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.