April 14, 2014

Paul Simon Debate to feature national titlists

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Political debate can make for great drama and two of Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s national champion student debaters will provide insight into that success in an exhibition on April 21. 

Ben Campbell and Josh Rivera will face each other in the inaugural Paul Simon Debate at 7 p.m. in the Student Center Auditorium.  Admission is free and open to the public. 

Campbell and Rivera will debate “Should the state of Illinois increase the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour?”  David Yepsen, institute director, said this will give people an opportunity to see the quality debate team in action. 

“They win their honors at tournaments around the country,” he said.  “I  thought it would be interesting to give everyone a chance to see just how they do this and good they are at it.” 

Campbell and Rivera, both political science majors, teamed last month to win the National Parliamentary Debate Association National Championship.  The win by SIU marked the first-time in the tournament’s 21-year history a university has back-to-back champions. 

“Debating skills are important to people in politics since they do a lot of debating,” Yepsen said.  “Too often, these debates aren’t very civil, so it’s important people see how it should be done by students who are doing it.” 

Debating teaches students “how to think on their feet, stay informed about a wide variety of issues and make their points quickly. It’s great practice and skill for any number of professions,” Yepsen said. 

Todd Graham, SIU’s debate team director, said because most of the debates are at intercollegiate tournaments held far from Carbondale, this will offer a unique opportunity for the public to meet and watch national champion debaters. 

There is a twist with this competition, however.  In addition to Campbell and Rivera opposing one another, the format will be markedly different, with other debate team members serving as part of a “shark tank.” Ariana Arnone, a freshman, and graduate assistant coaches Steve Farias and Mike Selck will sit at a separate table and have time after the first few speeches to ask Campbell and Rivera questions directly, Graham said. 

“We are hoping this will be a lively part of the debate,” Graham said. 

Preparation will also be different.  Normally, Graham said, a different topic is debated each tournament round, with the topic announced only about 20 minutes prior to the start of the debate.  That means pre-tournament preparation of analyzing the news, writing files on current events and practice is vital.  The hope is the topic is one the team has written about. If not, the formula is quick online research and argument preparation, Graham said. 

While this debate preparation will offer more time to prepare in terms of research, writing and practice, Graham said once a debate begins “it takes on a life of its own.” 

“You can’t really have totally prepared speeches since you must answer your opponent and adjust your arguments based off how that particular debate is progressing,” he said.  “That’s why we try to spend most of our time preparing a host of arguments.  You never know what arguments a particular judge or audience may like.” 

The audience will participate in a question-and-answer session at the end of the debate and also vote for whom they thought won, Graham said. 

Campbell is a senior from Springfield, Mo., and Rivera is a junior from Chicago.  Rivera teamed with Selck to win both the National Parliamentary Debate Association National Championship and the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence National Championship in 2013.