January 28th and 29th mark two days which will live in infamy. As debaters who witnessed, participated, and competed at The UC Berkeley Parli Invitational run by the Debate Society at Berkeley, we were left aghast. It was not the salt-of-the earth competition we eagerly anticipated; if anything, it salted the earth. We cannot take the legitimacy of high school parliamentary debate for granted, and cannot ignore the severe setbacks that have plagued this tournament.
We arrived on day one to tedious delays, owing to the tournament’s failure to operate Tabroom’s most basic functions. The first flight of round one suffered the absence of a functional e-ballot system. While this problem appeared to be fixed later in the day, there was an obvious inconsistency. Throughout both days of the tournament, and in no particular order or reasonable sequence, some preliminary round decisions were collected on paper while others were computed via electronics. Because several judges thought that they would be receiving electronic notifications when they were due to receive e-ballots - while in reality, paper ballots were being pushed in the auditorium - debate rounds often had missing or tardy judges.
With a multitude of judges available, the tournament decided to assign three judges per room for two back to back flights. This was not merely ambitious planning, but proved to be ultimately detrimental when judges failed to show up, forcing speaker points and wins to be determined with a duo panel or a single judge. While there were no split decisions in the occasional duo panel, debaters suffered an enormous differential in speaker points that allowed illegitimate teams to break into outrounds. Instead of cumulating the average of speaker points, a system of simplistic addition locked out teams who had the misfortune to be judged by a smaller panel. Even then, it is unclear what tiebreakers were used to advance certain teams. Only a manual recalculation by the debaters themselves brought light to this tremendous mistake, a mistake that was coughed up a half-round too late.
Due to the lack of transparency and immense amount of confusion at this tournament, debaters were forced to tabulate their own scores in hopes that they would be able to figure out how the tournament decided who broke to the octofinals round and who did not. Teams that left immediately who possibly would have broken to octofinal rounds were put at a significant disadvantage, as they did not even know there were problems tabulating scores.
After several nonbreaking 3-2 teams calculated that they had higher speaker points than the breaking teams and filed a protest, the tournament recalibrated ranks by dropping the two highest and lowest scores– which still failed to solve the issue of differently sized prelim panels– and ultimately decided to allow one additional team into the break. However, no other team was offered this opportunity, and in direct contradiction, other teams who asked were told the tournament broke based on ballot count. The tournament appears to have opted for arbitrary methods to help some teams, without solving the basic problem that the entire break was unfair. Without a coach to lobby for them, many teams never could have known they should have broken.
Traditional parliamentary decorum was undermined significantly throughout prelims. Due to poor informational logistics, some teams entered rounds under the impression that this tournament featured different formats of debate and proceeded to read cases straight out of a laptop. The burden was brought upon a handful of experienced parli judges and teams to outline the speaker positions and the no-electronics-in-round policy. Basic protocol was thwarted on the judging level as well, as some round deliberations had the appearance of collective decision making.
Perhaps the most damaging impact of this poorly managed tournament was the drop in legitimacy for high school tournaments at UC Berkeley. The National Parliamentary Debate Invitational, held in November every year, is one of the most prestigious tournaments in the parli circuit and is run by Parliamentary Debate at Berkeley, which uses the NPDA format. Although the more recent Berkeley tournament was run by the Debate Society at Berkeley team, which is a completely separate organization, as competitors, we fear that the multitude of issues outlined above will tarnish the image of UC Berkeley debate in general and prevent events like NPDI from being held in the future.
While we do not wish to detract from the accomplishments of debaters who continued to compete, we find that the threatened legitimacy of parliamentary debate is the real issue of contention here. While the question of equitable point earnings for the teams that advanced under a faulty system is a fair concern for many of us, the ultimate takeaway of this tournament should be the reflection it has or shall impose onto our community. At the end of the day, we urge the necessity to reflect and revise past errors in order to preserve the making of a fairer parliamentary debate community.