Jon Thorpe

Stanford's Response to Criticism of the 2012 Stanford Invitational

Jon Thorpe
Stanford's Response to Criticism of the 2012 Stanford Invitational


I am the Associate Executive Tournament Director of the Stanford Invitational and past two time President of the Stanford Debate Society. I was an APDA parli debater during my time on the team at Stanford, and was a national circuit policy debater in high school. I personally think that parli is a great format and in fact am often a defender of the potential of the format to supporters of other formats of debate, but I think that parli is at a critical venture where the community must decide what the event will ultimately become. I can assure you that I personally want to run the best parli tournament that is possible at Stanford while working within the constraints that we face.

In taking the time to read through this thread, I’ve seen a few themes that I’d like to comment on. I think that discourse on the issues that matter to the parli community can only benefit the activity, and I welcome any constructive feedback or suggestions.

The diversity of opinion on this board reflects what perceptually appears to be a diversity of opinion in the parli community, and those opinions seems to change some and evolve year to year as well. While Bruce runs the parli room for us and is the ultimate arbiter on topics, he is very good about consulting with other coaches from top programs and is open to wording revisions on topics. For instance, Bruce ran the topics by Jon Thorpe and Bryan St Amant this year. We also try to have a mix of topic styles for each round with the thought that debaters will have a lot of impact on their own debates by what they strike.

A few years ago we biased the topics more heavily in the policy topics direction (and had some of Stanford’s top parli debaters draft the topics), but we received a number of complaints from both coaches and students who wanted a broader range and/or thought that our policy heavy bias placed too much emphasis on in depth research making the activity less accessible. Now that we have more of a mix, others are complaining that they want more policy. Taken as a whole, it does seem to us there seems a broad representation of topic types and subjects proposed. However, if the community strongly desires topics of one type or another, we are receptive to that, but high school parli as a community needs to decide what they want. At this point there seems to be much disagreement amongst students and debaters themselves as to the proper balance of topic types.

Most important, a number of people comment on the judges that the Stanford Invitational ‘gives’ to you. We don’t ‘give’ the judges – we manage the judges provided by the schools. Very few people in parli and pofo buy out of their judging commitment and ask us to hire judges, but instead the norm (as we’ve seen the last few years at Stanford) is providing judges, and the vast majority of those are parents. As a community, if you don’t want parent judges, then don’t bring them. As Mr St Amat points out on the selection of topics issue, we ask that you look to yourself. What kind of judges did you provide? Even if you provided experienced judges with personal debating experience, and no one else does, we can’t give you those types of judges back without a lot of the community buying into the idea of providing experienced judges, and bringing judges that meet that higher bar.

On the question of assigning the most experienced judges to key rounds, we agree with that and will review what was done to use the few experienced judges in the pool to greatest effect. If we are lacking in that respect we will address it going forward, but know that we agree that the most experienced judges should be used in the rounds that matter most in terms of whether or not teams clear.

If JV LD and JV policy had more experienced judges than parli, then, that’s because those coaches and schools provided to the tournament more experienced judges than were provided by the parli community. While we have a good 30 to 40 parli members of our team they were running our very large tournament, and no, we cannot deploy most of our tournament staff to judge parli, as they are needed to monitor buildings, field questions, manage logistics, etc.

Stanford has one of the most competitive parli programs in the US, having just placed in the finals of World’s. We have placed at APDA nationals many times, won APDA nationals in 2008, and are regularly in outrounds of most major tournaments. We take parli seriously and try to do it well. But we cannot manufacture a higher caliber of judge than what is provided by the schools who attend, and if the community of attending schools want better and more experienced judging, than they should bring that to cover their entries, and they will have it. We are you facilitators for the tournament, and to some degree our tournament is as strong as the teams attending and the judging that the schools provide. We have welcomed parli school program input into our topics, and while we will review this as well to see if improvement can be made, please know that this year’s topics were provided by coaches of high school parli, and are consistent overall with the types of topics students will encounter at the California state tournament as we follow their general topic area guidelines.

Again, I think that discourse on the issues that matter to the parli community can only benefit the activity, and I welcome any constructive feedback or suggestions.

Rich Boltizar is the executive director of the Stanford National Forensic Institute and the director of debate at Stanford University.