January 25, 2002
Debate team tops Canada, finishes 12th in world
U of A team felt comfortable in distinguished company
The University of Alberta Debate Society has argued its way to world-class stature, finishing as the top Canadian team at the World Universities Debating Championships last week in Toronto.
The U of A debating team of Alex Ragan and Stephanie Wanke came in ahead of all the Canadian entries and closed the competition in twelfth place overall out of 230 teams from 100 universities in 30 countries.
"We stepped up against Oxford and Cambridge and other top schools in the world, and now when those teams hear the name 'University of Alberta' they'll be looking over their shoulders and know we're coming up fast," said Barrie Tanner, a graduate student in political science who attended the competition as an adjudicator. "It was a really impressive showing."
In fact, Ragan and Wanke lost on points in the quarterfinals to a debating team from New York University's law school, the competition's eventual winners. The two teams had previously advanced from the same debate group, arguing over the extradition of accused killers to face the death penalty, leaving two teams from Oxford behind.
"I guess if you can pick a team to get beaten by, the one that wins the world title is the one you'd want to lose to," Ragan, a fourth-year biology student, said of the U of A's loss to NYU.
The debates can be somewhat complicated affairs, with four teams of two meeting to debate an issue after just 15 minutes to prepare. The pro and con teams debating during the second half are expected to expand on issues raised by the teams debating in the first half. One winner is chosen from the four to progress. So when a team in the first half of the debate covers and elucidates the most pertinent points, their colleagues in the second half of the debate struggle to find anything to add to the case.
"With NYU, we were left picking up crumbs," said Ragan. "They did a pretty thorough job."
"Stephanie and I were worried about being in the lower levels," said Ragan, "because you're in there with teams like Oxford and Cambridge, and we were beating these teams. We found that we were on the same level, that on an international scale we were very much up to the challenge. Stephanie is very intelligent - I think she's quite brilliant."
Odynski, president of the U of A Debate Society, said the job of convincing judges provides participants with valuable skills. Because they're informed of their topic and their position on it just minutes prior to a debate, they need to stay well informed on current events and have the ability to improvise.
"We tell people that anyone can be a good debater, as long as they want to," she said. "You need a sense of confidence, and some people seem to be naturally talented at remembering facts, but it is 100 per cent desire."
The result, she says, is that people in the society find their academic skills improve. "I think everyone here has an easier time writing essays and exams," she said. "We are able to organize information quickly. And it provides you with public speaking skills, which is terribly important."