An Open Letter to Berkeley
This article concerns the Debate Society at Berkeley, which operated the January 28-29 tournament in question. It should not be read to implicate the other two debate groups at Berkeley, Cal Debate (which hosts the Cal Invitational) or Parliamentary Debate at Berkeley (which hosts NPDI).
To whom it may concern:
MVLA would like to express its deep disappointment with the quality of the event you hosted this weekend. We recognize that the Debate Society at Berkeley* is a primarily student-run organization, and we want to support groups like you. We also recognize the difficulties inherent in running a tournament for the first time. However, that does not excuse the decisions by the director and tab staff to unevenly panel preliminary rounds, inaccurately record panel decisions, and continue with elimination rounds after realizing brackets and seedings were constructed incorrectly. It is beyond outrageous that several teams broke essentially at random, while other teams missed the break because of the poorly constructed prelims, and tab’s response was essentially to do nothing about it.
While one of the MVLA teams that was wrongly shut out of breaks was ultimately put in, the manner in which it was done was haphazard and did nothing to correct the underlying issues. In some sense, the response to the protest doubled down on the worst problems in the original bracket, showing a careless disregard for tabulation norms and equitable treatment of competitors. The lack of transparency with which all of this occurred (e.g., no public explanation or admission of fault coupled with a single team arbitrarily being placed into the bracket after an initial elim had occurred) is deeply concerning. We feel for the schools who did not have coaches present to advocate for them and had no recourse but to accept the profoundly problematic results, in many cases without even knowing it.
Additionally, students from multiple schools reported further flaws in the atmosphere of the tournament. College judges who were ostensibly tournament sanctioned seemed not to know basic rules about speaking order or use of laptops in round. One student reported racially charged comments made by a college student judge that made her and her partner feel unsafe. The lack of transparency from tab on procedural issues worried them to the extent that they felt unable to bring these issues to light at the tournament proper.
This is not to say other tournaments have not made similar mistakes before. However, these generally result in mass communications to all participants, tab staff meeting with all coaches, and corrections to the initial mistake. Tournaments with time or room constraints that have made serious errors have been known to truncate the tournament prior to finals rather than run eliminations with bad brackets.
You do a disservice to your institution and to an event that already struggles for legitimacy on the national scale when you allow these kind of flagrant errors to go uncorrected. Attempting to hide mistakes or simply hoping no one will notice adds an additional layer of malignancy to this affair. It is our hope that you either strenuously pursue reforms for future tournaments, or you refrain from hosting another event. Specifically, we recommend consulting with a Tabroom expert about the prelim paneling system before attempting a similar scheme again, or reverting to a normal prelim scheme to avoid issues with bracket construction. We also request you publicize prior to your tournament specific methods you will use to make the bracket, especially if you plan to run prelims in a nonstandard manner. Finally, you should majorly reform the way protests are dealt with and ensure there is someone available and trusted to hear student complaints. Directly soliciting anonymous feedback post-tournament could also help you pinpoint issues in the future. These changes would bring your tournament up to the minimum standards normally expected by the community.
MVLA Head of Speech and Debate
Note: this email may be published publicly with additional signatories.
Student co-signers (representing various schools):