A Maine college team talked its way into the world debate championships

Posted Jan. 06, 2017, at 7:01 a.m.

LEWISTON, Maine — Two Bates College students joined teams from Oxford University, Yale University and the University of Sydney earlier this week in The Hague, Netherlands, competing in the World Universities Debating Championship.

Zoe Seaman-Grant, a senior from Charleston, South Carolina, and Matthew Davis, a junior from Chicago, advanced to the round of four in a competition that included teams representing 375 colleges and universities from around the world, including Harvard, Brown, Stanford and Princeton universities.

The prior best for a Bates team was in 2015 in Malaysia, when seniors Taylor Blackburn and Matt Summers tied for 30th place, according to college spokesman Sean Findlen.

Bates’ debate team, the Brooks Quimby Debate Council, was founded in 1855 and participated in the first intercollegiate debate in 1896 and the first international collegiate debate in 1908, according to the college. Among notable past Bates debaters with Maine connections is Tom Connolly, a 1979 graduate who went on to become a well-known defense attorney based in Portland and the Democratic Party candidate for governor in 1998.

The World Universities Debating Championships follow the British Parliamentary format, with topics announced 15 minutes before the debate begins, with two teams supporting a proposition and two opposing it. After nine preliminary rounds, the top teams proceed to single-elimination rounds.

In the final round, Bates opposed the motion “This House would apply universal jurisdiction to crimes against the environment.” Sydney and Oxford universities supported the motion, and Bates and Yale University opposed it. The Sydney team was judged the winner, according to Findlen.

Bates was the only Maine college to send a team.

“While there’s a long history of success in international debate competition at Bates, reaching the final round at the world championships was uncharted territory for our team,” coach Jan Howden said in a release. “We’re thrilled with their success and looking forward to celebrating back home in Maine.”