STUDENT SPOTLIGHT MIT debaters are latest North American champions

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Adam Goldstein ’10 (pictured) and his partner Bill Magnuson ’09 defeated 79 other teams to win the North American Debate Championships, held Jan. 29-31 in Toronto, Canada.
William Yee—The Tech

Who ever said that engineers can’t communicate? MIT Debate Team members and Course VI majors Adam Goldstein ’10 and Bill Magnuson ’09 took top honors at the North American Debating Championships  — regarded as the most prestigious debate tournament in North America — held January 29-31 at York University in Toronto, Ontario, by finishing ahead of 79 other two-person teams from around the continent. Goldstein also earned honors as an individual performer in the preliminary rounds of the tournament, ranking as the top United States speaker and fourth overall speaker for his performance.

Magnuson and Goldstein finished first after competing in six preliminary rounds and four elimination rounds. Fellow MIT debate team members Shireen Rudina ’13 and Julia Boortz ’12, both first year collegiate debaters, took 39th at the tournament, placing in the top half of competing teams.

Magnuson and Goldstein debated such motions as “This house believes children born with organs for both sexes should not have gender selective surgery to eliminate one set of organs until the child is if sufficient age to make the decision for him or herself” and “This house believes that corporations should be allowed to spend money on political campaigns”. Magnuson noted that most debates center around politics, international relations, law, or ethics, and rarely around science and engineering.

The final motion which Magnuson and Goldstein debated for ultimate victory was “This house supports Google withdrawing from China.”

“Given that both Adam and I are Course VI and I work for Google, this motion could not have been better for us,” Magnuson said.

This was neither Goldstein’s nor Magnuson’s first time at the championship. Both attended as a team last year, where they made it to the quarterfinals. Goldstein had attended in two other previous years as a member of two different MIT debate pairs.

Debate season is not yet over, said Goldstein, and the team has tournaments at various colleges until the conclusion of term. The most notable competition the team is preparing for is the national championships at Swarthmore College in April.

Since Magnuson graduated with his Masters of Engineering this January, Goldstein will be teamed with Kathleen Clark-Adams ’10 — the second ranked debate speaker in the country — at Nationals. Sharmin Karim ’10 has also qualified for the tournament by performing well at other tournaments during the season, and Goldstein hopes that more will qualify in the coming weeks.

Goldstein and Magnuson began debating as a team in October 2008, although both had been on the MIT debate team as members of other pairs before then, and Magnuson had participated in competitive debate in high school.

Goldstein plans on staying involved in debate as a judge and possibly as a coach beyond his graduation.

“I don’t think I’m going to coach immediately, but there’s a strong alumni connection both with MIT and the American Parliamentary Debate Association (the debate league the MIT Debate Team is a member of), so that means I am likely to go out and judge,” he said.

Magnuson plans to continue involvement with the MIT Debate team in the future, helping with the annual MIT tournament and assisting with judging at tournaments for MIT.

All member schools of the American Parliamentary Debate Association and Canadian University Society for Intercollegiate Debate, two collegiate debate organizations in North America, select up to four teams to compete in the championships. The debate style is the North American parliamentary style, where the two teams debate against each other. The “affirmative” side represents a “government team,” consisting of a prime minister and a government member. The other team assumes the role of the “opposition” side, acting as first and second opposition members. The debate topics are pre-selected before each round, and debaters are only presented the arguments fifteen minutes before the debate begins. Depending on the role each debater plays, he or she is given from four to seven minutes to speak.