The King’s Debate Society (KDS) was founded by students who saw a need for public speaking training and greater engagement with contemporary issues beyond the classroom walls.
Founder Matthias Clock (PPE ’11) writes, “When I came to King’s, I was perplexed that King’s—a college founded on shaping strategic institutions—didn’t have a debate program. Stan Oaks, the College’s president at the time, strongly encouraged me to start the program, and when Pam [Dodge] and I launched the Society, he personally wrote us a $1,000 check to get us to our first tournament.”
Clock, Dodge, and the first members chose to create a debate society, rather than a team or club, since it was to serve two important purposes beyond competition. First, the Society would help the College fulfil its mission to train all of its students—whether they compete or not—to shape strategic institutions; and second, it would engage the wider academic community in debate on important issues.
Soon, traditions started to form in the Society. Informal traditions like the hours-long discussions between members on van rides and tournaments helped Society members deepen their friendships and form opinions on important issues. Formal traditions sprang up too, like the Debate Society Christmas Party, with an an address from the Society president on important aspects of the Society’s vision and fun Christmas-themed debates, and the Year-End Party, featuring parting words from the outgoing president and an inaugural address from the incoming one. Offering toasts has become an important part of both events.
But of course, the Society also competed. Matthias Clock, the Society’s first president, and Pam Dodge (PPE ’11), the first vice president, attended their first tournament in the fall of 2008, where they advanced to quarterfinals and took home a top speaker award. By the end of the school year, KDS took four teams to the National Debate Championship in Vermont. KDS formed early connections with neighboring schools, including St. John’s University in Queens, and with Alfred “Tuna” Snider, the beloved coach from the University of Vermont.
Debate was a natural fit for The King’s College, with its evangelical mission and its PPE core curriculum, and the Society doubled in membership in its second year. The King’s College administration recognized the value of the Society and began providing financial backing. This support from the College opened up twice as many opportunities for debaters to attend tournaments, which quickly elevated the regional profile of the Society. KDS also became an integral part of the King’s community, hosting scrimmages and events on campus.
The First Coach and Expanding Opportunities
In the fall of 2010, KDS student leaders received approval from The King’s College administration to recruit and hire a part-time debate coach. Katie (Teubl) Ly became the first KDS coach.
Ly had a vision for seeing King’s debaters attending more international competitions, to enable them to engage more fully in the global marketplace of ideas. By the winter of 2012, KDS attended the World University Debate Championship for the first time in Manila, Philippines. Since then, KDS has continued to send teams across the world through competitions including University of Toronto, Hart House I.V., the Pan American Debate Championship, and the Oxford I.V.
Ly also introduced the Argumentation and Debate class that is periodically offered today, furthering the academic study of rhetoric at King’s. She says of her time with KDS:
Coaching The King’s Debate Society was a wonderful opportunity to engage the ideas of our day—and not just to engage the ideas, but start a debate within our own little community at The King’s College about the nature of those ideas. What are the most significant ideas and debates of our day? What are the terms of those debates? Can our generation change the terms of the debate? Can we take toxic debates and introduce new terms into these debates that will reinvigorate public debate and revive our community’s dialogue? Puzzling over these questions with those earnest students at The King’s College was perhaps one of the most intellectually and soul-satisfying experiences of my life.
In 2011, KDS added annual awards to the Year-End Party, including awards for the Top Speaker, the Most Improved Speaker, the Best Brief, and the Community Builder. The Community Builder award was renamed the Matthias Clock Award in 2013 to honor the Society’s founder, who spent sophomore through senior year building the KDS community and developing the institutional traditions that helped make KDS the longest continuously running student-led organization on campus.
The year 2012 was momentous as the first year in which KDS hosted The Empire Debates, an annual intercollegiate debate tournament that has attracted debaters from around the country and the world. Then-KDS president Josiah Peterson (PPE ’12) writes, “Hosting a tournament is an important tradition of The King’s Debate Society. It’s a chance for us to show intellectual hospitality and share our vision for debate both through the motions we set and in the address the president or coach delivers at the awards ceremony.” Empire Debates participants have included teams from Yale, Columbia, Cornell, the Debate Federation of Ukraine, and representatives of Tec del Monterrey, the hosts of the 2018 World University Debate Championship.
KDS teams first broke at the U.S. University Debate Championship in 2012, sending two teams to the Octafinals. KDS teams have continued this trend and now frequently break at the national championship. Having been finalists several times before, King’s also won its first regional tournament in the spring of 2013.
KDS has continued to expand its presence on campus, hosting debates between faculty members, sponsoring lectures from visiting scholars, and hosting a public debate to raise awareness and funds for charity. Students are also able to receive up to three Praticum credits for their participation in Debate at King’s.