UC Berkeley Falls Short in Annual ‘Great Debate' Against Stanford

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SAN FRANCISCO-Stanford recaptured the debate world's version of the Big Game's Axe last night, winning the fourth-annual UC Berkeley versus Stanford "Great Debate."

Mixing cutting sarcasm with a sharp-edged argument over energy deregulation, Cal Forensics and the Stanford Debate Society dueled to a "virtual draw."

In the end, the three celebrity judges handed Stanford undergraduates Amer Ahmed, Jeff Davidson and Jenny Herbert a unanimous victory and the trophy cup.

"This must have been the closest of the three debates I've judged," said San Mateo Superior Court Judge and former San Francisco politico Quentin Kopp.

Joining Kopp in the judge's panel were KPIX newscaster Barbara Rodgers and San Francisco Chronicle reporter Phil Matier.

Approximately 150 people crowded a small conference room in San Francisco's Commonwealth Club, the nation's oldest public forum for political discussion. With Cardinal-red chairs on the left and California-blue chairs on the right, the room had the look and feel of a fall football game.

Stanford debaters argued California's energy crisis would be solved most effectively with market solutions, while Berkeley debaters argued for a return to the pre-deregulation era before 1996.

Organizers chose the topic nearly two months ago, and teams

prepared for at least a month, since the end of their formal debate season.

Stanford won the coin toss two months ago and was given the choice of sides to argue. It decided to defend deregulation.

Both Rodgers and Matier said they came into the debate prejudiced against deregulation.

"Stanford was about 10 points behind right from the start," Matier said.

But the Stanford team's choice to defend unpopular deregulation may have worked in its favor because judges might have compensated for their prejudice by holding the Berkeley team to a higher standard, said Berkeley debater Dan Shalmon.

"When I judge debates and if I have a personal bias, I'm much less likely to vote for that position," Shalmon said.

But Stanford debater Ahmed denied that was the case last night. He said the unanimous decision showed his team had decisively proven their argument "beyond a reasonable doubt."

The "Great Debate" is a chance for the top-ranked Berkeley and Stanford teams who compete in different leagues to exhibit their skills for alumni and debate fans. Held after the formal debate season, yesterday's event was a matter of school pride.

"It led to a little more emphasis on showmanship," Ahmed said.

Debaters do not have much time to explain complicated points and spoke fast to compress a large volume of information into a small amount of time.

Opening their arguments, debaters often began with pithy statements designed to win over the "laymen," as Ahmed described the audience.

Shalmon drew a big laugh from the crowd with his opening statement, "Deregulation has been history's most expensive April Fool's Day joke."

In the same vein, Ahmed began his statement with a crowd-pleaser.

"(Trying to re-regulate) is like putting the toothpaste back in the tube, and it's going to get very messy," he said.

The six undergraduate debaters-nearly all of whom are headed to top law schools-held an impromptu question-and-answer period with the audience after the meeting.

An audience member asked what advice they had for high school students in debate.

"Stop now," said Cal debater Tejinder Singh, drawing the biggest laugh of the night.


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