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Author Topic: a few thoughts on the judging issue  (Read 2505 times)
Full Member
Posts: 156

« on: November 16, 2012, 11:27:15 AM »

The last six days have been a blur. Between Wake and the Orlando NCA, i've been away from home way too much and slept far too little. One silver lining to the hectic schedule was the opportunity to engage a variety of individuals regarding the current hot topic: judging. More specifically - how to improve the current system so that judges who are not being used as much as their commitment requires get more rounds, and how to increase the number of "minority" judges (defined in this context as both female judges and judges of color) judging debates.

Before detailing some thoughts from those discussions and sketching the outline to a few alternatives which may address some of the problems, the following prefaces will help frame the rest of the post:

1) The following rules of thumb are accepted by anyone i've spoken with regarding judging:
a) judges get better at judging BY JUDGING. i.e., claims of whether a judge is 'good' or 'bad' as a way of explaining why they don't judge more are somewhat flawed by ignoring this causal relationship. Regardless of whether one thinks of another judge as "good enough" (by whatever calculus one chooses to evaluate an adjudicator), we can all agree that EVERY judge will only improve by practicing the craft. Thus, our immediate goal should be to get judges more rounds of experience.
b) the more teams and judges interact with each other, the more familiar each with the other they become, and the more likely it is that persuasion can take place. This claim is counteracted by the hypothetical situation in which a personal conflict leads to bad feelings which 'poison the well', so to speak. However, this exceptional circumstance shouldn't distract from the intuitiveness of this claim: familiarity increases comfort and understanding, which make positive debater-judge experiences more likely.

The upshot of these two truisms is this: proposed reforms to MPJ should always be focused on getting more rounds for judges who aren't judging as much as their commitment entails; and when possible, creating opportunities for judges to be in the back of the room evaluating rounds between teams they haven't 'usually' judged.

2) Two important notes before we start throwing ideas around:
a) just because you don't judge a team doesn't mean you are low on their pref sheet. Even in what seems to be a highly regulated system of judge preference and placement, there is still a 'luck' factor. Judges who have been in our top 15 all of last year and this season still haven't judged us - even in rounds where our opponent also prefs them similarly, and yet, we have had other judges much more frequently, even though they are lower on our pref sheet.
b) just because a judge who hadn't judged you previously suddenly starts showing up in your rounds doesn't mean you changed their position on your pref sheet. i had wrongly assumed i had moved up on Mary Washington's sheet when i judged them at Wake, only to learn from Adri that wasn't the case. see 2a above - the luck of the draw still plays a significant role in who's in the back of the room. Attempting to ascribe meta-narrative motivations to judge preference/placement based solely on the anecdotal evidence of who's judging whom is not as obvious as one might think.

3) And two reality checks:
a) the structural problem of not having enough women and racial minorities as judges affects the ability of any reform to fix the current dearth of women/minority judges not judging as many rounds as one would wish to occur. Just as the growing numbers of African-American debaters who are participating has exponentially increased the possibility of any particular round having minority participants in it, so too the best way to get more minority judges in any particular debate will benefit greatly from having more minority judges at tournaments generally.
b) unless one's alternative to MPJ includes no provision for 'strikes' of any kind, the structural problem noted in 3a creates a BIG problem for those trying to replace MPJ in order to increase the number of rounds being judged by minorities. For example, if a tournament has 50 judges, only 5 of whom are minorities, and MPJ is replaced with a strike sheet whereby a team is allowed only 3 strikes, it is possible the same exclusion which seems to occur as a result of MPJ could still exist in its entirety PLUS adding the disadvantage of reducing the power of students to have at least some influence over who judges them. i.e., until the pool of available minority judges crosses a critical threshold of 'significant numbers', attempts to replace MPJ with 'just a few strikes' won't promise a better outcome than the SQuo. For those who respond with "well, just get rid of 'strikes' too," please tell the junior who is about to get judged by the first-year-out judge who they used to date last year until they had a traumatic breakup that strikes aren't necessary.

And now, after that long-winded opening, here are my ideas:

1) Affirmative Action is already taking place, if only on an informal basis. When learning of the current controversy blowing up CEDA Forums, John Fritch - NDT Director - acknowledged that the NDT tabroom considers race/gender when placing judges in elims. i.e., if they are faced with a choice between two similarly preferred judges, and one of them is a judge of color or a female, they opt for the minority judge. This is textbook affirmative action. i cite this for two reasons: first, it partially refutes the assumption some have made that current tabroom practices are always color/gender-neutral (what someone unfamiliar with the harms of ableism might call 'colorblind'). Second, it shows that such 'affirmative action' has already been practiced, perhaps alleviating the concerns of some critics of reform who worry (too much) about 'what might happen if...'.
2) My last post on this subject suggested the use of pre-determined final round panels that would affirmatively promote minority judges so as to increase their exposure to a greater number of teams. Although for different reasons, this practice of going outside the MPJ system and setting up panels has a long history in debate, with the Barkley Forum (in high school) and CEDA Nationals being two well-known examples. This option still has merit, and its adoption by tournament hosts should be welcomed as an alternative worth trying.
3) As usual, Sarah Lundeen has brilliant insight. In a recent conversation on the subject, she noted that when tournaments have different pref sheets for prelims and elims, there is a greater opportunity to "experiment" with judges with whom teams may be hesitant to have in the back of the room due to unfamiliarity. The reason for this is that prelims tend to carry less of the weight of "win or you're done" than elims (break rounds being the obvious exception). Without that weight, teams are more willing to try someone new, with the benefit of learning more about them as a judge outweighing the consequences of losing that one round. The problem is using this logic at tournaments where there's one universal pref sheet is teams run the risk of an elim panel consisting wholly of this category of judge - someone who's never judged you and who seems to have at least slightly different opinions on whether the "Consult NATO" CP is the sweetest strat ever or a crime against humanity. Adopting the system used by the NDT (an elim sheet that is distinct from prelims) within a climate of understanding by the debate community that we ALL benefit from meeting and being judged by new people could have real positive effects on increasing opportunities for those who currently get excluded.
4) Here's my latest idea (influenced by conversations with others, and cobbling various items together)
- at tournaments with 2 presets, those rounds would still employ the pref sheet, but ignore the P in MPJ. i.e., mutuality would be the criteria for judge placement in those rounds. Team A and Team B both have a judge ranked the equivalent of a "7" in the 1-9 Harvard system? Fine, let the 'mutual 7' judge that debate.
- under my proposal, there would still be a place for strikes (so you can get a mutual 8, but not a mutual 9 under the Harvard pref system). While recognizing this leaves open the flaw i described of strikes in Reality Check 3b, i do think it's a fair compromise: students have some protection from the truly objectionable judges while significantly broadening the pool of potential judges. If a tabroom were operating in gender/race-conscious ways like the Fritch anecdote points to, this use of MJ instead of MPJ for presets could have tangible results for increasing opportunities for judges who currently are not getting enough debates.

Okay, that's my long-winded post for today.

now back to being a dean...
Jr. Member
Posts: 81

« Reply #1 on: November 16, 2012, 11:52:44 AM »


Jr. Member
Posts: 68

« Reply #2 on: November 16, 2012, 12:01:59 PM »

Insightful, as usual.

I want to highlight one premise from Mike's post--familiarity. We (this includes the Gophers) tend to prefer people who we know, either personally or from previous debate interactions. I think that it is almost indisputable that racial and gender familiarity also informs (at least unconsciously) preference decisions.

How do we foster stronger interactions between people? MJ debates would accomplish this. Actually having social time at tournaments would probably do more, although that ship has long sailed. What else can we do? Would having more tournaments that do not directly implicate the first round process (I believe that these are now called "regional" tournaments) help?  I know that I would have a much easier time persuading my students to take a chance with that wildcard Ryan Galloway if they did not believe that their chances to go to the NDT were on the line.


Jr. Member
Posts: 52

« Reply #3 on: November 16, 2012, 12:32:00 PM »

I am mainly just watching this discussion, but two things popped to mind:

1)  I am glad that Hester confirmed that Mary Washington had not decided he was a good judge.

2) I'll be damned if Mike Hester is not walking proof that one can be committed to change, or event to chaos, without having to be a total prick to other people. He is a rare and beautiful ginger bird.
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