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Rules of Oxford Style debate

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An older, but still popular form of debate, Oxford style is characterised by very formal structure and process compared to "BP" (British Parliamentary) debate or "World Schools Style".

1 General

  1. This is the set of rules that govern all debates to be held by Members of the South African National Debating Council in the Oxford Style. At any debate the chairperson and adjudicators have full authority in regard to the interpretation of these rules.
  2. All debates shall be conducted in the English language. Debaters for whom English is a second language shall be judged as if they were native English speakers.

2 The Structure of Debate

  1. Unless otherwise established, all debates held will be in the Oxford style.
  2. The topic shall be made known at least 14 days prior to the debate. A topic shall be offered by the proposition which is subject to the acceptance of the opposition. The organisers reserve power of veto over any potential topic to be debated under the supervision of Rhodes Debating.
  3. Two teams shall participate in a debate, each team comprising of three competitors. Each speaker shall be assigned a particular function, namely opening speaker, second speaker and summator.
  4. Competitors shall be called upon to speak by the chairperson in the following order:
    1. opening proposition
    2. opening opposition
    3. second proposition
    4. second opposition
    5. speakers from the floor
    6. opposition summator
    7. proposition summator

    No competitor shall make more than one speech in a debate.

  5. All members of the audience shall comprise the "floor", with the exception of the adjudicators.
  6. The task of the proposition is propose the topic with constructive arguments and the use of supporting material; the opposing team must oppose the resolution, by both rebutting the arguments of the proposition through the use of constructive arguments and supporting material.
  7. The debate organisers shall appoint a chairperson for each debate whose task is to regulate the debate, to keep order, and to call upon competitors to speak. The chairperson may call a speaker to order at any time. The Chairman is to be addressed as Mr or Madame Chairman throughout the debate, and may be one of the adjudicators.
  8. An odd number of adjudicators (usually three) will be assigned to each debate by the debate organisers.

3 Preparation Time

  1. A team will be given a minimum of two weeks during which to prepare an argument, except in the event of impromptu speaking in which case special conditions set by the organisers will apply.
  2. Any team that arrives more than 5 minutes late runs the risk of receiving zero points. This decision shall be made by the chairperson.

4 Time limits of speeches

  1. The following time limits apply to each speaker:
    1. opening proposition, 3 to 5 minutes
    2. opening opposition, 3 to 5 minutes
    3. second proposition, 5 to 7 minutes
    4. second opposition, 5 to 7 minutes
    5. speakers from the floor, each speaker is allowed not more than 30 seconds
    6. opposing summator, 7 to 10 minutes
    7. proposing summator, 7 to 10 minutes

    These time limits are guidelines only and should not be strictly enforced. The chairperson may at his or her discretion interrupt a speaker when a flagrant violation of these limits occur. Timeliness is a criteria for evaluation.

5 Definitions

  1. The first proposing speaker must define the topic, by setting out the subjects, issues and terms of debate. Definitions should be reasonable, clear and reasonably related to the terms of the topic. The first proposing speaker should not define a topic in a manner that is unfair to the opposition, or that is not closely connected to the letter and spirit of the topic. The proposition should also not propose a definition that runs counter to the topic, or that is perverse or tautological (true by definition).
  2. "Squirreling" (that is, the defining of a topic in such a way that no clear logical link exists between the terms of the topic and the definition), and "time-setting" (the confining of the subject-matter of debate to a particular time and place) are absolutely prohibited.
  3. Subject to 2.2, no amendment or alteration of the topic is in any way permitted.
  4. The opposition must in general accept the definition of a topic made by the first proposition speaker; but the first opposing speaker shall have the option to challenge a definition. A definition should only be challenged if it does not conform to the rules set out above. If the opening opposing speaker does not challenge it, the definition must be accepted by all speakers in the debate.
  5. A challenge to definitions must be made in the speech of the first speaker of the opposing team. If such a challenge is made, then the challenger must redefine the topic in a manner that conforms with the above rules.
  6. Even if a definition that violates the rules set out here is not challenged, the proposing team may still be penalised. When a challenge is made without just cause, the opposition will be penalised.

6 Points From the Floor

  1. Following the speech of the second speaker of the opposition the chairperson shall open the debate to the floor. At this stage any member of the floor may raise points, stating if proposing or opposing the topic. Control of the floor is at the sole discretion of the chairperson and should as far as possible allow even representation to both the proposing and opposing viewpoints. No speaker from the floor may speak for more than 30 seconds and is entitled to raise only one point at a time. Time should be given for fair argument, in the region of 10 to 15 minutes.
  2. All points raised should be raised through the chairperson, direct addressing of one floor member to another is prohibited.
  3. If a floor member directs a comment to a specific speaker, that speaker may offer a point of information in response to the comment, through the chairperson. A speaker may only offer such a point of information where a point raised supports the other side of the debate, is relevant to the debate and concerns that speaker's speech.
  4. Adjudicators will pay no attention to the points raised however the manner in responding to the points by the two summators will be considered.

7 New Points

  1. The final two speakers of the debate, the third speaker of the opposition and the third speaker of the proposition, are required to summarise the arguments presented by the two other speakers on each side of the debate. The final speaker (proposing summator) may not comment on the previous summator unless new points were introduced, in violation of 7.2
  2. New matter - that is, arguments and issues that have not been previously introduced during the debate - may not be introduced by the final two speakers of the debate, unless it is introduced as a rebuttal or reply to arguments or material previously introduced. The final two speakers, however, are encouraged and expected to develop and expand on arguments already made during the course of the debate.

8 The conduct of the debate

  1. Competitors are expected to behave during a debate, and with respect to their fellow competitors. Those who do not do so shall be penalised, and may be asked to exit the debate if the chairperson so decides.
  2. A debate is a formal affair and speakers should be dressed appropriately.
  3. No "points of privilege" may be raised.
  4. "Points of order" may only be made to the chairperson in extreme cases, when 8.1 is seriously abused. Personal abuse and obscenity are examples of such cases. Points of order shall not be made when new matter is introduced in final speeches, or when a speech is considered irrelevant. When such a point is made, it takes priority over all other speeches and the debate is suspended until the chairperson rules on the point. Misuse of the point of order shall be heavily penalised.
  5. Subject to 6.3, "points of information" - that is short interjections used to give or request information from the current speaker are prohibited. Points of information may only be offered in rebuttal.

9 Adjudication

  1. At the conclusion of a debate, the adjudicators shall leave the venue to confer and arrive at a collective decision. If a consensus decision cannot be reached the decision of the majority shall be effected.
  2. The main criterion for evaluating teams is the extent to which they were effective in persuading the adjudicators of the validity of their case, in the context of the debate. In doing this, adjudicators shall give equal weight to the matter, including arguments presented and the manner in which this matter was presented. Adjudicators may not reach a decision based on personal conviction in reference to the topic.
  3. A winning team will be decided and a best speaker, based on the score sheets of the adjudicators will be decided.
  4. Once a decision has been reached, the chairman will invite adjudicators to present it. Constructive criticism is encouraged but not necessary.
  5. Following the adjudication, the chairman will declare the debate over.

10 Misdebate

  1. A misdebate can be declared by the chairman during the course of the debate or at the end by the adjudicators. In this case the debate will be declared null and void and any result discarded. This will only be done in EXTREME circumstances, when the rules set out here are violated to such an extent that the spirit of debate is lost.

11. Complaints

Any complaints or disputes concerning any debate should be communicated as soon as possible to the debate organisers. The decision of the organisers in such a dispute will be final




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