At the CFA Business meeting in December, 2008, those assembled instructed officers to develop the following document. It would not be part of the organization’s by-laws but, rather, a statement of the organization’s philosophy that all choosing to participate in CFA tournaments should be asked to read and adhere to. Since it is not part of the by-laws, it can be modified by the officers as necessary as the seasons progress.
Guidelines for Judging at CFA Tournaments
The Collegiate Forensics Association is philosophically committed to providing a fair forensics forum for a variety of competitors from a variety of schools. As an important part of this philosophy is the Association’s accessibility to new programs and beginning competitors. These programs and competitors are often not aware of the latest trends in either forensics or debate competition at more national tournaments. Furthermore, these programs and competitors may be working from a more traditional conception of forensics and debate than that which reigns at some national competitions. The CFA, in fact, fully embraces that more traditional conception while not excluding totally from competitive practices some innovations. The key, then, to judging at CFA tournaments is to privilege neither traditional practices nor some innovations but, rather, to judge events in such a manner that competitors receive equal treatment, regardless of how traditional or how innovative their approach may be. Judges who favor a very traditional approach are asked to be open to some innovations; judges who favor innovative practices are asked to be open to a more traditional approach. Judges of either ilk are asked to recognize that the conventions that may characterize forensics and debate events are just that--conventions, not rules or procedures that one must follow to receive a positive evaluation.
This philosophy plays out in the following ways in the different categories of competition.
Platform Speaking Events
Competitors should be very familiar with their presentations; however, they do not have to have them fully committed to memory. Notes may be used, although it is expected that there will be less reliance on notes as a season progresses.
Movement should be purposeful and, ideally, fluid, adding to the effectiveness of the speech.
Visual aids are not required. Although the use of such an aid may enhance a performance and, thus, be part of the basis for a high score, the absence of an aid should not, in and of itself, be the basis for a low score. Should one choose to use a visual, it is important that one incorporate it smoothly. The use of an easel may facilitate that process; however, the use of an easel is not required.
Judges should recognize that there is a gray area between persuasive and informative speaking. Should a speech fall into that area, judges should not let their judgment of its purpose affect their evaluation negatively. Judges should, on the contrary, assume that the competitor—and probably his or her coach—evaluated the speech as appropriate for the category and extend them the courtesy of judging it on its merits, not on whether it might be more appropriate in the other category.
Judges should recognize that after-dinner speeches may range from humorous addresses with very clear informative or persuasive purposes to comic ones that do make some point for the audience to consider. These are equally valid approaches to the after-dinner genre. Neither one should be privileged: judges should evaluate how effectively the competitor does what he or she sets out to do.
Judges should recognize that communication analysis may still be the rhetorical criticism ofpublic address, although communication analysis may just as validly use communication theory (not just rhetorical theory per se) and may just as validly deal with a wide range of communication activities. Judges should not evaluate a communication analysis on how traditional or avant-garde the theory or activity might be but, rather, on the quality of the analysis and its oral presentation.
Limited Preparation Events
Judges should recognize that there are many ways to engage in impromptu and extemporaneous speaking, not set formulas.
In impromptu, there should be an appropriate division between preparation time and speaking time. However, there is no rule governing how much of the former is appropriate. Judges should fault brief speeches because they are brief and, therefore, feature insufficient development of ideas, not because too much time was spent preparing. And, a successful impromptu speech should be well-organized, but there is no single way (e.g. 3 examples) to organize that should be preferred. Similarly, there is no single way to respond to a quotation (e.g. using examples) that should be preferred. Judges should focus their evaluation on how well an impromptu prompt is responded to and how well-organized that response is.
In extemp, there is also no set way to organize a speech, although an effective speech will certainly be judged to be well-organized. There is also no requirement for documentation. However, since documentation lends credibility to one’s statements, an extemp speech featuring no documentation will probably lack credibility. The judge should ask whether the ideas had, in his or her judgment, credibility, not count the number of references as if that number, by itself, should determine whether the speech was judged highly or not.
And, as with platform speaking, movement should be purposeful and fluid. The judge should ask if the speaker’s movement contributed to the speech’s effectiveness, not whether the speaker followed any conventions that seem to govern the limited prep events on certain circuits.
The CFA holds that these events are interpretation events during which the focus needs to be on the chosen literature, not on the acting skills of the speakers. The speaker, in fact, should recede from the listener’s consciousness, with the poem or story or play taking “centerstage.” The belief that these events are interpretation, not performance, necessitates restrictions on scenery, lighting, and props, as well as on appropriate restrictions on movement. To remind those competing in interpretation events of their nature, a manuscript is required and competitors are expected to refer to it. Competitors may well be very familiar with the literature they are interpreting, especially as a season progresses; however, competitors still must refer to a manuscript.
Traditional oral interpretation primarily uses the voice to interpret literature; on some circuits, oral interpretation is more a performance, with resources other than the voice being relied upon heavily. The CFA favors the former and asks judges with a contrary preference to not fault performers who engage in the event in a more traditional manner. However, in recognition of the fact that some competitors may be accustomed to using resources beyond the voice, the face, limited gesture, and limited movement, the CFA asks more traditional judges to admit a degree of performance into the events. The goal of all judges, then, ought to be to judge competitors in the terms they set-up, not to prefer one definition of interpretation over another. The CFA prohibits through its by-laws some techniques that would move oral interpretation too far in an acting direction. However, the CFA recognizes that there exists a range of acceptable approaches and asks judges to evaluate students on the assumption that traditional and innovative approaches have equal validity. If students choose to rely primarily on the voice to interpret literature, they should be evaluated based on how well they used this resource. If students choose to use certain other resources to interpret literature, they should be evaluated based on how well they used their chosen array of resources. The judge should privilege neither choice over the other, although the judge should insist that interpretation of literature, not effective acting, be the activity’s goal.
It is conventional for manuscripts to be in a binder, but the presence or absence of a binder should not enter into a judge’s evaluation. Neither should the size and/or color of the binder nor the presence or absence of plastic sheets. It is also conventional that interpretation pieces begin with a teaser and that, in duo, the two performers coordinate their opening and closing of their binders. These are, however, matters of convention, not rules. They should not be, in and of themselves, the bases for scores. Rather, scores should be based on the quality of the oral interpretation.
Both the NFA and the NPDA specify rules for these genres of debating. Debate has always been an evolving activity. At CFA tournaments, many debaters will be beginners with limited exposure to innovations in theory or practice. Judges should not insist that these innovations be followed, but should, rather, consult the basic guidelines offered by NFA and NPDA.
There are differences between the CFA circuit and others. For example, although neither NPDA nor CFA speak to whether or not competitors may consult printed material during the preparation period, both allow only the competitors’ notes in the room where the competition will occur. On many matters, the NPDA is silent. To keep all parliamentary debaters on equal footing, CFA does insist that competitors consult neither coaches nor teammates (other than partner) during the preparation period. As a matter of convention, the CFA also does not require the government team to announce which resolution it has chosen until the Prime Minister speaks. Judges are asked to remind competitors of these CFA guidelines and to recognize that they are designed not so much to enforce one conception of the activity as to assure uniformity throughout the CFA tournament and, thus, fairness to competitors.
Judges are reminded that students read ballots/critiques primarily as justifications for the judge’s decision. Thus, comments meant by judges as advice for improving what one is doing may easily be misinterpreted as implying that the judge’s verdict is based on the matter raised. Thus, “You should put your script pages within plastic sheets,” offered just as advice designed to push the competitor toward a more professional appearance, may be misinterpreted as the judge’s rationale for a rank of 5. Because norms and conventions so vary from circuit to circuit, it is very easy to be perceived as faulting a student because he or she did not do the event in accordance with one set of norms and conventions. The CFA, therefore, asks judges to exercise care in offering such well-intended advice. The CFA ballot is structured so as to distinguish comments that evaluate a speech or performance from comments that offer advice designed to help a competitor improve.
Familiarity with CFA By-Laws
CFA By-Laws define all events. They also outline for judges what the scoring norms for forensics events and debate should be. Judges should be familiar with these definitions. Judges should also be familiar with and follow the scoring norms:
For Forensics, a score from 70 to 100:
- 95-100 – Excellent
- 90-94 – Very Good
- 85-89 – Good
- 80-84 – Generally good but with marked weaknesses
- 75-79 – Fair
- 70-74 – Poor
For debate, a score of 11-30 for each debater as follows:
- 27-30 – Excellent
- 23-26 – Very Good
- 19-22 – Good
- 15-18 – Fair
- 11-14 -- Poor
Doing so will assure competitors that they will not be unduly advantaged or disadvantaged depending on the judges they draw.