Rollins Debater Luke Kupscnzk argues against national healthcare. Photo by Judy Watson Tracy.

Cambridge debate teammembers (l-r) James Dixon, Harish Natarajan, and Jack Gamble laugh in disagreement as Rollins debater Luke Kupscnzk ’09 argues against universal healthcare. Photo by Judy Watson Tracy.

Healthy Competition

Award-winning Rollins team takes on Cambridge in healthcare debate

By Trish Moser

“You must petition for the rights of the most vulnerable among you. A poor person has as equal a right to live as a rich person.”
—James Dixon, Cambridge

“They want to offer you a false dichotomy between no healthcare and poor healthcare. However, in America, we always have choices.”
—Luke Kupscnzk ’09, Rollins

The heated debate over national healthcare reform took center stage at Rollins in April when the Rollins College Varsity Debate team hosted the revered Cambridge University (UK) Union Debating Society in a parliamentary debate on the topic. The historic event, which showcased the talents of Rollins’ three-year-old debate team, was the squad’s first official college debate held on the Rollins campus.

The competition, which was conducted in a combination of American and British parliamentary styles, drew an enthusiastic crowd of nearly 250 students, faculty, staff, and community members. As part of this particular style of debate, members of the audience were encouraged to shout cheers and jeers during the arguments to encourage or voice displeasure with each team’s stances on issues. The two-member Rollins team argued against healthcare reform, while the three members of the Cambridge University Union Debating Society—who received special permission to travel and participate in this debate—argued in favor of reform.

The healthcare debate was organized by Rollins team coaches Assistant Professor of Philosophy Eric Smaw and Visiting Assistant Professor of International Business Richard Lewin, a Cambridge alumnus and member of the Cambridge Debating Society. The two proposed the idea of hosting the event in recognition of the significant milestones being celebrated by the two institutions this year: Cambridge is celebrating its 800th anniversary and Rollins, its 125th.

Rollins debate team members Luke Kupscnzk '09 and Rachael Dziechciarz '10. Photo by Judy Watson Tracy.

Rollins debate team members Luke Kupscnzk ’09 and Rachael Dziechciarz ’10. Photo by Judy Watson Tracy.

“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.”

The 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.

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 Rollins’ favor, the team has made quite a showing in its short life. In its inaugural year, the Rollins team ended the season ranked fourth in the Southeastern region. In 2009, it ranked second in the Southeast, seventh in the National Parliamentary Debate Association rankings (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, ranking second in the region. The team has also received group awards and individual speaker awards, and was recently recognized by Florida Congressman Alan Grayson for outstanding achievement.  

According to Smaw, 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.