Williams College Debating Union (WCDU)
The Debating Union is composed of members from every class and welcomes participation from students with interests that span the academic spectrum. It is a member of the American Parliamentary Debate Association (APDA), and sends teams to intercollegiate tournaments regularly throughout the academic year. The team also hosts an annual intercollegiate tournament on the Williams campus.
The Debate Team has a long and storied history, most of which a certain pair of 2003 graduates forgot to pass along to the next generation of Eph debaters. As the story goes, back in 1996, Chris Willenken (older brother of 2003 National Champion Tim Willenken, Yale '03) and his partner Amanda Amert were our first ever TOTY. Jon Kravis '99 and Adrian Ludwig '98 almost achieved a similar feat, coming in 2nd at the 1998 Nationals, held at GW. Kravis later partnered with Rob Wiygul '00, and the pair did very well for themselves in the limited number of tournaments they went to during Jon's senior year. To this day, Williams debaters are still told stories of how Jon Kravis was 20 feet tall, could make opponents soil themselves with a glance, and forced underclassmen to listen to tapes of Supreme Court oral arguments on the way to tournaments.
The public face of the Williams team soon became a pair of awkward-yet-lovable Bert and Ernie lookalikes, Josh Kelner '01 and Chris Kemmitt '01. Josh was known for being very analytically rigorous and flow-intensive, while Chris was just *so damn folksy!* They competed very often as freshman and sophomores, and made great strides in increasing the visibility of the Williams team both on campus and on APDA in general. Until the current crop of Eph debaters arrived, it was the last time the Williams team would experience competent leadership.
In the fall of 1999, two brash, ego-driven loudmouths came to Williams because they were turned down by their Ivy League schools of choice. They each had successful, yet ultimately unfulfilling speech careers in high school: Joe Gallagher '03 was a star extemper from New York who was still steamed about not being in the NFL final round of foreign extemp, and Mike Pinkel '03 came this close to being the best mock trial attorney in the country. Over the course of that year, the two became fast friends and permanent debating partners. Developing skills that would serve him throughout his entire debate career (being aloof, MO dumping, hoarding points, ignoring time, setting up false dichotomies), Mike snatched the title of Novice of the Year in 1999 in a hard-fought battle with Beth O'Connor of Yale. Joe often wondered why he didn't take up drinking then and there.
To describe the team under Pinkel and Gallagher as "laid back" gives almost too much credit to stoners around the world. After cursory efforts to help mold bright young minds like Neil Anderson '04, Dan Bahls '04, and Peter Deutsch '04 into lean, mean, debating machines, the two of them gave up and fled to the rainy confines of Oxford for their junior year. Upon their return to the US, neither really wanted to debate all that often. In fact, neither really left campus save to buy expensive bottles of scotch (a habit picked up in England). However, the efforts of Matthew Kugler '05 and the unbelivable potential of Amanda Whiting and Heather Casteel '06 eventually convinced them to take a slightly more active role on the team. The two seniors went to a few tournaments and did well for themselves, and to this day have fond memories of their last ever APDA round against Jesse Alexander-Hoeppner and Andy Tirrell of Columbia. Columbia won.
It was Whiting who people began to associate with Williams. She was usually seen debating with her longtime boyfriend and 2003 NOTY, Cornell's Adam Bonnifield—until she too was drawn overseas for the 2004-2005 season. The team is looks forward to the day when unknown gifted Williams debaters of the future can reclaim the respect earned by legends like Willenken, Kravis and Wiygul lost during the ignominy of the Pinkel-Gallagher era.
Founded during the 1997-98 year by Lesley Blum '98, Jon Kravis '99, Benjamin Monnie '98, and Abby Williamson '98, the Debate Union worked with the Gargoyle Society with the support of President of the College Henry Payne to provide a campus forum for debating current issues. The Union was based loosely on the Oxford Union and held public debates throughout the year. These debates featured two teams of three, with each team usually comprising of a Williams faculty member, a current or former Williams student, and an invited speaker. Each team would give two speeches, and then members of the audience could give a two-minute "floor speech" supporting one side or the other. Afterward, each team would close with a speech.
Some previous debates and speakers (with approx school year):
Affirmative Action in the context of college admissions
Linda Chavez (Center for Equal Opportunity President), Dan Burns '06
Andrew Cuomo (2002 candidate for governor of New York), Aaron Jenkins '03
Are Non-U.S. Citizens Subject to the Protection Given by the Bill of Rights?
yes: Nadine Strossen (ACLU President), Neil Hoffman '04
no: Patrick Buchanan (Political Analyst), Sarah Iams '04
Should the private lives of politicians matter?
yes: Jonah Goldberg, Mike Pinkel '03
no: Dale Bumpers (AR Senator)
Constitutional need for the right to bear arms
Michael Dukakis (former MA governor), Professor Tom Garrity, Avi Raina '02
Morality of assassination
George Stephanopolous, Jon Kravis '99
Should freedom of speech protect pornography?
Amanda Amert '97
Brian Elieson '97
Is Public Education Worth Saving?
yes: Dr. Benjamin Hooks (former Executive Director of the NAACP), Professor Steven Gerrard, Adrian Ludwig ‘98
no: John H. Sununu (former Chief of Staff in the Bush administration and current co-host of CNN’s Crossfire), Professor Andrew Sabl, Eric Soskin ‘99
Should the US impose trade sanctions on China for human rights violations?
yes: Harry Wu (Chinese dissident)
The team has meetings, which are preceded by team dinners, twice a week in Paresky 220. Usually meetings consist of a practice round in preparation for upcoming tournaments.