The Founding of APDA
The Founding of APDA
A Brief History of APDA
APDA was, like so many of us, conceived in the back seat of a Ford.
The Ford in question was an orange Cortina, the 2.3-liter, wending its way through the Scottish Highlands. Aboard, taking a weekend to sightsee following the first Parliamentary World Championships at Glasgow, were Princeton’s David Martland and Richard Sommer, and David Bailin and J.J. Gertler of Amherst.
Somewhere on the road from Glasgow to Inverness, around Tarbet, the conversation turned to the next Worlds, and whether the United States could host such an event. The 1981 Worlds had come about almost serendipitously. For a number of years, the Transatlantic University Speech Association (TAUSA) had hosted - or attempted to host - international tournaments to include North American teams. In the U.S., though, TAUSA was represented by one man, Larry Frank of St. Lawrence College, and no budget. Of the then rather few American schools with parliamentary programs, most weren’t even aware of TAUSA’s existence. The organization, too, was shaky; as a result, there had only been one true TAUSA international, at London in the late 70s.
The Glaswegians had taken it upon themselves to create a world tournament in hopes of establishing a permanent series. (The creation and infrastructure of that tournament took on soap-operatic dimensions of their own, but that’s a story for a different time.)
At that point (January 23, 1981), there were really three separate parliamentary “organizations” in the U.S. A Northeast circuit included the New England schools, extending as far south as Swarthmore. About 15 schools fielded teams on a regular basis, ranging from Harvard to Bronx Community College. A Midwestern circuit, anchored by the University of Chicago, included the major state universities like Iowa and Illinois. A small West Coast circuit, really an offshoot of the strong cross-ex leagues there, centered on the smaller schools around Los Angeles.
None of these circuits had a real structure. Tournaments were announced ad hoc, with schools tending to retain favored weekends to reduce conflicts. The Northeast circuit schedule was driven primarily by the CUSID schedule, since Canadians were at the time the best in the world(note 1). Participation in Canadian tournaments was thus the highlight of many American schools’ season; conversely, getting Canadians to an American tournament was a feather in the host’s cap. Because of its traditional strong fields, Brown’s Charles Evans Hughes tournament was considered the Eastern championship; as Chicago was both in the center of the country and the last tournament of the year, it functioned as the de facto Nationals.
Back to the Ford. The Americans faced two problems. First, parliamentary was really catching on, especially in the Northeast; a more formal structure was clearly needed if only to schedule the growing number of schools wanting tournament dates. Without such a structure, too, there was little chance of organizing a world tournament in the States. The second problem was how do these people drive on this side of the road?
How to create a league from nothing had been a topic of some not-always-calm discussion at Northeast circuit tournaments for almost a year. The four in the car had already conducted serious discussions with CUSID about the possibility of a joint league, (CAN-ADL, the Canadian-American Debate League), to ensure deconfliction of schedules and to build off of CUSID’s existing infrastructure. (This approach also followed the “800-pound gorilla” theory.) However, the level of control desired by CUSID – and a strong anti-internationalist sentiment from some U.S. schools – rendered CAN-ADL a nonstarter. Other, more domestic approaches had become bogged down in the sort of small-organization politics familiar to school boards and church auxiliaries.
Somewhere north of Tarbet, chugging up the Cairngorms, the answer appeared. Informed by politics, illuminated by the mantic arts, guided by principles of high-energy physics, and evolved from more than a few too many pints at the Glasgow Union, the solution derived its simplicity from classical economics: Assume a league.
At the next U.S. tournament (fading memory suggests it may have been Yale), the organizational meeting of the American Parliamentary Debate Association was announced. No formalities, no consultations; just, would each school send one representative to vote for the league’s officers and to submit a requested date for their 1981-82 season tournament.
And they did. The schools complied without fuss or bother. David Martland was elected the first president of APDA, J.J. Gertler the vice-president for operations, and Phil Sisson of Rhode Island College VP for finance.
APDA was centered around a basic philosophy: It existed to facilitate debate, not to shape it. APDA would not make debating rules; each tournament would retain its own quirks and rules. APDA would create a ballot to reflect the realities of American parliamentary debate (most schools used either CUSID ballots or modified on-topic ones), but no school had to use the APDA ballot. Beyond creating the ballot, APDA would:
Deconflict tournament dates; Act as liaison with other national and international debating organizations; Attempt to raise funds to support parliamentary debate tournaments, and; Organize and sanction a national championship tournament.
While the 1981 University of Chicago tournament (won by Amherst) was the first to receive APDA sanction as Nationals, the first standalone APDA Nationals (won by Princeton) were at Swarthmore in 1982, and the first U.S.-hosted Worlds at Princeton in 1983.
Since that time, as we understand it, APDA has grown tremendously. Some of the principles have changed, as has parliamentary debate. None of us in that Ford can claim to have foreseen all of it. But we’re sure glad it worked.
(Note 1) The amazing late 70s-early 80s generation of CUSID debaters is still called “the dinosaurs” north of the border. This was a group of twenty or so world-class debaters who appeared on the CUSID circuit at roughly the same time, and who indeed are still a close-knit community today. The “Dinosaurs” name came due to a) their long careers -CUSID rules allowed graduate students and even not-really-very-much-students to debate long before the U.S. did; b) their astonishing gravity (these folks really did redefine parliamentary debate for much of the world); c) their insistence on proper, old-fashioned parliamentary debate, no prepared cases, no stock arguments, definitions that stayed true to the resolution.
After Princeton, having not spent enough tuition already, David Martland headed to Yale Law. He’s at a firm in Boston now.
David Bailin went to Harvard Business School and Morgan Stanley after college. As of 2009, he was still doing high finance, but with another firm.
Richard Sommer followed Princeton with Oxford. A series of guest debates from the Oxford Union was shown on PBS in the mid-80s; Richard appeared there as partner to Caspar Weinberger. Subsequently, he was involved with internet ventures, and was last seen running a home improvement company in California.
J.J. Gertler used his APDA experience as staff speechwriter for a US Senator and a number of contract clients as part of a career in national security. Now senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, he notes: Since 1988, I’ve been married to a former CUSID Director of English Debate; indeed, I proposed in a speech from the floor at the 1987 University of Toronto tournament, and we were married in the Debates Room at Hart House. And the car license plates are 2DEBATE. So, yes, it is possible to remain obsessed.
Postscript on Incorporation
In 1999, after seventeen years of formal existence, the schools making up APDA voted to incorporate the entity, as a not-for-profit. The President of APDA, Matthew Schwartz (Princeton 2000), and the Vice-Presidents of Operations and Finance, Jordan Factor (Brandeis 2000) and Jeremiah Gordon (Princeton 2000) respectively, took upon themselves the task of preparing APDA to be APDA, Inc.
The new Executive Board, elected in April 2000, filed the rest of the necessary paperwork to make the American Parliamentary Debate Association a not-for-profit corporation, registered in the State of New York. Scott Luftglass of Yale University, the President, and David Silverman of Princeton University and Adam Zirkin of Brandeis University, the Vice-Presidents of Operations and Finance, ran the new corporation in its first full year, with the aid of the Outside Trustees of the Board, Christopher Paolella, a former APDA president and Harvard Law School graduate, and D. Glen Whitman, a former NYU debater and current Cal. State Economics professor.