Nayan Banerjee, the convenor of the NLS Deb-Soc (Term: 2013-2014) speaks to Ryan Wilson of Lawctopus on how NLS gets the best out of its debaters at the national, Asian and international debating circuits.
RW: What are some of the debate achievements your University is proud of in the previous year?
Nayan: We did quite well nationally last year, winning or making the finals in 10 tournaments (out of 16 attended). Our judges have performed commendably as well by progressing post-break in 11 tournaments (out of 12 attended).
There is no domestic tournament where a team represented the institution and did not break. We’d like to attend more tournaments across India, but our academic calendar and travelling costs limit participation.
However, our proudest achievement would have to be the team comprising of Vinodini Srinivasan (V), Aniruddha Basu (IV) and Anil Sebastian (IV) winning the SMU Hammers, an annual prep tournament for the United Asian Debating Championship (UADC). This makes us the only Indian institution to have won multiple international tournaments.
This was our first international win in over 5 years and we were glad to see it come at a highly competitive tournament attracting the best in Asia. The same team broke as octo-finalists at UADC, Asia’s biggest tournament, and were top 10 speakers. Ashwij Ramaiah (II) also progressed far in the tournament as a judge.
At the other top Asian championship, the Asian British Parliamentary Championships (ABP), Varun Sen (III) and Aditya Patel (III) progressed till quarter-finals. Considering the strong performances by a few other Indian institutions internationally this year (such as IIT-B at the World Championships and NLIU-B at UADC), we hope to see more Indian institutions break this glass ceiling that exists internationally.
We look forward to continuing our consistent performances both in India and abroad.
RW: How does your university train rookie debaters?
Nayan: We introduce first-years to the activity within the first 2 weeks of college by holding a short workshop followed by a demo parliamentary debate. Over the following month, a series of practice debates are conducted with seniors teaming up with first years.
The importance of consistently reading up on issues from multiple perspectives, analyzing the same independently and recognizing that becoming a good debater/judge is a gradual process with intermittent spikes in ability is stressed upon.
The university rounds are held soon after.
Consistent practice, watching debate videos and relevant readings, both scholarly and otherwise, are valued. Similarly, watching a good movie/documentary or episodes of a good TV show (e.g. The Wire) may help your arguments more than reading some article.
Other than this, internal debate leagues are also organized.
RW: What role do alumnus play in training debaters?
Nayan: We stay in touch with our alumni, but they are not involved in our day to day training. However, we always invite alumni to judge at the NLS Debate and help set motions for the same. Workshops are arranged during this period. There are a number of debates where we meet alumni, and we encourage our teams and adjudicators to ask them for advice.
RW: Does your university engage special faculty to train rookie debaters?
Nayan: No, the university does not recruit faculty specifically for debating. The university is neither proactive nor restrictive regarding student debating; students manage everything and the administration cooperates with our requests. However, we have had instances where faculty members have previous debate experience, and thus assisted us when requested.
RW: Could you describe in detail the system your University employs to allot Debates?
Nayan: Based on common selections for the entire university held in the 2nd month of the academic year, speakers are ranked and then divided into bands. This round of selections consist of individual speeches.
Each speaker gives 4 speeches, 2 as proposition and 2 as opposition – all on different motions. The top ranked speakers then form teams among themselves and go through a second set of selections that are team based (BP). Each team receives a team rank for the same.
None of these rounds consist of prepared speeches. All speakers receive 15 minutes preparation time. We take care to ensure that motions used are carefully vetted and the requirement of specific knowledge is minimized for the first round of selections.
Debates are then offered in order of priority, first to ranked teams, then individually to top ranked speakers (in case the teams among these speakers do not apply as such), then speakers from the second band and so on.
If any spot is unclaimed by ranked speakers, it is then offered to the university on a first-come-first-serve basis. The Literary and Debating Society may change procedure every year.
For adjudicators, we simply hold one round of selections and rank them accordingly based on a live debate. The system of specialized adjudicators is not imposed, everyone is encouraged to both speak and judge.
Hence often our best judges are our best speakers; and our novice speakers who are unable to get high ranks in the selections are trained as judges throughout the year. This enables them to participate as judges at tournaments if they’re unable to make it as speakers.
Other than this, we may hold open selections for UADC and WUDC. This is decided by the committee every year based on circumstances and is not a fixed procedure.
RW: How does your debate allotment system bring the best out of debate teams & adjudicators?
Nayan: We take care to ensure that our debaters are judged both on individual speeches and team coordination. However, the teams formed by the top ranked speakers are not rigid; we merely encourage the best individual speakers to team among themselves by giving such team priority over others.
Considering our large pool (around 25-30% of the university is familiar with the rules of parliamentary debating), the aim is to ensure that the best speakers are given incentives to team together for the most competitive tournaments. As such, anyone can team with anyone, as long as spots are available.
The debate allotment system has been designed to give everyone a fair chance, taking into account the restrictions of our academic schedule; the need for uniformity and the need to prepare teams well in advance of the tournament.
RW: How does your debate allotment system treat British Parliamentary Debates?
Nayan: Since WUDC is in the BP format and happens at the end of the year, the debating calendar across Asia is divided into 2 parts: regional formats from Jan/Feb – June/July and only BP from July – Dec. Accordingly, UADC is always held in May/June.
Over the last 2 years, most tournaments in India have also started following this schedule, especially in South India, as participation at international tournaments has increased. We follow the same at NLS, holding practices in BP until January and practicing in Asians after that.
RW: What features are unique to the Debate allotment system of your University?
Nayan: I can’t really comment on any unique procedure we follow since I don’t know how other institutions work. However, I would say we recognize the co-curricular nature of the activity more than most other institutions, and importantly, we take great care to ensure transfer of knowledge across batches.
Debating simply for fun/prize money/CV value, however important in their own right, is likely to prevent one from appreciating how the activity has the potential to assist in one’s personal development.
We recognize the need for consistency in performance across years and are accordingly comprehensive in our approach. We try to ensure that we capitalize on the strong intellectual base of our ambitious students – unlike other colleges there is no formal “debate team” nor does one have to be part of the committee to debate.
It’s open to everyone and different styles and systems of thought are encouraged (assuming one makes sense) to ensure debaters are engaged in the activity for their enjoyment. Additionally, our strong record in the activity helps us create and sustain internal interest in the activity.
RW: What changes to the system were introduced/are likely to be introduced during your term as the Convenor of your committee?
Nayan: We introduced open selections for the World and Asian Championships. We created discussion groups for debaters across university and invited top international speakers to conduct workshops for us. Practice debates were regularized and holistically efforts were made to ensure first year interest is sustained.
Debates weren’t taken as a light activity behind mooting or writing papers; but promoted as an activity building critical thought and rhetorical skills, equivalent to activities dealing directly with the law.
RW: How does your university take on parliamentary debates at the international level?
Nayan: From the above, you can see that our main emphasis is on the top Asian and domestic tournaments. We’re the only Indian institution that regularly participates at WUDC, Oxford and Cambridge; but our current emphasis is on consolidating our Asian presence.
Barring the additional weeks of practice, systemically we prepare the same way; no difference between domestic and international for us. Good reasoning and structure is universal (adjudication, unfortunately, can be a lottery everywhere). In any case, if you actively debate, you should be preparing regularly.
You can’t risk losing touch with the activity or not keeping up to date with the latest issues and their moral significance. It’s false to think you can take some debates “lightly” and others more “seriously”.
RW: Could you elaborate upon the mandate and the structure of your deb-soc?
Nayan: The Literary and Debating Society is tasked with the promotion and organization of quizzing, debating and any activity of a literary nature at NLS. Generally, there are around 17-20 members of the society from across batches. Quizzing is managed by an autonomous sub-committee constituted by the society.
Thus, internally, we organize debates, quizzes, poetry readings, writing competitions and manage a literary blog HERE. We organize a tournament for schools across Bangalore along with workshops across the year.
We organize the NLS Debate, India’s oldest 3-on-3 Asians tournament. We organize the Union Debate, a public debate involving faculty, students and field experts on national issues of pressing concern, more information of which can be found HERE.