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Columbia Parliamentary Debate Society

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Denise Yu


The Columbia Parliamentary Debate Society is the university’s premier competitive debating organization. Established in the early 1980s to connect the Columbia community to the American Parliamentary Debate Association (APDA), a national circuit that includes other institutions such as Yale, Harvard, Stanford, and the University of Chicago, Columbia Debate has grown enormously in magnitude of competitive success and breadth of engagement with the surrounding community. Currently, the organization comprises forty regularly-competing members who represent all class years and undergraduate colleges of Columbia University.
The philosophy of our organization has always been to promote the cognitive benefits of critical reasoning as well as the impacts on public discourse engendered by debate. We strongly believe that parliamentary debate should be accessible and intellectually rewarding to all who participate. Columbia Debate’s track record indicates that it is possible to be committed to ideals and produce tangible results.
The competitive successes of the team are a testament to the countless hours of work invested over the last several seasons. Columbia Debate is currently the second-highest ranked team on the APDA circuit this year, which is a historical high point. Additionally, Reid Bagwell (CC ’12) holds top Speaker of the Year, the highest honor conferred to an individual debater by the circuit. Bagwell and Alexander McHale (CC ’13) are the ninth team in the nation as of January 2012. Between the varsity and novice divisions, Columbia teams have finished in first place at four tournaments in the fall.
Our commitment to creating high-quality events centering on the use of debate in a public forum is reflected in numerous partnerships created with corporate and non-profit organizations in New York City. Recently, we have collaborated on public debate events with the Soros Foundation, Halogen TV, the English-Speaking Union, the NAACP, the Student Global AIDS Campaign, and the Markit Group. Additionally, we take part in community service initiatives that make parliamentary debate accessible to middle schools in the metropolitan area.
Pursuant to these competitive and community-wide initiatives, we have thus far relied on the Activities Board at Columbia and our own fundraising efforts through the September college tournament and the January high school invitational. The demand for opportunities to develop as debaters is rapidly outpacing our abilities to finance these endeavors. To that end, we are reaching out to all friends and family members to help sustain and grow our organization.
To illustrate the costs associated with operating a collegiate debate team, the total registration fees in any given weekend can reach over $800 for a typical delegation of six teams, and travel costs are roughly $50 per person for tournaments that are accessible by mass transportation. Organizations on APDA who have similar participation profiles, including the Brooks Quimby Debate Council of Bates College and the University of Chicago Debate Society, have starting budgets over $50,000. The Columbia Parliamentary Debate Society receives $6,000 from the administration, and increased restrictions unexpectedly cut deeply into the revenues that we traditionally generate from the tournaments we host.
All contributions to the Columbia Parliamentary Debate Society, as an officially recognized student group of Columbia University, are tax-deductible. All donations, whether through matching corporate giving programs or personal contributions, will be recognized on our official website and in our tournament publications in the following year.



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