What We Do & Why We Do It
The Princeton Debate Panel, as a member of the American Parliamentary Debate Association (APDA), participates in weekly intercollegiate parliamentary debate tournaments across the country. Parliamentary debate is an extemporaneous style of debate that emphasizes analysis, argumentation, rhetoric, and breadth of knowledge, rather than extensive research and preparation of evidence. With a different topic every round, two-member teams from Princeton are pitted against other debaters from colleges and universities across the nation.
Princeton sends debaters to weekly tournaments from Boston to California, as well as international tournaments in Canada, England, France, Ireland, South Africa, Greece, the Philippines, and Australia. All debaters, even first-year novices, have the opportunity to attend as many tournaments as they wish. Entry fees, transportation, and housing are covered by the PDP. First-year members are allowed (and even encouraged) to attend as many tournaments as our most experienced debaters, since the PDP philosophy is that one learns best to debate from hands-on, tournament experience. Prospective debaters should visit our Membership Page.
A Record of Success
Since the founding of APDA, Princeton won Team of the Year (TOTY) a record nine times (1984, 1985, 1992, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2009, 2016) and Speaker of the Year (SOTY) a record ten times (1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2009, 2016). In 2008, it also won the inaugural Club of the Year (COTY). Princeton novices also won Novice of the Year (NOTY) three times (in 1998, 2001, and 2008). Other awards include the Chris Porcaro Award, given to the graduating senior with the most top speaker finishes in his or her APDA career (2001, 2002, and 2005), and the Distinguished Service Award (in 2006).
In addition to performing well throughout the season, the PDP has also excelled at national and international championships. In the United States, Princeton won the APDA National Championship six times (1982, 1991, 2000, 2002, 2006, 2016), and a Princeton debater won top speaker at nationals a record eight times (in 1990, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2002, 2004, and 2010).
Princeton also performs well at the North American Debating Championship (NorthAms), the official university debating championship of North America. PDP won the 1997 championship, and also won first speaker at the first “NorthAms” championship in 1992, and again in 1997, 1999, and 2001.
Finally, Princeton has been extremely successful at the international level, competing annually in the British Parliament-style World Universities Debating Championship. In 1981, the first year that APDA teams competed at nationals, Princeton broke to semifinals. Since then, teams have advanced to elimination rounds in 1984, 1992, 1993, 1994, 2001, 2009, 2010, and 2013. Princeton was also one of two American teams to be invited to the Transatlantic Debating Championship, and the only one to be invited twice. It competed in 2010, and received second place and first speaker in 2013.
Many of PDP’s debaters have also gone onto outstanding post-graduation success. Post-debate careers have ranged from for-profit positions at McKinsey & Co., Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, and Morgan Stanley to non-profit positions such as clerkships for the Supreme Court and membership in the United States Senate.
Post-debate graduate school destinations have included Harvard Law School, Yale Law School, the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Cornell Law, MIT, Oxford, and Cambridge. Alumni have also won prestigious awards, including the Rhodes Scholarship, the Marshall Scholarship, and the Fulbright Scholarship.
Most notably, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito ’72 was president of the PDP during his time as an undergraduate. Other famous Princetonians connected to the PDP include Jason Goldman ’99 (an influential executive at Google and Twitter who was ranked the top debater and team in the nation and top debater in North America), Senator Ted Cruz ’92 (a well-known legislator from Texas who was ranked the top debater and team in the nation and top debater in North America), Judge Andrew Napolitano ’72 (an influential political analyst), Joseph S. Nye ’58 (one of the most prominent international relations scholars in the United States), John Foster Dulles ’08 (arguably the most influential diplomats of the century), and Woodrow Wilson ‘1879 (who coached the team while on faculty).
For more on the history of PDP, check out our timeline.
The Education Program
The PDP has been the most successful debate team in the country due largely to our unique education program. Debate at Princeton is an undergraduate-run activity; we have no coaches or faculty advisors. Rather, novices are taught debate skills by the most successful debaters in the world. Peer education is a cornerstone of the PDP education policy.
Novice education is a comprehensive one-semester program which teaches the basics of parliamentary debate and public speaking. Taught by current PDP members, education sessions are held twice a week. Novice debaters will also have many opportunities to debate with a varsity member at regular tournaments throughout the year. After the first semester of novice education, debaters graduate to advanced education sessions, in which all members of the team participate.
Most importantly, however, the PDP philosophy is that the best education is actual competitive experience. For this reason, we encourage debaters to attend as many tournaments as they can during the year.
The PDP hosts two debate tournaments a year: the Princeton Classic, a high school debate tournament, and the Adlai E. Stevenson Memorial Debate Tournament, one of the largest and most prestigious collegiate tournaments in the United States. Princeton also hosted the World Universities Debating Championship three times (1983, 1989, and 1995), including the first and last times it was hosted in the United States.
The PDP also regularly participates in American Whig-Cliosophic Society campus Senate debates. Additionally, the majority of the winners of on-campus prize debates sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson Honorary Debate Society come from the PDP. Finally, the PDP participates in the famous Triangular Debates against Harvard and Yale, a three-way debate competition dating back to 1893.
Outside of argumentation, the PDP is also a closely-knit social group. Often considered more a family than a team, the PDP attends team dinners after each tournament, hosts social functions, and plays in campus intramural competitions.