FAQ: Getting Started

How do I join the team?

Joining the Sanford I. Berman Debate Forum is easy. If you have experience in policy debate, you should fill out and submit the "Student Interest Form," then email it to Dr. Jake Thompson, and Dr. Thompson will be in touch with you shortly. If you do not have prior experience in competitive policy debate, then we ask that you take COM 217 (Argumentation and Debate) before joining the team. This class is designed to give you a primer on all of the basic components of policy debate, and "walk-on" students are encouraged to join the team following completion of COM 217. There are no tryouts or auditions for the team. It is open to all students interested in competitive policy debate.

Where and when are regular team meetings?

The debate team meets three times weekly in the debate squad room: CBC-C 324. We meet regularly on Wednesday evenings from 5 to 7:30 p.m. In addition, we will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2:30 to 3:45 p.m. These Tuesday/Thursday meetings are scheduled as part of the Department of Communication Studies class Intercollegiate Forensics (COM 105, 106, 205, 206, 305, 306, 405, and 406).

In which debate formats can I participate at UNLV?

UNLV competes solely in NDT/CEDA policy debate. The UNLV coaching staff is convinced that policy debate is most pedagogically sound forensic activity. Policy debate is unrivaled in its ability to optimize a student’s research and argumentation skills, critical-thinking skills, and policy analysis skills. Individual Events, Lincoln-Douglas debate, Parliamentary Debate, Model United Nations, and Congress are not offered or supported through the Sanford I. Berman Debate Forum.

Is high school policy debate experience a requirement for participation?

It is possible, although difficult, to effectively transition from speech, Lincoln-Douglas debate, or parliamentary debate to collegiate policy debate. There are a few examples of students who have done so successfully, but their ability to transition to collegiate policy debate was largely a function of their personal motivation, work ethic, and intelligence. Some members of the Sanford I. Berman Debate Forum have had no previous experience with policy debate in high school. In most cases, students without previous experience in high school policy debate should take COM 217 before joining the team. College policy debate differs greatly from alternative forms of high school debate such as Public Forum, Lincoln-Douglas, and Congress. The transition to policy debate will be tough, but with a lot of hard work and determination, previous non-policy debaters can become great NDT debaters.

If I participated in speech or debate activities other than policy debate in high school, can I easily transition to policy debate?

Those students without high school policy debate experience should take COM 217 before joining the team. However, high school debate experience is not a requirement for participating in debate at UNLV. Most students on the UNLV debate team have participated in high school debate, but their level of experience varies. As a side note, one of the best debate partners that Dr. Thompson ever had (Angela Cowan — participant in the elimination rounds of the 1997 NDT) never debated in high school. It is possible to debate in college never having done so in high school, but it is difficult, it requires serious motivation, and it involves a great deal of hard work. It would be the equivalent of never having played a sport in high school and then trying to join the UNLV football or basketball team. This would be possible to do if you love the activity, work incredibly hard, and are seriously motivated to improve, but it also would be very difficult to accomplish.

Should I participate in debate my freshman year, or is it better to put it off until I have acclimated to UNLV for a year?

Students who are interested in debate should absolutely participate during their freshman year. If you love debate, why waste an entire year not debating? Any student who aspires to the highest levels of success should definitely debate during his or her first year of college.

I participated in policy debate for four years in high school, but I never competed on the "national circuit." Could I still debate at UNLV?

Absolutely — although UNLV actively recruits debaters who have competed on the national circuit, we also recognize that many of the best collegiate debaters in the nation competed largely on the regional or state level in high school.

What are the differences between high school and collegiate debate?

There are quite a few differences between college and high school debate, but they are not really unexpected or mind-boggling. There are probably several differences in addition to the six that are outlined below, but these are the differences that strike the UNLV coaching staff as truly important.

First, the judging pool is much better in college than it is in high school. To be sure, there are highly qualified judges with extensive prior debate experience — especially on the national high school debate circuit — but most of the "best" high school judges are college debaters. Generally speaking, the worst college judge would be considered an amazing high school judge. You will never be judged by a random mom, dad, or bus driver in NDT/CEDA debate. All college judges have participated in high school and college debate.

A sports analogy illustrates the second key difference. If you played football in high school and then went on to play it in college, the differences that you'd notice are that the game is faster, you have to work harder to be good, some teams you compete against have a variety of different strategies that you may not be overly familiar with, and you have to be more diligent about balancing school and your participation in the activity. The exact same differences exist between high school and college debate. In college debate, people speak faster (which you can adapt to, and generally faster talking leads to debaters thinking faster and learning more — which is a good thing). You have to work harder. An in-depth understanding of the amount of work required will naturally come with time, but college debate definitely requires more work than high school debate does. One factor that offsets the increased workload is the fact that everyone on the UNLV debate team will work collectively. We will share all of our evidence and will all work for the benefit of the entire team. In terms of different strategies, you may hear some pretty groundbreaking arguments in college, and perhaps you may decide to run them. The UNLV coaching staff will help you adapt to and beat those strategies. In any case, these alternative arguments are frequently interesting and can give you a new perspective on argumentation or debate.

Third, in college you have to be much more diligent about balancing school and your participation in the activity. Because of the increased workload, debate will take up more of your time in college. The extra amount that it takes up depends on your level of commitment, your personal goals, and your school schedule. In college, you will have to become more efficient in the way you use your time — that applies whether or not you debate.

Fourth, in college debate there is more coach input, research, and strategizing. Coaches will work with you to help you improve. We will help you refine strategies, we will do research assignments, and we will listen to you debate and deliver redo speeches so that you are constantly growing, learning, and improving as a debater.

Fifth, college debate is more about depth of knowledge and understanding arguments. That's not to say that high school debaters don't become experts on certain arguments, but in college debate, you have to really understand a multitude of arguments and the arguments made by most of the other teams in the activity. College debate is more nuanced than high school debate. You'll not often win a college debate by simply extending a few dropped arguments.

Finally, and most importantly, the rewards for debating in college are bigger. You learn more, you have better competition and judging, and you network with smart, interesting, and influential people. The travel is better, the competition is cost-free for students, and the coaching is more active. I can personally attest that competing in college debate was the greatest thing that I ever did.

What topics does the debate team actually debate about?

Each academic year, the Sanford I. Berman Debate Forum debates a different resolution, which is chosen by a vote of the NDT/CEDA debate community. The resolution that we debate is the ultimate product of an initial topic area vote. The results of the topic area vote are announced around the end of April. Once a topic area has been chosen, the NDT/CEDA topic committee meets and determines wording for several different possible resolutions directly related to the topic area. The NDT/CEDA debate community votes for its most preferred resolution. The results of the vote for the precise resolution that we debate for the entire year are typically announced on the last Friday in July.

The 2013-14 NDT/CEDA Resolution is:

Resolved: The United States Federal Government should substantially increase statutory and/or judicial restrictions on the war powers authority of the President of the United States in one or more of the following areas: targeted killing; indefinite detention; offensive cyber operations; or introducing United States Armed Forces into hostilities.

The resolution that we debated in 2012-13 was:

Resolved: The United States Federal Government should substantially reduce restrictions on and/or substantially increase financial incentives for energy production in the United States of one or more of the following: coal, crude oil, natural gas, nuclear power, solar power, wind power.

If I have never debated before does UNLV offer a debate class so I can learn more?

Yes, that class is COM 217 Argumentation and Debate. It is typically taught in the fall semester.

What is the timeline for the new team members? When can I expect to hear details about getting started?

The Director of Debate will stay in regular contact with debate recruits over the entire summer. After the topic area is announced in April, the director will discuss very general preseason research assignments with each student. As high school classes draw to a close and as the summer progresses and the topic gets closer to being finalized, research assignments will narrow and become more specific. Finally, the team will work collectively at our preseason workshop for several weeks before school starts to prepare for the upcoming season. If you decide to join the debate team later that April or May, you should, at the very latest, contact the Director of Debate by August 1 so that paperwork can be finalized and so that you can participate in the preseason workshop.