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Meet Columbia’s Winningest Team

They spring for Patrón but skimp on the trophies?

Columbia may not always excel on the playing field, but when it comes to sports of the intellectual variety, we fare rather well. Last week, our Parliamentary Debate Team faced off against Harvard in a public debate hosted by Halogen TV and recapped in the New York Times. Bwog caught up with Columbia’s winning epistemological gladiators, Reid Bagwell and Rohan Jotwani.

How’d you guys hear about the Halogen TV debate?

Rohan Jotwani: I heard about the event via our weekly team email. It was pitched to me as a tv debate in NYC with an open bar and business casual attire. I signed up, and, to be honest, it wasn’t until I walked into the hotel and saw the grand set up—all the tv execs taking red carpet-esque pictures, and an open bar with Patron and Stoli gracing the bottom shelf—that I begin to internalize what I had signed up for.

Are your debating skills in high demand? What other non-APDA (American Parliamentary Debate Association) debate have you participated in?

RJ: Indeed they are. I’ve debated for VH1, the NAACP, the University Club, and a few other corporate events. The reasoning behind why debaters are in demand these days is as baffling to me as to just about anyone else.

Reid Bagwell: The demand has definitely grown higher. We had the PETA debate that almost was last year, as well as a debate against Rutgers that we’re trying to make a yearly tradition. This year we’ve already done the Halogen debate and two of our debaters, Nick Phillips and Alex McHale debated in Philly against Princeton just the other weekend.

When your debate was covered in the NYTimes, the reporter claimed that he thought the debate was a tie, but the judges gave you the win 2-1. Can you give a quick synopsis of the central arguments in the debate?

RB: The debate came down to whether reality tv distorts our understanding of the world or provides an opportunity to learn about new things. Obviously, reality tv does a little of both, so it came down to which was a more significant effect. I felt we won because the Harvard team never really proved any of the harms of reality tv. It’s great to say it doesn’t fit our values and is sort of unappealing, but that doesn’t mean it harms society and it brings a lot of people a lot of pleasure.

RJ: Here’s my grasp of “the flow” (which is debater speak for argument progression): Andrew (Harvard) argued that reality tv induces bad culture in America by giving limelight to people like Snooki. Reid (Columbia) responded by arguing reality tv is art, and art forms are all intrinsically good because they increase discourse and encourage thought—like opening our society up to discuss the life of a hoarder. Allen (Harvard) responded to that by basically arguing that tv has the responsibility of elevating itself beyond just populist stereotyping. Rohan (that’s me) discusseed how tv is merely a reflection of changing societal attitudes toward a preference for viewer judgement and choice, but that reality tv can also inform and inspire us by allowing us to see the best of humanity as well.

What in the world was the squirrel (dissenting) judge thinking?

RJ: So first off, the judge who didn’t vote for us was a Columbia Alum (fantastic job Alumni Relations…). Really though, I think her decision came down to the fact that she believed reality tv was more popular and entertaining than insightful, and that these weren’t reasons enough to warrant intrinsic goodness.

Are there any cool behind the scenes stories from the event? Maybe some sweet perks? The bottled water looked expensive in the Times pic.

RJ: So before the event started, the producers did this thing that I’ve never seen anyone attempt to do in a room full of 50-100 people, unless it’s NSOP at Columbia: they had a formal ‘introduce yourself’ session. Here are some of the job titles I heard as this happened: Executive TV producer, Venture Capitalist, Professor, NYT reporter, CEO, Actress on ‘The Wire,” Priest, Southern Housewife, Astronaut, Head of an NGO that’s trying to end world hunger in one generation, 2004’s Australian Young Person of the Year Award recipient. That’s right—that group of people doesn’t seem like the kind who would come together in the same room and watch a bunch of 20 something year-olds talk about reality tv.

But the real honor of this entire event came from me being able to defend the only thing that a kid from Queens has ever actually loved—the Jersey Shore. I think they might edit out the part where I confess my undying love for Snooki. And let’s not forget about that open bar…

RB: The event was fantastically high class. NYC’s creative television scene was there in force, and the event was filed with the sorts of appetizer food one could only dream of. Although we didn’t get to eat many of the desserts because we were dragged into a protracted photoshoot, and they were all gone by the time we emerged which I felt was a tragedy.

How well did you guys know the Harvard debaters? Does that make a difference?

RB: I’d met Andrew and Allen before, but didn’t know them especially well. They were very good debaters for Harvard a couple years ago but weren’t on the circuit anymore when I joined. They’re still around a bit though. Everyone tends to come back and judge after they graduate because the circuit is hard to let go of. Debating against people you know is always a different experience. I, personally, prefer it because it creates a more congenial feel, but I know others who find it uncomfortable.

For those who don’t know about Parliamentary debate, can you give me the quick and dirty sell? In other words, persuade me to join debate.

RB: Parliamentary debate is fantastic. It’s debate without the mountains of evidence and speed talking that define policy, but with the intellectual rigor that one expects from the best forms of debate. It prizes logic, thinking on your feet, and of course a fair amount of wit. And, currently ranked 6th in the nation as a school, I think it’s fair to say we’re probably Columbia’s preeminent debate related institution at the moment (sorry model UN, my googling says you’re 7th right now).

RJ: Honestly, if being called more entertaining than the movies in the New York Times isn’t enough to get you to try out for the team, I have no clue what the hell else I could say to convince you.

 mugshot via Halogen TV and

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  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous way to take shots at your own classmates bwog. the football team really owed you a win after all the support you’ve given them.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous sports teams don’t “owe” anything to anyone but themselves. If you have a ton of cash sunk into your program and you produce no results, then it’s a problem. If a regular school team loses ONE game there is a lot more hate than what goes on here.

      They suck. People make fun of people who suck. Get over it.

      1. interesting. says:

        @interesting. I don’t see anyone making fun of you.

      2. Not an athlete. Actually says:

        @Not an athlete. Actually My comment makes no sense now without the now-deleted tag/jab. I really don’t get what you’re trying to say with this reply. I was saying they don’t owe anyone. And then you agreed with me. But for some reason made it into an insult. I don’t think it’s worth talking about sunken money, cause it probably wasn’t yours anyway.

        Bigger issue: you’re being a jerk to people you go to school with, that aren’t paid, and who admittedly don’t owe you anything. Why attack a part of your own community that you do not and can not contribute to.

        1. LULZ says:

          @LULZ Aren’t paid, and yet somehow their Fin Aid grants always seem to work out. THE MAGIC OF SPORTS.

  • Rohan says:

    @Rohan is the love of my life.

  • Columbia Debate says:

    @Columbia Debate rocks! I love everyone in it.

  • Rohan says:

    @Rohan is sooo good and he definitely deserves this!

    Also, this:

  • Competitive debate says:

    @Competitive debate For those of you who’ve never seen it, this is what it looks like.

    If Aaron Sorkin makes a movie about you the world will end.

  • OUCH OUCH OUCH says:

    @OUCH OUCH OUCH do you ever! i think some vending machines on campus might have mountain due. which could be good for some……..

    1. not to be a douche says:

      @not to be a douche but due? really?

      1. interesting. says:

        @interesting. If you have a mountain due, drink mountain due.

  • Public Debate Event! says:

    @Public Debate Event! If you’re interested in seeing the team in action, come to Roone Arledge on Wednesday at 6:30. Two of our members will face off against Fordham, NYU, and Rutgers.

    The topic should make for a really engaging debate–whether a University should dedicate itself to the Liberal Arts or to the Sciences. There will also be free food!!

  • CIRCA says:

    @CIRCA Umm, CIRCA wins just as often as Parlimentary Debate… Still glad to see Parli doing well.

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