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A. Craig Baird Debate Forum The University of Iowa
A. Craig Baird Debate Forum
The A. Craig Baird Debate Forum has an outstanding record. Introduce yourself on its Facebook page!

The A. Craig Baird Debate Forum is a student group for University of Iowa undergraduates who want to participate in intercollegiate and on-campus debate tournaments. On-campus debates are held every semester.

Program Components
Quality Instruction
A Record of Excellence
How to Join

Program components
The forum—named for A. Craig Baird, a former Iowa professor who was a recognized authority on speech and debate—has two major components:
intercollegiate policy debate and debating before lay audiences on campus. Iowa also occasionally hosts international debate teams for on-campus competition.

Intercollegiate policy debate—A major portion of the Baird program prepares students to participate in intercollegiate policy debate tournaments. These tournaments involve switch-sides debating on a single national topic for an entire season.

  • The typical tournament lasts three days: two days of preliminary rounds (usually four rounds per day) and one day of elimination rounds.
  • The times for the speeches are typically 9-3-6.
  • Preliminary rounds are power-paired.
  • The season begins the third weekend in September and culminates in the National Debate Tournament (NDT), held the last week in March or the first week in April.
  • The average debater will attend six to eight tournaments per year, spaced to allow time for academic obligations and to work on new arguments as the topic evolves.

The tournament rounds are judged by college debate coaches and others with extensive experience in debating and considerable familiarity with the issues of the specific topic. Many intercollegiate policy debaters have had experience doing a similar style of debate in high school, although there are many others who do not begin policy debate until college.

Our competitive program has varied in size over the years between six and 14 students, depending upon the level of funding available for travel.

The time commitment to participate in intercollegiate policy debate—As in high school debate and other extracurricular activities, the amount of time that a debater devotes to intercollegiate policy debating varies with the level of commitment. There are fairly extensive research requirements for success at the national level, but programs competing at that level always work collaboratively.

Many coaches ask their debaters to do approximately two hours (of real work) per day, in addition to weekly team meetings, though this is always constrained by school schedules (less time is expected during exam periods, and more time during the early weeks of the semester). Students often spend more time on debate because they enjoy it so much.

Debating before lay audiences—Another major component of the Baird Debate program emphasizes debating before lay audiences. A series of five to six public debates are held each semester before campus audiences. Students who participate in these debates often reach an audience of 100 or more. 

  • Members of the audience offer pointed comments and questions to the participants at the debate's conclusion. 
  • DVDs and video tapes of these programs are made available for other students by the University Library Reserve Room.
  • We have conducted more than 130 public debates since 1995; at least five per semester.

These debates are an integral part of the curricular experiences for many students in the Rhetoric and Communication Studies classes. They serve as models of public speaking and oral advocacy for hundreds of students each year.

International parliamentary-style debate opportunities—The University also has hosted on-campus audience debates involving debate teams from around the world, including:

  • British traveling teams in 1996, 1997, 1999-2004, and 2006
  • An Eastern European traveling team in 2005
  • An Irish traveling team in 2004
  • A Jamaican traveling team in 1999
  • A Russian traveling team in 1998

Two UI students competed in the 1996 Bates College International Tournament and in the 2000 World University Debating Championship in Edinburgh, Scotland.

UI faculty, staff, and graduate student assistants work intensively with outstanding students in an instructional role, which includes research direction, skills instruction, practice sessions, and tournament travel, coaching, and judging. Students participate in six to eight three-day weekend events per year.

A record of excellence
The intercollegiate debate program as a whole received national ranking in the top 10 varsity policy debate programs between 1995 and 2001. Iowa's team ranked first in 1992 and 1999.  

  • Since 1987, 49 University of Iowa teams have qualified for the National Debate Tournament (NDT), the most prestigious national championship in intercollegiate policy debate. Of those 49 teams, 22 participated in the elimination rounds at that tournament.
  • In 1996, the University of Iowa team reached the final round of the NDT. 
  • In March 2000, two Iowa debaters received the Rex Copeland Award at the NDT. This award recognizes the team who has compiled the best overall record in national policy debate competition in the United States.
  • In 2001, the University team won the NDT.
  • Ten Iowa students have earned a"Top 10 Individual Speaker Award" at the NDT, including first speaker at the 1992, 1997, and 2001 tournaments.

How to join
To become a part of the University of Iowa debate team, send an e-mail to Paul Bellus and David Hingstman. Bellus is coordinator of forensics in the UI Division of Continuing Education, and Hingstman is director of the A. Craig Baird Debate Forum and an associate professor in the UI Communication Studies Department.

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