Debate Tourney Highlights Inequality

Harvard teams differ in wealth

Classes may have been out of session, but between Saturday and Monday 3,000 high school students filled Harvard Yard and Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School during the 28th Annual Harvard National Invitational Forensics Tournament.

The tournament, organized by the Harvard Debate Council (HDC), is billed as the world’s largest forensics tournament in the English language.

It also frames a contrast between HDC and Harvard’s other student debate team, the Harvard Speech and Parliamentary Debate Society (HSPDS), whose 50 members serve among the competition’s 400 judges.

HDC is older, more exclusive and wealthier than HSPDS.

More importantly, though, HDC profits far more from the weekend’s competition than does HSPDS, and that difference has some HSPDS members noting the teams’ inequality.

HDC was founded in 1892 and, according to the team’s coach Dallas Perkins Jr., is made up of students who hear of the team while in high school and often come to Harvard in part because of “the strength of the program.”

Perkins said the type of debate in which HDC competes—“policy debate”—is a relatively small field in the debate world and has a diminutive but devoted following. HDC has only 16 members.

Founded about two decades ago, HSPDS, by contrast, practices the more popular “parliamentary” debate and advertises across campus for new members, just like any other student group.

HSPDS maintains a regular membership of between 50 and 60.

Both teams are among the nation’s best in their fields.

It is each team’s finances, though, that pose a striking contrast.

As the tournament’s organizer, HDC collects about $35,000, Perkins said. This money finances about 60 percent of the team’s annual expenses, Perkins said.

According to HSPDS former president Allon S. Kedem ’02, HSPDS also earns a sum equivalent to 60 percent of its annual expenses through the tournament—but this only amounts to approximately $7,000.

HDC has an annual budget of $55,000 while HSPDS only spends around $15,000.

Many HSPDS members said they were reluctant to comment on the financial disparity between the two groups, but noted, with such large membership, HSPDS often struggles to fund all of its activities.

“We’re not bankrupt, but we’re not well-off,” Kedem said.

Kedem said a dearth of resources has made HSPDS unable to send its members to the Parliamentary World Championship in South Africa since he has been at Harvard, even though HSPDS is the last American team to have won the competition—in 1986.

“We do well when we go,” Kedem said, “but we haven’t been able to.”

This year, HSPDS is working to expand its operating budget and hopes to send competitors to “Worlds” this winter, according to current HSPDS President Angela E. Kim ’03.

The outlook for HDC is much different.

“We’re living kind of large,” said HDC member Todd D. Fine ’03. “We’re flying across the country for competitions, staying in hotels, kind of like one of the sports teams, but without the direct oversight.”

HSPDS members, however, said they usually drive to tournaments, sleep in the dormitories of host schools and pay for their own meals.

Kim said she would like HSPDS to make more money from the Harvard Invitational in order to better fund its activities.

“We make a small portion of the overall profit,” Kim said. “The amount the tournament grosses is out of this world.”

Kim also indicated that she feels HSPDS is unnecessarily relegated to HDC in the context of the competition.

“We’re like employees,” she said.

But Kedem called the relationship between the two groups “symbiotic” and said that the groups “always negotiate about prices but come to an agreement in the end.”

Either way, Kedem said that he wished HSPDS had the money to send “anyone who’d like to go” to debate tournaments.