Sierra Maciorowski

A Response to the Open Letter to Berkeley

Sierra Maciorowski
A Response to the Open Letter to Berkeley

The tournament directors for the UC Berkeley Parli Invitational* sent the following response to MVLA head coach Julie Herman's open letter, which represented both MVLA and students from other schools. This response was sent to Point of Information by the tournament directors for publication. 

Hello Coach Herman,

Thank you for taking the time to put together such detailed feedback. First, I would like to apologize for your dissatisfaction with the tournament. As I feel I gave a number of unsatisfactory answers during the tournament itself, I feel now is a good time to explain our thinking throughout the tournament process:

First, The decision to panel: This was probably the one that caused the most errors in tabroom (at least, according to the several experienced coaches who assisted us). We weren’t originally planning to panel, but due to last-minute drops (about 40 teams) we had a surplus of about 30 judges in varsity. This was about 2 hours before the drop deadline, so we didn’t have time to re-assess judge obligations with our team, and potentially interfere with pre-made travel plans. We made an executive decision that, instead of having those judges sit around, we would panel open. Additionally, we saw the benefit of protecting against “bad” judges as much as we could, as with a 70+ sized judging pool, we are unable to vet each one. Unfortunately, this caused a number of issues with the tab software, which caused delays in round 1 (as I’m sure your teams can recall) and further issues later in the tournament. As such, we will likely avoid paneling preliminary rounds in the future.

Second, Random Breaks: Given the problems with “ghost panels” (where the computer only assigned 1 judge per round and would crash if we attempted to add more) which forced us to use write-in ballots, speaker points could not be entered in aggregate. As we had no way to have breaks be determined by speaks, ranks, or ballot count as a result of this error, we left the tiebreakers at win/loss record and random (as you’ve pointed out). We felt this was the fairest way to move forward given the earlier malfunctions, which at this point in the tournament were irreversible.

Third, Protest: This was perhaps our biggest error. You are completely correct in saying we should not have broken your team; it was unfair to the schools who didn’t have the means to protest. This decision was quick, and was done more in the hopes of moving forward with the tournament due to time constraints. Pausing the tournament for hours to have lengthy talks about how to move forward would have been the death of the tournament, which wouldn’t have been fair to the teams that did end up breaking cleanly on W/L. The most beneficial way to resolve that error was likely to restart the round—however, due to room reservation blocks with the university this was simply an impossible option. So, we wanted to err on the side of including people rather than excluding people, and at the time we thought we were making the best possible decision with the information we had available (as we weren’t entirely sure our information was correct). In the future, should we be in a similar situation, we won’t rush through protests by simply advancing teams.

Fourth, Transparency: First, I should mention that the implication that we tried to be deceitful or hide anything “malignantly” is both untrue and distasteful to the end of improving our tournament to further what is hopefully our common goal: making a debate tournament that is educational for the debaters, which is why we spent quite a lot of time making relevant, engaging topics. That being said, we didn’t expect there to be so many problems caused by tabbing software. As a result, we didn’t create an established system to communicate with teams—our efforts were fully focused on trying to solve the problems. In what few moments I could find, I did my best to apologize for the delays and explain the problems with tabroom, which drew several (wonderful) coaches who helped us work through a variety of important issues. We did our best to respect everyone’s time—especially the schools that had flights that night— and so focused on problem solving over all else. This is something that we’ve learned from, and will work to improve in later tournaments.

Moving Forward: The Debate Society of Berkeley is new to the High School parli scene. As such, as are always grateful for feedback and constructive criticism that will help us further improve our future tournaments so we can have a better tournament experience for everyone involved. To this end, we thank you for your suggestions. We have already had several experienced Berkeley coders offer their help in constructing a new tabbing software that would avoid many of the problems we ran into during the tournament. Additionally, having learned that communication with attendees is worthy of being a full-time tournament position, we will likely have a designated communications officer to handle protests and give updates so communication flows more smoothly in future tournaments, and so that tab can focus solely on solving issues that come up. These are only a few suggestions, but I hope they illustrate our commitment to running tournaments right, and learning from mistakes.

Once again, thank you for your reply. If you or any other school/coach has feedback or suggestions they would like to submit, we are happy to hear from them.


Sebastian Miller

Emma Barton

* The UC Berkeley Parli Invitational is run by the Debate Society of Berkeley, UC Berkeley's APDA/BP debate team.