Students from Arizona’s public universities will gather in Tucson this weekend to compete for the chance to earn scholarships and take home the prestigious Regents’ Cup.
The Regents’ Cup is a heavy trophy. At least, this is what Ted McLoof, the Executive Director of the UA Debate Series, is quick to remark when asked about it.
“The University of Arizona won the cup last year and now it’s on display in the President’s office. We had to carry that heavy trophy back with us from NAU. This year, we’re hosting the Regents’ Cup right here in Tucson.”
University of Arizona students at last year’s competition took first, second, and third place in the Storytelling format, where they shared true stories based on their personal experiences. With additional second and third place finishes in the Oxford-style debate category, the Wildcat team was able to surpass the competition and secure the “heavy trophy” as the overall winners.
On February 25th, the University of Arizona will defend its title.
The tri-university Regents’ Cup will take place in McClelland Hall in the Eller College of Management building. Student team members from across Arizona’s public universities will compete in an environment that has raised the bar for civil and respectful debate.
For McLoof, competitive debate has always been about more than friendly argument. He hopes to reestablish the true meaning of debate and spark a greater appreciation for civil discourse.
“We are trying to take the stigma out of debate. We are trying to turn it back into its initial purpose, which is communication and discourse. Everyone who attends, and who is involved in the panels, learns that you should be able to bring opposite ideas to the table and make that into a conversation.”
Out of the writing classroom, into the community
Years before the inaugural Regents’ Cup competition in 2019, McLoof was using his first-year writing course to teach students how to negotiate conflicting viewpoints through debate. His goal was simple: He wanted to change the way his students viewed and took part in dialogue surrounding controversial topics. This meant equipping them with strategies for resolving their differences through productive discourse.
“There was chaos in terms of discourse happening during the 2016 presidential cycle. Social media had been introduced into the process of what debate looked like during presidential campaigns … the way discourse was happening had gotten away from its original intent.”
McLoof sought to balance his first-year writing students’ right to free speech with their need for healthy discourse independent of polemic views.
“I was hoping to encourage both civil discourse and critical thinking,” said McLoof, a Principal Lecturer who teaches classes for the Writing Program. “The English 102 debate unit encouraged students to focus on learning more about controversial issues that were on people’s minds and put students into a forum to generate civil discussion—to be mindful of rhetoric and who the audience is.”
McLoof took what he learned from teaching debate in his first-year writing course and founded the UA Debate Series in 2018.
The new series focused on hosting Oxford-style debate and panel discussions for a community audience. Each semester, the series invites campus faculty, public officials, community leaders, and students to engage in forums and debates on relevant local and national issues. Run by a devoted team of student interns, its mission is dedicated to giving students from different majors and diverse backgrounds a venue for civil discourse.
Gennie Obaid, an accounting major with a minor in human rights, is one of these students. Now the Marketing Director of the UA Debate Series, she enrolled in McLoof’s class when she was a freshman. She quickly took to enjoying the discussion on complex topics and learning about public speaking as a rhetorical tool. Even though she never took debate in high school, she still considered herself a natural arguer. She brought this trait with her when she joined the Debate Series after McLoof’s course.
“One thing that I love about Ted, even in his classroom, and when it comes to the Debate Series, he always emphasized relevance when discussing topics … I think debate has taught me to refine my public speaking ability and has taught me to be more comfortable with what I speak about and how I word [my speeches].”
Obaid was one of the winners who took third place in the Storytelling category during last year's Regents’ Cup. She earned a $5,000 scholarship and helped the University of Arizona bring home the prestigious trophy.
A new state of debate in Arizona
Working alongside Dr. Diana Leonard, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Communication and the Director of Public Speaking, McLoof helped the Arizona Board of Regents establish the competition model adopted by University of Arizona and its sister institutions, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University.
The Regents’ Cup was designed to reward students from across Arizona’s three public universities for their skills in questioning, providing sound arguments, and their ability to be confident speakers. As McLoof prepared his students for this year’s competition, he reminded us that the most important thing about this competition is that it was designed for people who do not know a lot about debate.
“It is made to bring the audience into the world of debate,” said McLoof. “The arguments that the students put together are delivered to individuals who may not have prior knowledge about the topic.”
This year’s competition is themed Liberty, Prosperity, and the Constitution. Taking place in McClelland Hall, the venue is open to the wider public, and attendees will have the chance to see students engaged in the free speech that has earned the University of Arizona and its sister institutions a “green light” rating from the Foundations for Individual Rights and Expression.
And while McLoof anticipates more spirited debate from each team at this year’s Regents’ Cup, the Wildcats team will be making their best argument for keeping the heavy trophy in the president's office for at least one more year.