A Great Debate

May 06, 2010

debateOn Wednesday, April 28, members of the Rollins College Varsity Debate team participated in a historic event on Rollins’ campus.  Rollins hosted members of the revered Cambridge University (UK) Union Debating Society in a parliamentary debate on the topic of healthcare.

The debate was organized by Rollins team coaches Assistant Professor of Philosophy Eric Smaw and Visiting Assistant Professor of International Business Richard Lewin (Lewin, a Cambridge alumnus, is also a member of the Cambridge Debating Society).

According to Smaw, this was the first official debate on Rollins’ campus. The competition’s format was conducted in a combination of American and British parliamentary styles and drew an enthusiastic crowd of close to 250 students, faculty, staff and community members to the Tiedke Concert Hall.  As part of this particular style of debate, members of the audience were encouraged to shout jeers and cheers during the arguments to encourage, or voice general displeasure, of each team’s stances on issues.

debate “The debate topic of healthcare was an obvious one,” said Smaw. “Healthcare has received an incredible amount of attention from the American media over the last three months, and we knew that the Cambridge debaters would be educated on the topic because parliamentary debate requires debaters to be well informed on national and international issues.”

This British parliamentary style of debate was good practice for the Rollins team, which has been invited to participate in international competitions next year where British parliamentary style is followed.

Smaw said that the Rollins team is planning to continue the new tradition of sponsoring debates on campus by hosting competitions with Oxford (UK), Yale, and Harvard universities. 

“Our goal is to establish a venerable tradition of intellectual engagement on a variety of important social and political topics that will bring out students, staff, faculty and administration together in support of the debate team,” he said.

debateDuring Wednesday evening’s debate, members of the Rollins team held the position arguing against healthcare reform while members of the Cambridge University Union Debating Society—who received special permission to travel and participate in this debate—argued in favor of reform. 

When the closing rebuttals were complete, an audience poll revealed that the Cambridge team had emerged victorious.

Even though this particular debate didn’t fall in the Rollins team’s favor, in its third year, the debate team has achieved tremendous accomplishments.

During its inaugural year, the team ended the season ranked fourth in the Southeastern region. In 2009, the team ranked second in the Southeast, seventh in the National Parliamentary Debate Association ranking (out of 1,000 schools) and first in the national Team of Excellence rankings (out of 1,100 teams).  This spring, the team continued its success and is ranked second in the region. 

The team has also received group awards, individual speaker awards, and was recently recognized by Congressman Alan Grayson for outstanding achievement.  Smaw is looking forward to continued success in the team’s fourth year.

Students interested in learning more about the Rollins debate team should contact Eric Smaw at esmaw@rollins.edu or Richard Lewin at rlewin@rollins.edu.

 Eric Smaw thanks Academic Vice President and Provost Roger Casey for his support during the last three years. "When I brought the idea to Roger to start a debate team at Rollins, he was even more enthusiastic about the idea than I was,” Smaw said.

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