Bard News & Events

Press Release

Newly Established Bard College Debate Program Wins National Recognition

Jennifer Wai-Lan Huang
Bard Debate Program Finishes Among Top 40 in the Country, the Youngest in its Rank, and Qualifies for Debate’s Most Elite National Championship Tournament

Bard’s debate team at the elite National Debate Tournament held in Dallas, Texas, from March 30 to April 2, 2007. Front row from left to right: Ruth Zisman (director of debate), Sherin Varghese (co-coach), Ravenna Wilson ’07, Stephen Davis ’05 (co-coach). Back row from left to right: Nathan Sweed ’08, Cassie Cornell ’09, Julian Letton ’10.


ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.—Founded in 2004 and now in its third season, Bard College’s debate program qualified two teams for varsity debate’s most elite, invitation-only National Debate Tournament (NDT) 2007 championship—an accomplishment previously unheard of for such a newly formed debate program. Only the top 78 two-person debate teams (representing the top 40 schools) in the country are invited to compete in the prestigious NDT. The two student teams of Cassie Cornell ’09 from Athens, Ohio, and Julian Letton ’10 (College Station, Texas) and Ravenna Wilson ’07 (Amherst, Massachusetts) and Nathan Sweed ’08 (Sugar Land, Texas) competed at the NDT championship in Dallas, Texas from March 30 to April 2, 2007.

“We are competing against schools on a national level that have long-standing formal debate programs with several paid researchers on staff, well-established debate scholarships, and competitive high school recruitment schemes. We are proud that Bard’s debate team is gaining national recognition for its extraordinary success this early on in the program’s development,” says director of debate at Bard and head coach Ruth Zisman.

The Bard debate program was named “Best New [Debate] Program” by Columbia University, and “Program of the Year” by the Society Advocating More and Better Argumentation (one of the national organizations overseeing debate tournaments) in its first season. Over the next three seasons, Bard’s debate program has continued to rise rapidly in national ranking. Bard finished 38th overall in the country this year—by far the youngest program in its league. In addition to the NDT, Bard competed in the 2007 Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA) national championship tournament, where Bard’s debate team of Wilson and Sweed tied for ninth out of 200 schools. Independently, Wilson was named 20th speaker and Sweed 27th speaker out of 400.

At the beginning of each academic year, Zisman and co-coaches Sherin Varghese and Stephen Davis ’05 recruit both novice and experienced debaters from campus. Every weekend, the debate program holds work sessions, which include training, research, practice debates, and speech revisions. During the competitive season, Bard debate teams travel nationwide—competing in about 15 tournaments throughout the year—and continue to practice, research, and hone their strategy together. Bard’s debate program operates under the academic guidance of Jonathan Becker, Bard’s associate dean of the college.

For more information on Bard’s Debate, contact Ruth Zisman at or 845-758-7816.

Bard Debate Tournament Travel Schedule for 2007–08:

September 22–24—Georgia State*
September 29–30—Vermont
October 6–8—Kentucky*
October 19–21—West Point
October 27–29—Harvard*
November 10–12—Wake Forest*
November 17–18—Rochester

February 2–3—Baruch
February 9–10—Cornell
February 9–11—Northwestern*
February 23–24—Regional Champs/D8 Qualifier at SUNY Binghamton
March 1–3—Novice/JV Nationals at Towson
March 22–25—CEDA Nationals**
March 29–April 1—National Debate Tournament***

*Varsity only
**Dates/location to be confirmed
***Top 78 teams in the country to attend after qualifying

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This event was last updated on 10-27-2008