Members of MIT Debate Team Win National and Int’l Awards

For their fourth consecutive year, the duo of Kathleen A. Clark-Adams ’10 and Adam J. Goldstein ’10 have been winning significant awards for the MIT Debate Team on a circuit that emphasizes political, public policy related, and philosophical topics. Similarly, Goldstein and Bill H. Magnuson G have had enormous success at international tournaments, which use the British Parliamentary (BP) format of debate.

The MIT Debate Team is the only consistently active technology school in the American Parliamentary Debate Association (APDA), a debate league that includes almost 50 universities, and by producing some of the top debaters in the world.

Goldstein, this year’s ADPA president, was the top speaker this year at Oxford University and competed in its quarterfinals with Magnuson. At Cambridge University last year, Goldstein and Magnuson were the first place team. This year, Goldstein and Magnuson competed in Cambridge’s semifinals and received individual speaker awards.

Since September, Clark-Adams has earned eight individual speaker awards on APDA, while Goldstein has won seven. Thus far this year, Clark-Adams and Goldstein have won six major tournament awards. The pair, currently ranked fifth in the league with total points of 37.5, plan to battle for the title of APDA Team of the Year. They are currently trailing the top team by 19 points and the second place team by 11.5 points.

According to Clark-Adams, her compatibility with Goldstein has strengthened over time.

“Freshman year, I’d occasionally threaten to destroy him when he tried to pick the wrong side of debate cases. These days, we work very well together — we have a great good cop, bad cop routine going on,” she said.

Watching the two debate together, one notes the obvious differences between their styles. Although their argumentation aligns perfectly, Clark-Adams laces many of her speeches with sarcastic humor, while Goldstein presents all of his arguments with a fairly steady tone, altering it only to emphasize his most important points.

Debaters frequently sacrifice their Fridays and Saturdays to attend tournaments at universities on the east coast, and miss even more class time for tournaments in places such as California, Chicago, England, and Ireland.

“MIT students tend to have less free time than liberal arts students, so we have less time to prepare … our case book isn’t as thick as the schools that have multiple meetings each week,” said Goldstein.

“We try to gear the case around the unobvious and counterintuitive arguments to make it maximally difficult for the opposition to beat our pre-analyzed arguments,” he added, remarking that he and Clark-Adams try to compensate for their inability to put as much time into preparing cases for tournaments by crafting their cases and arguments to be unique from what other schools typically propose.

Other schools lacking MIT’s technical caliber tend to have different ideas of what makes a topic good or interesting — MIT debaters tend to focus on logical arguments, while other schools focus on more rhetorical ones.

Another challenge faced by the BP duo — as well as by all debaters — is the requirement that they prepare their cases in the mere 15 minute preparation time before rounds.

The BP partners reveal that their biggest weaknesses are their similar thinking styles. Although Magnuson says the pair have “no trouble coming up with all of the practical issues,” he feels they sometimes “miss the obvious ethical issues that judges might find important.”

The stylistic and preparation difficulties aside, though, all three debaters agree that one frustration in particular is the most frustrating of all: funding.

“The MIT team historically has never had a reliable source of funding,” said Goldstein. “We’ve gotten sporadic gifts in the past couple of years that have helped us attend things like Oxford. Our primary challenge is ensuring that we continue getting funding so that our team doesn’t peter out like it did 10 or 20 years ago.”

He added that at schools other than MIT have a greater “respect for debate,” and the MIT team has difficulty garnering the visibility after a big win which is standard to other debate teams.

Magnuson said that the team was fortunate to raise enough funding last year to attend international tournaments at Oxford and Cambridge, enabling them to prepare for the world championships and giving them valuable exposure to the international debate circuit.

Unlike many in the debate circuit, Goldstein and Magnuson have no plans to enter debate-related fields — although Clark-Adams plans to go into law. Goldstein cites the global connections and the level of comfort with a variety of topics he’s established through debating as some of his greatest benefits from his experience on the MIT team.