Cornell University

January 18 2013

"Elite, Not Elitist"

Debate team clinches best-in-world title for 2012

The Cornell Debate Team is number one in the world for 2012, trumping more than 800 schools on the international debate circuit.

Colm Flynn, who runs the International Debate Education Association rankings, congratulated the Big Red talkers in an email.

"It is very rare for a college to be able to send so many teams to competitions and still have teams capable of winning tournaments," he wrote.

"This reflects real strength in depth at Cornell. Other debate programs could learn a great deal from the success of Cornell."

Big Red has an unusually big team – 50 members versus 10 or so at most schools, according to the Cornell Director of Forensics Sam Nelson.

"We on the debate team take seriously Cornell's unofficial motto: 'Elite, not elitist,'" he said, explaining the team's come-one-come-all philosophy.

Rather than dismiss less skilled debaters from the debate program, they are encouraged to participate, Nelson said.

As a result, Cornell fills a bus when it goes to tournaments, Nelson said. "Cornell will continue to distinguish itself as one of the only top programs that allows any student who wants to try debate to go to tournaments to represent our school in competition."

Technically known as the Cornell World’s Format Debate Team, the 2012 championship group is part of the Cornell Forensics Society, which also includes the Cornell Policy Debate Team and the Cornell Speech Team.

Each of the teams debate under specific rules for time limits, style and other elements. All three of Cornell’s teams are based in a sixth-story Ives Hall room lined on one side by rows of trophies and tournament keepsakes.

Nelson's outreach to students, along with team efforts at recruitment and intrepid students willing to try debate have strengthened Big Red’s program, said team member Christine Yu '14.

Standout performances by team members such as those by Danny Blackman '13 and Alex Bores '13 have put Cornell in number one positions twice at 2012 tournaments, she said.

Practices are held twice a week and many members meet more frequently, but the speech and debate program works around student schedules, said Yu, vice president of internal affairs.

"Something that the Cornell Forensics Society stresses is flexibility -- you are not required to go to every tournament, etcetera, to be part of this team. It's clear that the priority is on students' academics and well-being."