Harvard Speech and Parliamentary Debate Society

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Harvard Speech and Parliamentary Debate Society Harvard Wreath Logo 1.svg
General information
Established 1981
Website www.hspds.org
2012-2013 Executive Board [1]
President Nathaniel Donahue '15
VP Tournament Administration Dylan Hardenbergh '16
VP Recruitment Jake Miller '15
VP Finance Julia Geiger '15
VP Operations Vegas Longlois '16
VP Training Bo Seo '17
Coach Alex Loomis and Joshua Zoffer '14

The Harvard Speech and Parliamentary Debate Society (HSPDS)also known as the Harvard Debate Union, is one of Harvard University's two competitive debate organizations. As the winner of the most American Parliamentary Debate Association National Championships of any college (including in 2012 and 2013), the 2013 North American Champions, the 2009 and 2010 finalists at the World Universities Debating Championship, and the 2014 World Champions, the team is consistently one of the most successful debate organizations in the world.


Though formal debate at Harvard dates back over a century, the Harvard Speech and Parliamentary Debate Society was founded in the fall of 1981 in response to the recent creation of the American Parliamentary Debate Association.[2] The organization was created by leading members of the undergraduate Harvard Radcliffe Speech Team, Gordon Bell ’83 and Tony DiNovi ’84, and two graduate students who were veterans of parliamentary debate at Vassar and Yale, Tom Rozinski and Neil Buchanan. Members of HSPDS began to compete in the American Parliamentary Debate Association, a national league of university debating societies that had been conceived only months earlier in late January or early February 1981.[3]

Almost from the start, HSPDS was a dominant force on APDA, winning the National Championships in 1983 and amazingly, every third year after that up until 1992. To this day, Harvard holds the record for most National Championships won by a school with nine, including back to back titles in 2004 and 2005 and 2012 and 2013. The competitive strength of HSPDS was perhaps best demonstrated in the 1992-1993 season when Harvard teams won the National Championships, World Championships, and were twice runner up at the North American Championships in 1992 and 1993. These achievements mirrored the success HSPDS had in recruiting members and facilitating debate on campus. In 1991 alone, the team recorded 112 total members, of which 58 competed regularly.

Though HSPDS has been a student-run organization from its inception and faculty involvement has been kept to a minimum, HSPDS has had several famous and influential faculty sponsors. These include Professor Richard Marius, a famous academic and writer, and the former director of the Expository Writing Program, as well as the Rev. Peter Gomes, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church. Today, HSPDS continues to be an entirely student-run enterprise, governed by an entirely undergraduate, five-member executive board.

The team has continued to be tremendously successful. In recent years, Harvard debaters finished as National Champions in 2013 and 2012, finalists at the 2010 APDA National Championship, champions of the 2009 and 2011 United States Universities Debating Championship (a British Parliamentary style tournament, top speaker at the 2009 North American Debating Championships, the 2012 and 2010 1st Teams of the Year in the American Parliamentary Debate Association, two-time finalists at the 2009 and 2010 World Universities Debating Championship, and winners of the 2014 World Universities Debating Championship.

Recent Awards[edit]

2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Worlds Finalists Winner of the US Universities Debating Championship National Champions National Champions 1st Team of the Year
1st Team of the Year Top Speaker, National Championship 1st Team of the Year North American Champions 1st Speaker of the Year
2nd Team of the Year 3rd Team of the Year 2nd Speaker of the Year 1st Speaker of the Year 5th Team of the Year
Nationals Finalists 3rd Speaker of the Year 3rd Speaker of the Year 2nd Speaker of the Year 4th Speaker of the Year
5th Speaker of the Year 2nd Team of the Year 1st & 3rd Novices of the Year


The Harvard Speech and Parliamentary Debate Society is run by a board of students who are elected by the team each winter and additional members appointed by that board. The board is responsible for all organizational decisions and planning including running the Harvard Debating Championships, managing finances, coordinating travel to tournaments, training new debaters, recruiting members, and representing Harvard at all American Parliamentary Debate Association meetings. The board is composed of the executive board and several members at large. The executive board consists of five members the President, the Vice President of Tournament Administration, the Vice President of Recruitment and Training, the Vice President of Finance, and the Vice President of Operations.[1]

National competition[edit]

The Harvard Speech and Parliamentary Debate Society competes mostly in the American Parliamentary style of debate as a member of the American Parliamentary Debate Association, an intercollegiate debate association with roughly fifty member universities across the United States. HSPDS competes at tournaments across the country that take place on Fridays and Saturdays each week.

The team is also active in the political structure of the league. HSPDS has been represented in all positions on the executive board of APDA: as President (1990–1991, 2012-2014), Vice President of Operations (1997–1998 and 2010–2011), Vice President of Finance (1995–1996, 2004–2005, and 2011–2013), Member-at-Large (1996–1997, 2008–2009, and 2011–2012, 2014-2015), and Trustee (2008–2009 and 2009–2010).[4]

International competition[edit]

Though the primary purpose of HSPDS is to compete within APDA, the team competes internationally with great success. HSPDS has competed at the North American Debating Championships, the World Universities Debating Championships, and several Inter-Varsity tournaments at Oxford, Cambridge, and Yale. In addition to reaching the final round of the World Universities Debating Championship twice of the last three years, Harvard won the Yale IV in 2007 and two Harvard teams reached the final round in 2010.[5] A Harvard team also reached the final round at the 2008 North American Debating Championship. For the first time, Harvard won the North American Debating Championship in 2013 and in 2014 followed by winning the World Universities Debating Championship.

Campus events and tournaments[edit]

Harvard Debating Championships[edit]

The Harvard Science Center where the final round of the Harvard Debating Championships is held each year

The inaugural Harvard Debating Championships were held on October 23–24, 1981. The tournament has been held annually each year since then and has not only remained an important annual event for HSPDS, serving as the primary fundraiser and for the team, but has become the largest collegiate debate tournament in North America involving more than 300 competitors.

Campus debates[edit]

HSPDS has hosted several on-campus events, sometimes in conjunction with other student organizations at Harvard. In the fall of 2009, one HSPDS member debated PETA on the ethics of eating meat. A few years earlier, in 2005, HSPDS sponsored a debate on Israel and Palestine between Alan Dershowitz and Noam Chomsky.[6]


Harvard continues to debate Yale and Princeton in the annual tradition of the Triangular Debates. The competition began near the end of the 19th century as an ad hoc debate against Yale. A more formal association began in 1908, when Harvard, Yale, and Princeton began to hold annual debates called “Triangulars” to discuss current political and economic affairs. The debates gained national attention and were attended by high-level officials and large audiences. This tradition remains to this day, as HSPDS fields two three-member teams to debate against three-member teams from Yale and Princeton.

Community service[edit]

Harvard debaters organize and teach a modified form of parliamentary debate to middle school students as part of a Boston pilot program organized with a non-profit, Debate Mate. In just one year, HSPDS began teaching in seven Boston schools, reaching roughly seventy students. Volunteers met with students weekly and the program culminated in a tournament hosted on Harvard's campus. The organization will be partnering officially with Boston Public Schools next year.



  1. ^ a b "Leadership". Harvard Speech and Parliamentary Debate Society. 
  2. ^ "A Brief History of APDA". American Parliamentary Debate Association. 
  3. ^ "History". Harvard Speech and Parliamentary Debate Society. 
  4. ^ American Parliamentary Debate Association, "Past Executive Boards": http://www.apdaweb.org/wiki/doku.php?id=about:past_executive_boards
  5. ^ "Highlights". Harvard Speech and Parliamentary Debate Society. 
  6. ^ "Israel and Palestine After Disengagement - Noam Chomsky debates with Alan Dershowitz". Libcom.org. January 28, 2011. 

External links[edit]