judge the debate more than I do.   This year the tab room rejected my request to avoid judging the debate.  While I was counting on the tab room to keep me out of the debate I am surprised that Emporia did not strike me from the panel.  If I were Emporia I would have struck me.  I judged Emporia against Northwestern LV at Kentucky in an elimination round earlier this year and voted for Northwestern on framework as part of a 2-1 decision.  I judged Emporia against Northwestern LV last year in the octofinals and voted for Northwestern as part of a 4-3 majority.  I judged Emporia against Northwestern in the semis at Texas last year and voted for Northwestern on Framework.  My judging philosophy makes it clear that I believe passionately that topicality is a voting issue.  I have told various teams that have prefed me who do not defend topical action that they are playing with fire ranking me highly because I believe you should defend resolutional action. I did not seek this debate but it appears to have sought me.

The subject of the debate is about debate as a home.  The introductions by each of the debaters and the 1AC are about debate as a home and how much debate and the people in it have meant to each of the participants.  I found a home in debate in the fall of 1972.  Debate changed my life.  Without debate I don’t have any idea where I would be today.  I was a painfully introverted young man growing up.  I didn’t talk to other people.  I did not speak in class.  I would do anything to avoid speaking to an adult.  Debate somehow empowered me to stand up and speak in front of other people.  My mother could not believe that I was speaking in public and had to come see it for herself.   I grew up with four brothers (and for a while a monkey but the story of JoJo is a story best left untold) in a home that was rich in love and spiritual guidance but low on finances.  My father was a part time Pentecostal minister and part time salesman.  My mother was a saint.  We were blessed in many ways.  They raised five rambunctious boys without health insurance and miraculously we avoided any catastrophes.  There was always some form of food on the table and love in our hearts and church to attend.  I wore hand me down clothes from my cousins and my brothers and the older boy next door and went to school and tried to avoid drawing attention to myself.  I debated four semesters in high school but had no idea what I was doing.  Debate camp was not a financial option for my family.  I was better at oratory than I was at debate.  One of the ironic things that allowed me to do debate was that the schedule did not conflict with church nights.  We had Tuesday/Thursday fall league debates so I didn’t have to miss Wednesday, Friday and Sunday church services.  Sports were not an option for me because the schedule conflicted with Friday church services. (The fact that I wasn’t big enough or good enough for sports might have played a role as well).  It’s ironic because when I got to college the debate schedule played havoc with the ability to attend regular church services.  Debate is an activity that in the long run conflicts with religion more than any sport ever would have.   My brothers might argue that debate was on balance a bad home for me to choose because it drove a wedge between me and my church home.  They might be right.   In high school I was greatly influenced by my coach Lynn Donges and colleague Jon Mason.  Debating in college was never really a plan for me.  Going to college was not really a plan.   I never took the SAT or ACT because college really wasn’t thought of as the normal track in my social cohort.  Working on the assembly line or driving a truck like my brothers seemed like a more likely path.  I took vocational classes in High School to learn to do printing.  I never learned how to type but instead learned how to set type by hand (a skill that was obsolete by the time I graduated).  My father got me a job sweeping out a Midas Muffler shop after graduation.  When the fall came I had grown disillusioned with sweeping up rust and looked into Wayne State University as the only school that would admit me without requiring college admission tests.  I initially didn’t find school much more stimulating than the muffler shop.  One day I spotted a sign on campus encouraging people to come to a reception to join the debate or forensics team.  The sign said “Richard Nixon debated—you should to.”  I decided to go to the reception to look into joining the forensics team.  At the reception one of the members of the squad told me I didn’t want to do individual events but should do debate instead.  I did and my life has never been the same.  I learned how to debate in college.  Two practice rounds every week were required.  My world was rocked by George Ziegelmueller, Jack Kay, Ron Lee, Vince Follert, Mike Wavada, Gerry Cox, Bill and Pam Benoit, Tuna Snider and other coaches who taught me how to debate, how to breathe without sounding like a wounded animal, and how to think.  It was in debate that I first stayed in a hotel room.  Family vacations in the Harris family involved sleeping in a packed car at a rest area.  Debate allowed me to fly on a plane.  Debate allowed me to experience eating in restaurants (although many of my colleagues on the Wayne squad questioned whether Bill Knapps qualified).  I would never have finished college if I had not found debate as a home.  My voyage has taken me from Wayne State to Northwestern to Louisville and finally to Kansas.   I did not ever have a plan to make debate the rest of my life it somehow just happened.  I found a home in debate and I have never left.  I am very passionate about my belief in the value of this activity.

The content of this debate is about the role of the ballot.  Each team wants this ballot to make a declarative statement about the debate activity.  The affirmative wants my ballot to make a declaration about inclusivity for argumentative diversity.  The negative wants my ballot to make a declaration about the relevance and power of switch side debate as potential for impacting the external world.  A debate in which each sides is saying a vote for them is about making a declarative statement about the role of my ballot is problematic for me.  Several years ago after I had voted for Emory in a debate in which they discussed their Jewish identity in response to a Louisville team that discussed their identity I was braced by Louisville coaches with the question “What is the role of your ballot.”  My response then was that the role of my ballot was to decide who won the arguments as presented in the debate.  I have not changed my judging philosophy.   I view my role in a debate as centered on declaring who I think won the arguments in the debate.  This ballot is not intended to be an endorsement of the resistance movement Emporia claims to represent nor is it intended to send a signal rejecting the use of the framework argument by Northwestern.  This ballot represents my opinion on who made an argument in the debate that was more persuasive to me.   My core philosophy on debate is unchanged by this debate.    I still fundamentally believe that debating the topic is important and valuable and that affirmatives ought to debate the resolution.  This ballot is not intended to be a repudiation of that core concept.  I also believe that debate needs to do more to promote diversity within debate in a wide range of areas.  Both final round teams are a representation of diversity within the activity.  This ballot argues that Emporia won this debate in a very close decision based on a couple of arguments that could have been handled a little differently by Northwestern.

For me this debate was decided around one core framing issue which might be called the permutation.  Permutation is a misleading label because it is Emporia’s advocacy from the 1AC.  As I interpret the affirmative argument it is a call based on the hail of “The Wiz” to “Ease on down the road together.”  It is a call for moving hand in hand forward to a future that includes multiple forms of debate which include switch side policy debate and debates in which an individual may make a home through performance as a site of resistance within the debate space.  It is partly an argument about debate as debate generally and partly an argument about what Emporia should be allowed to do to access their agency in this specific debate.  It is not premised on a rejection of policy debate writ large but as an argument for spaces of exception for individuals whose personal experience and agency do not fit in that model of debate.  There are many other potential interpretations of “The Wiz” and there is some fascinating literature on the differing progressive political allegories in Baum’s original book version of “The Wizard of Oz and its transformation into racial allegories in the movie “The Oz” that may make this permutation an unusual reading of the movie but that has little relevance to the debate as it takes place.  Arguments about the meaning of  “The Wiz” and its relationship to home and community might have made for an interesting but very different debate.

The negative argument is based on the claim that all debates must be oriented around the pursuit of government policy as advocated by the resolution.  The principle warrant for this claim is based on the idea that policy debate about government action is good.  Northwestern clearly wins that traditional policy debate is valuable in its production of trained advocates on policy questions.  Emporia’s argument in the 1AR and 2AR is that traditional policy debate is good for those who can make use of those skills but that there should also be a space for individuals whose needs are to performatively challenge oppressive structures in their everyday lives.   The affirmative advocacy is for the both/and or in the affirmative’s words “the and, and, and.”  The negative vision creates a world of forced choice—of debate as an either or—of debate the resolution or don’t debate.  The affirmative model advocates a model of debate that captures the advantages of political debate and the advantages of socially inclusive sites of performance that allow the excluded to speak.

For me the negative under develops the extent to which a forced choice that excludes the affirmative approach in every debate is essential.  I think the negative should have developed more of a traditional limits type argument.  The argument that allowing this affirmative to make the debate about their social location would enable every debate to be framed about a different social location and that there would be a tremendous incentive for fewer and fewer debates to talk about the topic.  That the permutation is a bad idea because in the world of the permutation there would be a vested interest in more and more debates crowding out the political debates.  In other words, I think the link to the loss of traditional political research and debate from embracing the affirmatives approach in some debates is not developed enough by the negative.  The 2NR does say that under the affirmative vision there would be no limits to what the affirmative talks about  but the focus is on how that impacts on the ability of the negative to prepare for debates rather than making it about an argument of what debate would look like in the world of the permutation.  The negative could also have argued for the importance of Quare individuals specifically to discuss questions of politics and energy policy in particular or answered more specifically the affirmatives assertions that government policy had no relevance to them.  The affirmative Quare specificity arguments are late breaking in the debate since they only appear in CX and in rebuttals but the negative does not really address them explicitly.  Had these arguments for why the permutation was a bad idea been developed more I would most likely have voted negative in this debate.  I am sure that Northwestern’s reaction to this explanation will be to feel “that is what we said.”  While I think it is the implicit intent behind their arguments I do not believe that these arguments as a response to the perm are explored sufficiently in the 2NR.  I believe that the permutation absorbs most of the negatives offense for why policy debates will be good and then some debates that encourage performative resistance will also be good.  I think the negative wins that the framework argument itself is not violent and that voting negative to exclude the aff would not be an act of violence.  That does not mean, however, that there is not an inclusion advantage to voting affirmative.

The negative defensive argumentation against the permutation is that you can have narratives that talk about policy questions.  This is indisputably true.  However, I don’t think it answers the affirmatives claim about how their advocacy creates a unique ability to access sites of resistance that are not confined to institutional issues.  While I don’t think the Johnson evidence is quite as “on fire” as the 2AR thinks, it does make an argument about the importance of the ability of the LGBT body to direct performance as a site of resistance through the strategy of disidentification.  The permutation allows the affirmative to access the exploration of exclusion within the debate activity itself that the negative permutation of combining performance with institutional focus cannot access.  The negative methodology does not allow a performative site of resistance that can focus on making debate itself a home.  Perhaps the negative could have talked about alternative ways of approaching debate institutions as a means of reforming debate to create a permutation that would talk about how institutional focus would be a better methodology for reforming debate but I don’t get how the method advocated in this debate allows the affirmative to offer a site of resistance directed at debate.  The negative is left without a method that makes debate performatively and methodologically a home.  For me they needed to talk about how their methodology achieved that goal.  Instead they chose to offer a methodology that made debate exclusively about pursuing different goals.

There are two pieces of offense I think the negative still has against the permutation.  The first is the fairness argument.  I am very unclear what the impact to the fairness argument is in the 2NR.  She says that “it turns the inclusion argument” but I don’t understand the warrant for that claim.  I don’t understand how fairness makes the affirmative more included in the debate space or how the Quare body is more included or how it enables sites of performative resistance as articulated in the Johnson evidence.  The 2NR chooses not to extend an independent impact to fairness itself which puzzled me.  It allowed the 2AR to make arguments about fairness for whom and why access comes first.  This could/should have been developed more as an impact in its own right as an overarching indictment of the affirmative mode of debating.




The second piece of negative offense is the case turn that focuses on the claim that focus on identity politics in a debate trades off with the government focus limiting the energy that can be focused on solving problems like warming.  The evidence for the case turn argument is quite good.  The affirmative says that there is no link because they are not identity politics but I am unclear how this distinction avoids the link since they clearly do not focus on government policy.  The problem is that the permutation makes the magnitude of the link pretty small.  If the number of debates in which individuals of identity who feel they don’t have access to the political space is small (Quare individuals being the individuals who it is argued to apply to in this debate) then the link is pretty tiny.  The idea that if the Emporia debaters only had done this debate about warming then they would have slightly better advocacy skills (although they seem to have pretty good advocacy skills in this debate) and they might make a marginal improvement in our ability to find a solution to warming somehow.  This link is pretty tenuous at a pragmatic level.  The 2NR tries to frame it as “even if you think there is only 1% chance of spill over the impact is extinction.”  I think the risk that this debate or a handful of debates about debate prevented us from solving global warming to be 1 to the power of infinity not 1 percent.  For me the pragmatic impact the affirmative wins that their methodology facilitates the opportunity to create a home for individuals who can’t find one anywhere else outweighs.  While the impact to the affirmative argument impacts a small number of individuals the magnitude of the link seems fairly large.  Having a home seems important.  While the negative framed the case argument as a magnitude risk impact I don’t find it very compelling given what I perceive the infinitesimally small link to the argument in the face of the permutation.

Northwestern makes an argument in the 2NR that I think is an important argument.  They argue that tying the ballot to whether or not someone is included is problematic because someone has to lose the debate.  I think this argument had the potential to be a powerful indictment of the affirmative’s methodology.  For me, the argument could have been impacted more as an offensive argument on the impact of that method for the home.  I perceive it to be deployed more as a solvency argument.  The affirmative answer is that it presupposes that the only way to debate the affirmative is to reject their ability to make arguments in the first place.  The affirmative suggests that there are other ways to debate them that don’t require negating their ability to have talked about their identity.  What those other forms of argument might be are never developed but are left at the level of the claim that those debates can take place (there was an oblique reference to Wake’s strategy earlier in the tournament) and the claim that it is Northwestern who is refusing to engage the arguments in the debate.  The implication is that it is only the framework strategy that forces a rejection of identity and not the inclusion of performative identity based arguments themselves.

The 2NR uses the word home only once.  There is a brief line that the affirmative destroys home in the context of the negative.  For me this argument needed to be made a larger part of the negatives argument.  It would have been more compelling if the negative talked about how the competing methodologies impacted on the nature of debate as a home.  The bulk of the impact framing instead concentrated around how policy debate impacts on the world outside of debates.  What was missing for me from the negative strategy was a discussion of how traditional policy debate positively creates a home for debaters.  I do not see a positive vision of debate creating a home in the negatives arguments.  The affirmative gets away with saying that Northwestern can only make assumptions about what nontraditional debates look like because they have never tried to be in one of those debates.  They have never switched sides on those questions.  How those debates impact debate itself is left unclear for me based on the arguments in this debate.  The negatives argument would have been more powerful for me if it had discussed the impact of Emporia’s methodology on debate as a home.  What effect does a methodology that privileges the ability to say whatever is important to you have on everyone else in the home?  How does a demand for inclusion impact on the foundations of the home?  How does it do violence to everyone else in the home?   How does it impact on the pedagogical value of education that occurs in the home?  What kind of home does it become if the right to talk about yourself trumps all other values the home stands for?

For me the negative’s arguments end up too centered around why their method is good and not centered enough around why the affirmative’s method is bad.  It is what for me allows the “and, and, and” to access the idea that it is possible to construct a method of debate that includes promoting the values of switch side debate and opens occasional moments for individuals to access their perfomative agency as a site of resistance within debate.  I think the negative could have done more to develop arguments on the implications of the competing methodologies for the home and less about how debate training can stop environmental destruction.  There are momentary glimpses and hints at those arguments in the negative speeches but I do not perceive it to be the central framing of the arguments.   This may be one of the frustrating dilemmas surrounding framework/topicality debates where different judges value different impacts.  In a post round discussion with a judge earlier this year who did not vote for one of my teams making a framework argument she said that our impacts on limits and destruction of the ability to debate were not real impacts but we needed external impacts like warming or something.  I was frustrated by that response.  Here I find myself saying that I wanted the negative to make more impact claims about how choosing to refuse the resolution impacts on debate itself and talk less about external impacts like warming.  The Northwestern coaches will be frustrated by that response.  It is the nature of debate.  Judges always seem to want us to emphasize a different aspect of the argument and judges view different impacts as more important.   I am very close to voting negative in this debate but at the end of the day I did not think that the negative did a sufficient job in answering the value of creating a home and decided that the world of the permutation created the best vision of a home based on the arguments advanced.

I understand that there has been some criticism of Northwestern’s strategy in this debate round.  This criticism is premised on the idea that they ran framework instead of engaging Emporia’s argument about home and the Wiz.  I think this criticism is unfair.  Northwestern’s framework argument did engage Emporia’s argument.  Emporia said that you should vote for the team that performatively and methodologically made debate a home.  Northwestern’s argument directly clashed with that contention.  My problem in this debate was with aspects of the execution of the argument rather than with the strategy itself.  It has always made me angry in debates when people have treated topicality as if it were a less important argument than other arguments in debate.   Topicality is a real argument.  It is a researched strategy.  It is an argument that challenges many affirmatives.  The fact that other arguments could be run in a debate or are run in a debate does not make topicality somehow a less important argument.  In reality, for many of you that go on to law school you will spend much of your life running topicality arguments because you will find that words in the law matter.  The rest of us will experience the ways that word choices matter in contracts, in leases, in writing laws and in many aspects of our lives.  Kansas ran an affirmative a few years ago about how the location of a comma in a law led a couple of districts to misinterpret the law into allowing individuals to be incarcerated in jail for two days without having any formal charges filed against them.  For those individuals the location of the comma in the law had major consequences.  Debates about words are not insignificant.  Debates about what kinds of arguments we should or should not be making in debates are not insignificant either.  The limits debate is an argument that has real pragmatic consequences.  I found myself earlier this year judging Harvard’s eco-pedagogy aff and thought to myself—I could stay up tonight and put a strategy together on eco-pedagogy, but then I thought to myself—why should I have to?  Yes, I could put together a strategy against any random argument somebody makes employing an energy metaphor but the reality is there are only so many nights to stay up all night researching.  I would like to actually spend time playing catch with my children occasionally or maybe even read a book or go to a movie or spend some time with my wife.  A world where there are an infinite number of affirmatives is a world where the demand to have a specific strategy and not run framework is a world that says this community doesn’t care whether its participants have a life or do well in school or spend time with their families.  I know there is a new call abounding for interpreting this NDT as a mandate for broader more diverse topics.  The reality is that will create more work to prepare for the teams that choose to debate the topic but will have little to no effect on the teams that refuse to debate the topic.  Broader topics that do not require positive government action or are bidirectional will not make teams that won’t debate the topic choose to debate the topic.  I think that is a con job.  I am not opposed to broader topics necessarily.  I tend to like the way high school topics are written more than the way college topics are written.  I just think people who take the meaning of the outcome of this NDT as proof that we need to make it so people get to talk about anything they want to talk about without having to debate against topicality or framework arguments are interested in constructing a world that might make debate an unending nightmare and not a very good home in which to live.  Limits, to me, are a real impact because I feel their impact in my everyday existence.

I want to make a side comment (as if it’s possible to identify anything in this ballot as the front or back) about Northwestern.  While Northwestern has become a debate machine with a record of success that is frightening, the work effort and commitment that Northwestern puts into debate is to be respected and admired.  This year I voted against all three Northwestern teams at this NDT.  I may move down their pref sheets as a result but that is the nature of judging.  Last year I voted for all three Northwestern teams in elimination rounds and was on the top of a 4-3 and two 3-2 decisions so they probably won’t drop me too far.  One of the things that impresses me most about Northwestern teams is their work ethic and desire to get better.  I have had Northwestern students e-mail me on multiple occasions to ask my extended thoughts about arguments in debate rounds I have judged.  The desire to learn how to get better is an amazing commitment that Northwestern students bring to the table.   I mention this with a bit of trepidation because I do not want to be inundated with e-mails from debaters asking me about rounds and arguments.  To be fair I haven’t even responded to many of the e-mails Northwestern debaters have sent me (or as my debaters can attest to many of their e-mails either).  I only mention this as an acknowledgement of the commitment that Northwestern brings to working on debate.  That commitment is not unique to Northwestern but I thought it bore a mention in this ballot.  Northwestern does not deserve to be treated as if it is symbolic of problems in debate, the Northwestern program represents things that are right about debate.

While this ballot has meandered off on a tangent I’ll take this opportunity to comment on an unrelated argument in the debate.  Emporia argued that oppressed people should not be forced to role play being the oppressor.  This idea that debate is about role playing being a part of the government puzzles me greatly.  While I have been in debate for 40 years now never once have I role played being part of the government.  When I debated and when I have judged debates I have never pretended to be anyone but Scott Harris.  Pretending to be Scott Harris is burden enough for me.  Scott Harris has formed many opinions about what the government and other institutions should or should not do without ever role playing being part of those institutions.  I would form opinions about things the government does if I had never debated.  I cannot imagine a world in which people don’t form opinions about the things their government does.  I don’t know where this vision of debate comes from.  I have no idea at all why it would be oppressive for someone to form an opinion about whether or not they think the government should or should not do something.  I do not role play being the owner of the Chiefs when I argue with my friends about who they should take with the first pick in this year’s NFL draft.   I do not role play coaching the basketball team or being a player if I argue with friends about coaching decisions or player decisions made during the NCAA tournament.  If I argue with someone about whether or not the government should use torture or drone strikes I can do that and form opinions without ever role playing that I am part of the government.  Sometimes the things that debaters argue is happening in debates puzzle me because they seem to be based on a vision of debate that is foreign to what I think happens in a debate round.

This ballot recognizes that reality is socially constructed.  The reality of my interpretation of the arguments in the debate can be disputed and disagreed with.  When I judge debates on panels I sometimes agree more with the reasoning of the judges who vote against me than the judges who vote with me.  Being in a 3-2 decision on this panel does not make me “right” and the judges who voted the other way “wrong.”  This ballot could have been written to justify a win by the negative. There are many areas of the flow where the negative is clearly ahead and there are arguments the negative made that are not answered by the affirmative.  This ballot is not more correct because it is part of a majority.  The last time I judged the final round of the NDT I was part of the minority of a 3-2 decision and in my socially constructed reality the Emory team of Bailey/Ghali won the NDT on topicality.  Rod Phares and I saw the debate in exactly the same way.  It is why when ranking the greatest teams of all time I rank Bailey/Ghali higher than others do because I define them as an NDT winner.  Some may dispute this ballots reading of what is and is not the nature of the arguments in this debate or the relative importance given to those arguments.   Northwestern will think they made the arguments this ballot says they needed to have made to win this ballot.  Reality is for each of us a product of our social constructions.

The fact that reality is socially constructed is manifest in other ways in this debate round.  The 1AR makes a claim during the debate that during the awards banquet whites stood up for whites and blacks stood up for blacks.  I know this claim to be factually incorrect.  I was present in the room.  I know when I stood or didn’t stand and I know when many others stood or did not stand.  The awards ceremony has long been a process that fascinates me.  The process of standing to recognize the achievements of particular teams or individuals is used in many different ways.  It is most often used as a sign of the solidarity of Districts.  Most people stand for teams from their district.  There are many other reasons people stand for particular teams.  Some people stand to recognize seniors.  Some stand to recognize their friends.  Some stand to recognize people who have dealt with some adversity such as being pulled up four consecutive years in round eight.  (That seems like one of the most unfair things I have heard of at the NDT).  Some stand to recognize debaters they have judged frequently.  Some stand to recognize first round teams who did not clear or who lost in the doubles.    I have always thought that the most important ovations are for the debaters at their final NDT who did not clear but are uniquely respected by the community.  There are individual students over the years that I have had a certain amount of pride in watching the community stand up for at the award ceremony.  I felt good that Melanie and Amanda got a large ovation this year.  There are two that stand out as particular memories for me.  I felt pride for two students who debated for me but finished their careers debating for others.  I was proud of the ovation Chris Thomas received his senior year.  I was proud of the ovation Daryl Burch received his senior year.   I know that the claim made in the debate is factually incorrect and yet for some it is perceived to be a reality.  Reality is socially constructed.  What this ballot wants to reflect on is why reality gets constructed the way it does.  I have always wanted my standing to mean something special which is why I stand less frequently.  I stood for Emporia because it meant something to me.  They are from my district, they are a first round, they are persons of color and one of them is a senior who is a four time qualifier for the NDT who I think is a phenomenally talented debater.   Those are auto stand check boxes for me standing.   I have never given much thought to the feelings of debaters for whom I do not choose to stand.  While standing is an act of affirmation the debaters who I do not stand for can read it as an act of rejection.  It can be interpreted in ways it is never intended.  I do not know where the perception that standing is racially divided comes from but I cannot deny that someone’s perceptions of reality are reality for them.   Meaning is given to behaviors that become reality for individuals regardless of the accuracy of those perceptions.  I do not talk to very many people in the debate community.  While debate empowered me in many ways I am still an incredibly introverted person for whom social interaction is often a painful experience.  I have never really reflected on the fact that people whom I don’t talk to will read my not talking to them as a sign of dislike or disrespect or just some kind of dis in general.  I cannot control how others will construct reality around my actions but I do need to be more self-conscious about the fact that my communication behaviors have influence beyond my intentions.



This ballot, like the introductions by the debaters, is running and rambling far longer than intended.  This ballot is going to say things that might be better left unsaid.  This ballot may say things that will get me in trouble and make people angry with me.  This ballot seems to have taken on a life of its own.  Like the honey badger this ballot doesn’t give a (word that starts with my initials) about what people think.  Actually, this ballot probably cares too much about what people think.  This ballot is not intended to be a Jerry Maguire type manifesto but this ballot feels the need to express opinions about the events of the past few weeks.  This ballot is intended to be self-reflexive about my own role in the debate community.  This ballot is intended to be a call for self-reflexivity by everyone in the debate community.  This ballot is not intended to tell people what to think but to encourage people to do more reflexive thinking.



This ballot believes that there is much for the debate community to be proud of at this NDT.  Weber State did a phenomenal job hosting the tournament.  Idaho State did an equally fabulous job in hosting CEDA nationals.  Both Emporia and Northwestern should be proud of their achievements in reaching the final round.  Emporia should be especially proud to be the first team to win both the CEDA and NDT championships. There was success for minorities at the top of the bracket and in elimination rounds that is historic.  All four members of the final round represented underrepresented minorities in debate (although oddly the content of the debate acted as if one of the teams were composed of two white males).  The debate might be read as a historic moment in debate as significant as Obama winning the presidency.  The fact that two students who are the product of urban debate league backgrounds won the NDT is a tremendous moment in debate that reflects on the opportunity for achievement and success that can be obtained in debate.  This debate has affirmed that debate can be a welcoming home.


This ballot believes however that there are many ways in which the debate home has a long way to go and many issues to work on.  Participation numbers for minorities are still too low in debate.  We also have significant gender problems in debate that seem to be invisible and unacknowledged.  Last year I did not even notice that my team was the only team competing at the NDT composed of two females.  This year there were only four such teams.  This year 34 of the 156 competitors were female.  From 1947 until 2013 I believe the percent of female participants have ranged from 14-24%.   This year it was 22%.  Given that women make up 57% of the collegiate student population those numbers seem incredibly consistently low.  The number of women and minorities in the judging pool and coaching ranks are way too low.   The diversity of the judges in the elimination round pool is too low.  This ballot does not purport to know the answer to these problems but the community needs to continue to work on making opportunities in debate broader than they have been to this point.  I do not tend to believe that the key to participation lies in letting people say whatever they want in debates.  I think the answer lies in more minority scholarships and more connections between the collegiate community and urban debate leagues that result in opportunities to attend college.

This ballot has concerns about the messages this debate sends about what it means to be welcomed into the home of debate.  Northwestern made an argument that spoke to this concern that could have been more developed in the debate itself.  This debate seemed to suggest that the sign that debate can be your home is entirely wrapped up in winning debates.  The message seems to be that the winner is accepted and the loser is rejected.  I believe that the arguments Northwestern advanced in the debate that being voted against is not a sign of personal rejection and that voting against an argument should not be perceived as an act of psychic violence are important arguments to reflect on.  To me one of the most important lessons that debate teaches is that there is a difference between our arguments and our personhood.  One of the problems in out contemporary society is that people have trouble differentiating between arguments and the identity of the person making the argument.  If you hate the argument you must hate the person making the argument because we have trouble differentiating people from their arguments.  The reason many arguments end up in violent fights in society is the inability to separate people from their arguments.  People outside of debate (or the law) are often confused by how debaters (or lawyers) can argue passionately with one another and then be friends after the argument.  It is because we generally separate our disagreements over arguments from our opinions about each other as people.  There are two concerns this ballot has about the implications of where this debate has positioned us as a community.  First, the explosion of arguments centered in identity makes it difficult to separate arguments from people.  If I argue that a vote for me is a vote for my ability to express my Quare identity it by definition constructs a reality that a vote against me is a rejection of my identity.  The nature of arguments centered in identity puts the other team in a fairly precarious position in debates and places the judges in uncomfortable positions as well.  While discomfort may not necessarily be a bad thing it has significant implications for what debating and deciding debates means or is perceived to mean in socially constructed realities.   I hope we can get beyond a point where the only perceived route to victory for some minority debaters is to rail against exclusion in debate.



The second concern is the emphasis on winning as the sign evidence of debate being a home.  The reality is that many debaters do not win the majority of their debates.  The majority of debaters will never win the NDT.  The majority of debaters will never attend the NDT.  Every debate has a loser.  Losing should not be a sign of expulsion from the home.  Years ago on van trips we used to play a game which we called the green weenie award.  We would take the results packet and have everyone in the van guess who was the team that was the bottom seed of the tournament.  The game may have had a certain amount of arrogant cruelty in it.  I would sometimes wonder what it was that made the teams who didn’t win debates, who didn’t ever clear, come back the next week.  As a community we get so caught up sometimes in defining our wins as successes and our losses as failures that we have lost sight of what it is that makes debate a special home in the first place.  Debate cannot only be a home for the winner or it would by definition have become not a home for the majority of its participants.  This ballot hopes that we can learn to recognize that the experience of losing debates is part of being welcomed in debate as well.  Getting the opportunity to debate itself has tremendous value.  The value is not contained in the win but is contained in the experience itself.  As a coach I have to remember sometimes that my failures are only failures if I view them as failures.  I need to make sure that I value all of my debaters equally whether they win their debates or lose them.  When my teams lose I need to not view them as losers or the judges who voted against them as villains.  Debate is an educational process.  We often learn more when we lose than when we win.  Debate tends to attract hyper-competitive people who hate to lose.  I hate to lose.  I do not want to lose at anything.  Losing is an inevitable part of life.  Debate needs to feel like a home for both the winners and the losers because all of us experience losing in debate.  Learning how to win with class and lose with dignity is an important life lesson that I need to constantly work on myself.  Learning to value the losses as much as the wins is the hardest part for me but I believe it is vital if debate is really going to be a home for all of its participants.



This ballot is a call for reflection.  It is a brief glimpse into my own post NDT final round reflection.  I hope that the community as a whole will reflect on the positive and negative lessons to learn from this NDT.  I also hope that members of the community who self-identify with the resistance movement will be reflexive as well.  Any revolution leaves violence in its wake and there were many signs of violence in the past couple of weeks as well.  There was what was described to me as an ugly confrontation in the quarters of CEDA that left one of my debaters severely disillusioned with what she thought was a solidarity movement.  I watched a debate in which a woman was not allowed to answer questions in cross examination that made me incredibly uncomfortable.  There was post round treatment of judges by losing teams that left judges whom I respect highly devastated and questioning whether or not they wanted to be part of this community.   I have heard from NDT alumni who found the online comments during the debate so offensive that they questioned whether they wanted to continue considering debate a home they should be financially supporting.  There have been perceptions of reality produced that leave me puzzled.  I heard there were claims of a vast media conspiracy that Emporia’s win would be less reported in the media than the wins of other teams because of the color of their skin.  That is so absurd in so many ways that the fact that anyone would perceive it to be reality leaves me sad, and maybe a little frightened.  If debate is to be truly a home we all need to look beyond our narrow self-interest of winning debates or pursuing our own social agenda and think about the reality of how we treat others around us.  If this is to be a home we all need to be more reflexive about the social realities we construct.  I am concerned that some members of the resistance are so busy socially constructing enemies that they may lose sight of who their allies are as they throw them under the bus.  I have had people tell me that Kansas will never win CEDA because we aren’t peopley enough to win “The People’s Championship.”  Clearly many believed prior to this weekend that there was a conspiracy to keep teams with alternative forms of arguing from winning the NDT.  I think both of those constructions of reality are, and always have been, a bunch of nonsense.  I have faith in the people in this community.  I have faith in argument and arguing.  I believe that the way to win debates is to make better arguments and that better arguments are what get rewarded in debates.  I believe that one of the most important things said in the final round was the claim made by Northwestern that “debate is bigger than any one person.”  I believe in debate.  I believe in the debate community.  I believe that debate is one of the most valuable educational programs in the country and I am proud that it is my home.





Everybody look around

Cause there’s a reason to rejoice you see

Everybody come out

Everybody look up

And feel the hope that we’ve been waiting for

Everybody’s glad

Because our silent fear and dread is gone.

Freedom, you see has got our hearts singing so joyfully

Can’t you feel a brand new day?

Can’t you feel a brand new day?

Can’t you feel a brand new day?

Can’t you feel a brand new day?

Hello world

It’s like a different way of living now

And thank you world

We always knew that we’d be free somehow in harmony

And show the world that we’ve got liberty.

“A Brand New Day”

Dorothy from “The Wiz”