The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



ND hosts regional debate

Catherine Owers | Friday, September 28, 2012

Notre Dame will host the first regional tournament in the Ronald Reagan Great Communicator Debate Series on Saturday. The debate series, sponsored by The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, will feature high school students from across the nation.

Students who make the championship tournament will compete at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, and the winner will receive scholarship awards, according to the foundation website.

Dr. Susan Ohmer, academic advisor to the Notre Dame debate team and film, television and theatre (FTT) professor, and Yvonne Waggoner, site coordinator, have been working since May to organize the tournament.

“When you put together a tournament, you [have to] think of things like where’s it going to be, how many rooms do we need, all the supplies and equipment,” Ohmer said.

Notre Dame was selected to host a regional tournament  because of historic ties between Reagan and Notre Dame, she said.

“[The connection] goes back to when President Reagan played the role of the Gipper in “Knute Rockne All-American,” Ohmer said. “And also, [Notre Dame] awarded him an honorary degree. So when [The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation] thought of schools in the Midwest, we came to mind.”

This series of debates is based off the format of presidential debates, assuming there is no expertise in debate, Ohmer said.

“[The students] don’t have to know special techniques, special terminology; it’s intended to encourage people to speak persuasively and logically on a situation,” she said.

Ohmer said to make the debates even more like those during a presidential election, the Reagan Foundation built in specific elements to make the debates more realistic.

There will be four preliminary rounds and two elimination rounds throughout the competition and the final debate round will be at 6 p.m. in Washington Hall. Debaters will be scored on their opening statement, rebuttal, response to questions, as well as their closing statement, Ohmer said.

“The Reagan Foundation built in some characteristics for it to be more like presidential debates so that in the middle of the debate, the moderator is allowed to ask a question of either side,” Ohmer said. “And that’s straight from the presidential debates.”
The most important thing to know about this debate is that you [the students] are asked to present your case to an interested, educated audience, who are not specialists in debate, so it’s called public forum debate.”

The judges for the competition are members of the debate team, debate team coaches, students in the Hesburgh-Yusko Scholars Program, as well as students in Ohmer’s class, “Media and the Presidency.” The final debate round in the evening has three judges: Mike Schmuhl, the chief of staff to South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Gary Sieber, who teaches in FTT and works for WNDU television station, and Professor Jay Tidmarsh of the Law School, she said.  

Students participating in the event will also be able to get a feel for the campus by eating in South Dining Hall and listening to a presentation from the Office of Undergraduate Admissions.

“We felt strongly that we wanted the students to be welcomed to campus,” Ohmer said.

Contact Catherine Owers at cowers@nd.edu